Forest Park’s village council is expected to approve the merger of the village’s Plan Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals sometime in March after both commissions approved the move at their most recent meetings.

Both bodies serve advisory roles on zoning applications, with the Plan Commission handling development-related applications and the Zoning Board of Appeals reviewing requests for variances and Special Use permits. As the name suggests, the zoning board also considers appeals of how the village interprets its zoning codes and reviews any zoning code changes. Both bodies’ votes are advisory, but the village council usually concurs with their decisions.

Commissioner Maria Maxham has oversight over zoning matters as part of her role as the Commissioner of Public Health and Safety. She says the rationale behind the merger was simple – neither body has many cases to process, and having a single body would streamline zoning applications. The Plan Commission and the Zoning Board unanimously approved the merger at their Jan. 31 and Feb. 22 meetings, respectively. The village council is expected to vote on the merger in March, and Mayor Rory Hoskins is expected to reappoint most members of the two bodies to the joined board.

Maxham said that in recent years, “neither board met very often” because “there weren’t enough zoning issues to have monthly meetings. She also pointed to the fact that many Chicagoland suburbs already merged their Plan Commissions and Zoning Boards. In the western suburbs, the Village of Riverside merged theirs in 2013.

Originally, the vote was supposed to take place in February or March 2020, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put the issue on the backburner. But since then, the situation stabilized. Maxham, a former editor of the Forest Park Review, said that, since she was appointed commissioner, she has been urging the village to resume the process.

Both bodies’ members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the village council. The Plan Commission has five members while the Zoning Board has seven. Maxham said that, to the best of her knowledge, the new board would have seven members. five would carry over from the Plan Commission, one member would come from the currently seven-member Zoning Board, and one member would be brand-new.

During the Feb. 28 meeting the village council, the commissions confirmed that the final vote on merging the board would take place during one the March meetings, but it hasn’t been decided if it will happen during the March 14 or March 28 meeting.