Forest Park’s village council voted unanimously May 9 to approve the merger of its Plan Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, and to appoint six out of seven of its members.

The village has been talking about merging the two commissions since early 2020 in order to streamline the zoning process and because, given how few cases each body processed, it made sense to bring them together. Many other Chicago area municipalities, including the Village of Riverside, have done that over the past 15 years. The pandemic delayed the merger, but the process resumed during the last few months. 

The newly minted Planning and Zoning Commission will inherit the Plan Commission’s responsibilities of reviewing development-related applications and developing village-wide comprehensive development plans. It will inherit Zoning Board of Appeals’ responsibilities of reviewing requests for variances and Special Use permits, reviewing proposed zoning code changes and ruling on appeals against the village’s zoning decisions. Like the Plan Commission and the Zoning Board, the new commission’s decisions are advisory in nature, but the village council tends to follow the advice.

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Commissioner Maria Maxham, who has oversight over zoning matters as part of her role as the Commissioner of Public Health and Safety, previously told the Review that five members would carry over from the Plan Commission, one would carry over from the Zoning Board and one would be brand-new. The end results were slightly more balanced. Mayor Rory Hoskins ended up appointing Plan Commission members Ryan Russ, Scott Whitebone and Paul Price, who were appointed in Feb. 22, 2021, and Marsha East, who was appointed earlier and will serve as the new commission’s chair. Zoning Board members Kevin Hibbitts and Kerri McBride were appointed to two seats, and one seat has been left vacant, to be filled at a later time. 

The first members are appointed for shorter terms to ensure that the terms are staggered. Hibbitts and Russ will serve one-year terms, Whitebone and the seventh member will serve two-year terms and the rest will serve three-year terms. Once those terms end, members will be appointed for four-year terms, and incumbent commission members will be able to apply for another term. 

The new commission will have its first meeting on May 16 at 7 p.m., and the initial agenda may prove to be contentious. According to the public notices published in last week’s issue of the Review, the commission will host a public hearing on whether to make cannabis dispensaries a permitted use in the downtown district, and a public hearing on the long-discussed expansion of the Crystal Car Wash, 901 S. Harlem Ave., to the lot at 7201 Lexington St.