Forest Park has something of a love-hate relationship with zoning. Underzoned, nearly unzoned, for decades, Forest Park’s north side has a certain laissez faire, “who says an apartment building needs to front an actual street” sort of turmoil going on. And all across town there are hundreds of residential properties formally declared as “non-conforming” because they resemble the old Nat Cole song with two-flats masquerading as single-family with a coach house on the side. Forest Park has a boatload of chafafa going on. (No, don’t Google chafafa. You don’t want to know. Would ruin this editorial for you.)
In recent decades Forest Park has become an increasingly desirable town for new homeowners. But Realtors and bankers, and homeowners who want to upgrade our aging, sometimes rickety housing stock, haven’t liked the uncertainty around “non-conforming.”
So the previous administration of Anthony Calderone made a game effort of putting some definition to the undefinable. Maybe that was better. Maybe it offered clarity.
Now a new administration is taking its own tack and returning to a combination of “make us a proposal and we’re inclined to go along as long as you leave your neighbor some sunlight.” This will put the onus back on local zoning and plan commissioners to interpret the rules and make reasonable judgments.
We like the comments coming out of village hall, generally, on zoning. The view that zoning must adapt to changing trends makes sense. One example we hear: People want master bedrooms on the first floor. They want to age in place. Let’s help make that happen, says village hall. We’re all in.
On Madison Street, village hall has finally come to the realization that restaurants are the primary and maybe only potential tenants for about every storefront on the street. Several years ago when restaurant uses began to rise, the village worried about the impact on parking and chose to make restaurants a special use. Turns out restaurants are a great use — they don’t clog parking, particularly with their evening focus. So the council has now changed gears to make it simpler for restaurants to gain necessary permits to get open. Smart move.
Recently-OK’d zoning amendments also focus on controlling, but not shutting down, inevitable efforts by commercial property owners on Madison Street to add a residential housing component to their structures. Nice to add a few new residents to the street. But the primary motivation for property owners in creating mixed-use buildings is to take a deep slice out of raging property taxes. It’s legal. It’s a good gambit. But the village has now added some process to the process to make sure that what gets added makes sense for the street and the village.
Another smart move.