River Forest board approves comprehensive plan

New plan updated following 18-month process

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By Nona Tepper

River Forest trustees unanimously approved the village's first comprehensive plan in more than 15 years at a meeting on May 13.

"This is 18 months of hard work," Village President Cathy Adduci said at the meeting. "This is a great accomplishment for this board."

The comprehensive plan is an extensive, 100-page-plus document, divided into 10-chapters, which discusses topics like future land use and development; parks, open space and the environment; corridor framework plans; and more. It was last updated in 2003.

The River Forest Plan Commission approved the draft plan at a meeting on March 7. Trustees have been debating the proposed document since, with conversation focusing on increased building heights. The plan contains a table that recommends maximum building heights for certain commercial districts within River Forest.

For example, buildings along Madison Street would be permitted to rise 50 feet, compared to the current maximum height of 30 feet. North Avenue properties could rise up to 60 feet, an increase from 30 feet.

Buildings east of Lathrop Avenue on Lake Street could rise up to 70 feet, previously 50 feet. The same applies to the village center area.

The table does not reflect River Forest's actual zoning code, and is purely a recommendation. The discrepancy had some trustees concerned that the differences between the two might sow unnecessary confusion.

"I think it's still confusing; I think the text is perfect, but I think the box is just prone to lend itself to confusion," Trustee Tom Cargie said at the meeting.

Trustee Carmela Corsini agreed that while the box may cause "some confusion," the new title — which reads "Suggested Building Height Considerations Subject to Approval at a Public Hearing" — and a similar disclaimer at the bottom of the box, clearly articulate that developers must "go through the process to get to that point" of receiving heights above what current zoning allows.

The village has not updated its zoning code in about 20 years, with recent developments like a senior community building at Chicago and Harlem avenues receiving a height variance. During the debate over whether to include increased heights in the comprehensive plan, some village trustees and staff said the increased heights reflected reality and that the zoning code was outdated.

Under the state's municipal code, no change may be made to the River Forest zoning code or variations granted within six months of approving the new comprehensive plan, unless the change is approved by at least four trustees.

John Houseal, village planning consultant, joked that the updated table title was the "longest titled table you will ever see." He noted that village staff had also added additional language to the body of the text, to note that all height variances are granted on a one-off basis.

"Over the last couple of weeks," he said, "there have been a few odds and ends to clean up, primarily from trustees, a couple other entities too, but no material changes, just cleaning up language and clarifying."

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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