Residents win major victory

Exclusionary Corridor Plan Provisions Eliminated

Board Declines to Use Affordable Housing Language

With a 5–0 vote February 8, 2010 the River Forest Village Board adopted its Corridor Plan without the exclusionary “Land Use Conversion Opportunities” that threatened to remove 200 units of scarce affordable housing along Harlem Avenue between Oak and Chicago Avenue and between LeMoyne and North Avenue. The village trustees declined the opportunity to clearly state that they decided to make no changes to the “land use pattern” along Harlem Avenue in order to preserve housing affordable to households with modest incomes. They did, however, remove the language that suggested that no changes were recommended because it was just too difficult to put the deals together to redevelop the affordable housing.

Click here to see the language adopted for the key page 77. Click here to view or download a PDF file of the plan as adopted. It’s 18 MB in size.

The village’s planning consultant who created the exclusionary “Land Use Conversion Opportunities” that would have replaced 200 units of affordable rentals and condominiums with condominiums that would cost more than three times as much as the current dwellings argued vigorously against including any language about affordable housing. He did, however, support a village wide discussion of affordable housing to which the board appears to have committed itself.

The board made these changes thanks to the efforts of about 70 residents who attended the Village Board’s January 19 meeting to speak out against these exclusionary provisions. This extraordinary and very articulate group of citizens made a strong case to the village trustees that the village’s plan should not target their homes for replacement. At that meeting the River Forest Village Board unanimously directed staff to remove the objectionable “Land Use Conversion Opportunities” from the proposed River Forest Corridors Plan which would have eliminated 200 units of scarce affordable housing. Click on the links in the left hand column to see the revised pages or the entire revised plan. Members of the Village Board who were present also seemed to accept a need to review the village’s plans for their impact on existing housing affordable to teachers, village employees, librarians, seniors, and recent college graduates.

The revised plan included language on page 77 that made it sound like the village was not recommending redevelopment of these areas on Harlem because it was simply too difficult to assemble the land. Citizens sought instead to have these revisions on page 77 more accurately explain why the plan now recommends maintaining the land use pattern along Harlem: namely to preserve housing current residents can afford.

Speakers suggested that the last three sentences in the second paragraph on page 77 should be changed to read:

“The houses, apartments, and condominiums along Harlem provide essential housing in River Forest that is affordable to teachers, librarians, retired seniors, our children coming out of college, village employees, retail workers, college students, people with disabilities, and others who have modest incomes. To preserve this irreplaceable housing, the Plan recommends maintaining the existing land use pattern and existing housing in the Harlem Avenue corridor.”

Urged on by their planning consultant, the trustees declined to adopt this language or any language about preserving affordable housing. No trustee at its February 8 meeting voiced any support for preserving affordable housing. They made it clear that they removed the language because 70 people showed up in protest.

Clearly there’s a long way to go to educate the village board (and plan commission) about the need to preserve existing housing that households with modest incomes can afford.

“River Forest Matters” will be a place to keep track of what’s happening with village discussions of affordable housing so you can participate in those discussions — otherwise the voices of exclusion and discrimination will succeed at maintaining the village’s current plan and zoning provisions that seek to eliminate existing affordable housing and prevent the development of any new affordable housing.

The scoop on the January 19 meeting

All but one resident spoke in favor of removing the so–called “Land Use Conversion Opportunities” (LUCOs) from the plan. These LUCOs targeted the River Forest Garden Condominiums (on Harlem between Oak and Chicago avenues) and the apartments and condos on Harlem between North Avenue and LeMoyne for replacement by mixed–use retail and much higher priced condominiums (click here to see the specific plans). If the plan were implemented, River Forest would lose around 200 units of scarce and irreplaceable housing affordable to the members of the middle class. Click here for a PDF file with information about the scarcity of affordable housing in the Chicagoland area.

The dozens of residents who spoke presented articulate, forceful but respectful, heartfelt and heartwarming testimony. In the 23 years we've lived in River Forest, we have never seen such a strong turnout on any issue; nor have we seen speakers present such a collectively superb set of testimony.

At the end of the public testimony, the 5 trustees present (President Rigas, trustees Gibbs, Winitakes, Conti, and Adduci) went around the table and voiced their views. They unanimously agreed to remove the two "Land Use Conversion Opportunities" from the plan and instead clearly state that the plan recommends maintaining the current land use patterns along Harlem. In plain language, they agreed to what the citizens sought. The full Village Board voted to adopt the revised Corridors Plan at its February 8 meeting.

Looking at the bigger picture too

And they appeared to recognize that the preservation of housing affordable to households with modest incomes is important and that the village needs to revisit the question and establish a policy. So continued monitoring and participation by a broad range of citizens will be needed. My guess is that this will proceed slowly since the village has a serious budget crisis to resolve before it can do anything else.

To learn a whole lot more about what River Forest can do to preserve affordable housing, click here to see a slew of short papers, longer monographs, and articles about preserving affordable housing. The two-page piece about low-equity cooperatives describes the nation's most successful effort to preserve housing at an affordable level in perpetuity.

To be notified of upcoming events involving River Forest’s plans that affect affordable housing
and/or to volunteer notify residents affected by village plans and ordinances: Click here

For More Information & To See the Draft Plan:


Original article urging people to attend the January 19 village board meeting appears immediately below:

At the 7:00 p.m. start of its Tuesday, January 19 meeting the River Forest Village Board will hear from residents and discuss the Corridors Plan that threatens to replace much of the village’s affordable housing with much higher density mixed use projects with much more expensive condos current residents could not afford. A huge crowd will be needed to get these exclusionary proposals removed from the plan.

The Village Board will be meeting as a “committee of the whole,” a more informal setting that allows for more interaction and discussion with residents. The Corridors Plan will be the first item on the agenda. This is the best opportunity to show the village trustees that pages 77-79 of the Commercial Corridors Plan should be deleted now.

Pages 77-79 call for replacing the condos and apartments on Harlem between Chicago and Oak (“River Forest Garden Condominiums”) and between North and Le Moyne with higher density and more expensive condos plus retail. Such high intensity use is incompatible with the adjacent single–family homes on Bonnie Brae  — and will eliminate the housing the current residents can afford for more expensive condominiums. The plan calls these “Land Use Conversion Opportunities.”

In November the River Forest Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan unchanged and recommend that the Village Board adopt the plan as is despite 15 citizens asking the Plan Commission to delete these pages from the Corridors Plan.

After its January 19 “committee as a whole” meeting, the Village Board will vote on the plan at a formal Village Board meeting where it will be important to come out in force again.

The village’s planning consultant correctly asserted that the plan does not recommend that the demolition of these homes and their redevelopment take place now. The plan calls for implementation of these proposals if the opportunity presents itself.

Endorsement of these proposals gives the village’s stamp of approval to a developer who seeks to redevelop these properties. It means such a proposal is consistent with the comprehensive plan — a key standard for approving such a development.

The only way to prevent the loss of these homes is to get the Village Board to remove pages 77-79 from the plan. That’s what residents must seek when they speak at the village board meetings where the plan will be up for adoption.