How They Voted in 2001
Click Here to Get the Facts
Proposed Amendments Violate River Forest Comprehensive Plan
Research Needed First
Existing Land Uses in River Forest
Which Housing Types Pay Their Own Way?
Read the actual zoning amendments from 2001

Clearly illegal exclusionary zoning ended in Dec. 2009 — Click here for details

The following recounts the adoption of the freeze in 2001

River Forest Zones Out the Middle Class
Seeks to Eliminate Existing Multifamily Apartments

By a surprisingly close 4 to 2 vote, the River Forest Village Board adopted zoning amendments on Monday, October 22, 2001, that effectively ban new construction of affordable multifamily housing (townhouses and apartments, rental or condominium) — and start eliminating existing multifamily housing the middle class can afford. “These zoning changes will require someone who wishes to build a two-flat, for example, to first tear down two existing multifamily units elsewhere in the village,” explained Daniel Lauber, AICP, now a 22-year River Forest resident and professional city planner and zoning attorney. “It’s an illegal, direct assault on ability of the middle class to continue to live in River Forest!”

Bruce Deason, then Senior Director of Government Affairs for the Attainable Housing Alliance, vowed to bring legal action against this new exclusionary set of zoning provisions. He noted that had his organization known that River Forest, last year, had adopted an two–year moratorium on building multifamily units less than 2,600 square feet in size, the AHA would have filed suit against that illegal moratorium.

The zoning amendments, approved by the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday, October 11, 2001, make all multifamily housing a planned development, thus requiring a public hearing and approval from the village. Until now, multifamily housing has been a permitted use, allowed as of right without a public hearing or a vote by the village board, in four zoning districts. The proposed zoning ordinance amendment prohibits the construction of any multifamily housing unless “The proposed development will not increase the total number of multifamily housing units in the Village.” (Paragraph 10-19-3-O-2)

How This Law Eliminates Existing Affordable Housing

In order to build new multifamily housing, a developer has to demolish the same number of existing multifamily units as she wishes to build. Developers have been buying the lowest–priced multifamily housing in River Forest to demolish. This is the housing that is affordable to our teachers, police and fire personnel, retired seniors, children coming out of school, and anybody in a job that pays less than the median income for the Chicago area. It's also the housing where most of River Forest's small minority population lives.

Developers have been buying this affordable housing (which cannot be built today without government subsidies) that is being provided by the private sector at a profit without any government subsidies. One has even bought more units than he has built! They are tearing down this affordable housing or converting it to commercial use. River Forest has been losing what little affordable housing it has so developers can build ever more expensive huge condominiums in the $500,000 to $700,000 price range — far beyond the reach of most Chicago–area households.

“This zoning change alone is probably illegal exclusionary zoning and is definitely against sound planning practices and Code of Professional Conduct sanctioned by the American Planning Association,” explains Lauber, a past president of the 34,000-member American Planning Association and the American Institute of Certified Planners (twice). “I can’t find any zoning or housing expert in the country who knows of any city that has adopted such a draconian restriction on multifamily housing. It’s such a blatant violation of the constitutional prohibition on taking property without due process of law that no other city has dared to attack private property rights so blatantly.”

The amendments also seek to get rid of existing multifamily housing. Here’s how it will work. The vast majority of River Forest’s housing that’s affordable to the middle class — educators, police and fire personnel, retired folks, recent college graduates, and many other residents of multifamily housing and smaller single-family detached houses — was built well before River Forest adopted its current zoning. So nearly all of these older houses and apartments or condominiums do not comply with the many zoning requirements for side yards, rear yards, and front setbacks adopted years later. So if a damaged house or apartment had to strictly comply with the current zoning, it often could not be fixed or rebuilt on its current foundation.

It’s not unusual for a community to require a dwelling mostly destroyed by fire or other disaster to be rebuilt in full compliance with the current zoning code. This requirement usually kicks in when damage to the structure exceeds 60 percent or more of its value. The proposed amendments cut that trigger point down to 50 percent. Lowering the trigger point could easily force some middle class residents out of River Forest. That’s because the proposed zoning amendments also reduce the density of multifamily housing down to 15 units per acre. Most of the existing multifamily housing in River Forest was built when the zoning code allowed 50, and later 20 units per acre. So if a multifamily building with more than 15 units per acre had to be rebuilt under the current zoning code, many people would lose their homes. “And I can’t imagine the nightmare involved in deciding who must leave and who can stay,” adds Lauber.

In 2001 deliberations on the  zoning amendments had been conducted in virtual secrecy until the cat was accidentally let out of the bag two weeks ago. The notice for the original September 13, 2001 public hearing did not even hint at the changes proposed in the amendments. “This was probably the only public hearing held in the country just two days after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon,” notes Lauber who stumbled upon the amendments two weeks ago. The only people testifying September 13 were supporters of the amendments: Village President Frank Paris and some politically-connected developers. Nobody else even knew what had been proposed. At the October 11 continuation of the hearing, Lauber was allowed to present a four-page memorandum, and to present oral testimony which the Village President and Village Attorney sought to discredit.

The Zoning Board of Appeals approved the proposed amendments with no substantive changes and with no debate of the provisions noted above.

For reasons unknown, then–Village President Frank Paris told the ZBA that he wanted these amendments passed before November 1, 2001.

For the results of the vote, click here.

For more information and additional sources, contact Daniel Lauber, AICP at 708/366–5201.

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