Economic Development Commission » Commercial Zoning Proposal FAQ's

Commercial Zoning Proposal FAQ's

The purpose of this page is to provide answers to frequently asked questions surrounding potential changes to the Village of River Forest’s zoning code. These questions have been raised during the ongoing discussion of changes to the zoning code as it relates to the commercial corridors. You can view the proposed changes here. Read more about the Zoning Board meetings here. Please contact Village Administrator Matt Walsh with any questions. 

What conversations are happening related to changing the zoning in River Forest?

In fulfilling the implementation strategies outlined in the River Forest Forward: Comprehensive Plan Action Matrix, the Economic Development Commission began exploring the possibility of corridor zoning changes to attract developer interest, draw new services and amenities, and enhance the lives of River Forest residents with desired new development. The Village engaged Houseal Lavigne, a premier urban planning and geospatial design firm  to recommend potential changes. Houseal Lavigne provided a proposal and discussed potential zoning changes in  public meetings with the Economic Development Commission (EDC) in the winter and spring of 2023. On May 3, 2023, the EDC voted to share proposed changes with the Village Board alongside the public comments that were collected during the two EDC meetings where the proposal was discussed. The EDC further discussed changes to other commerical corridors in January 2024. The Village Board unanimously directed the Zoning Board of Appeals to consider the zoning recommendations.

Why is the Village talking about changing its zoning now?

As outlined in the 2019 River Forest Forward: Comprehensive Plan on page 43, It has been decades since the Village’s zoning ordinance has undergone a comprehensive assessment and rewrite. While some residential standards and sign code elements have been amended over the past 20 years, the commercial district regulations have gone largely unchanged, both in terms of the uses permitted and the standards that regulate the height, size, setbacks, density, parking, and overall character of development.

The goal of the current zoning discussion is  to enable economic development, with the ultimate goal of stabilizing property taxes in the village with additional property tax growth from development. There has been little economic activity in recent years, including in the Village's two TIF districts. 

What areas in town will this affect?

The proposed text amendment changes only apply to the four existing commercial zoning districts in town, C1, C2, C3 and ORIC. The districts can be viewed on the Zoning Map. You can also check what zoning district your property is using our online portal. The proposals do not call for any properties to be zoned differently, or rezoned. Any proposed future development in these districts will be scrutinized for its impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Why not take more time to make recommendations to the Village Board?

This is not a rushed process. The Economic Development Commission began discussing the corridor zoning proposals in late 2022. The Zoning Board of Appeals will take the necessary time to hear public feeback and scrutinize the proposed code language before the Village Board discusses. 

Why do we need to change our current zoning?

Every development proposal over the last 30 years has requested, and received, variances (or changes) to the underlying zoning code. This outdated zoning can lead to decreased developer interest, increased costs for developers and increased confusion for residents and applicants. This all translates to stagnant activity, vacant and underused properties and higher property taxes.

Modern zoning casts a wide net and encourages developers to submit proposals for the Village’s consideration. Once received, there are multiple opportunities for the Board, Commission, and resident input to ensure the winning development is an exciting addition to the River Forest community that is characteristic of our town. Without this wide net approach, the Village may never even have the opportunity to assess proposals as our zoning will have discouraged developers from applying.

Why doesn’t the Village consider variance requests in the context of specific development proposals?

The Village will continue to consider variance requests on a case by case basis when requests for such variations are made. However, the change is to spark more interest and attract better developers to River Forest.  Our process will always allow for the Village Board to deny or accept a proposed development.

What is the process for changing the Village of River Forest’s zoning?

Government moves at a methodical pace – sometimes on purpose – to allow plenty of time for all necessary and important parties to weigh in on changes that impact them. The process for amending the zoning code is no different.

 A brief summary of this process includes all of the steps below. Every one of these meetings are open to the public.

  • The Village Board of Trustees must refer a potential zoning change to the Zoning Board of Appeals for consideration. (The Village board unanimously voted to refer the proposal to the ZBA in November 2023).
    • A potential zoning change may be initiated by a plan (Comprehensive Plan, Affordable Housing Plan), a committee initiative (Sustainability Commission enabling solar panels) or a specific request directly from the Board.
  • After the Village Board refers a topic, the Zoning Board of Approvals holds a public hearing to gather input, then deliberates on the proposal. (The public hearing was opened on January 11, 2024, resumed on March 14, 2024 and will continue on April 11, 2024). 
  • Zoning Board of Approvals votes on a recommendation on zoning changes to Village Board.
  • Village Board votes to approve an ordinance that amends the Village zoning code.
  • Zoning changes go into effect.

There is a specific and even more rigorous approval process for planned development (PD) applications. Each PD is required to hold a neighbor meeting, attend a public hearing with the Development Review Board and be considered by the Village Board. Property owners within 500 feet of the development receive notice of each of these meetings.

YOUR input is a valuable and continual part of this process that is integral to each step.

Speaking of input, can the Village ensure neighbor concerns are considered when discussing this topic?

The Village Board always considers a variety of perspectives for each decision, and must consider all residents and Village operations. The Economic Development Commission recommendation included the condition that public concerns are shared with the Village Board. Those concerns will be included in Board meeting materials. Residents are encouraged to attend the Zoning Board public hearing to provide testimony on this subject. 

Are there other strategies or incentives we could implement to attract developers?                      Yes, our approach to economic development must be multifaceted. The Village can use economic incentives, infrastructure improvements and creative marketing to attract investment interest. This is in addition to the daily activities and services the village provides to make River Forest a great and safe place to live, work and play. Our Economic Development Commission is focused on this and welcomes all ideas from residents to support these efforts.

What difficulty have we had in the past – or sense is coming for the future – that leads us to believe our zoning is a problem?

In nearly every mixed used, residential, and commercial development opportunity the Village of River Forest has seen over the last 20 years, all developers required significant requests for height, density, and FAR (the measurement of a building's floor area in relation to the size of the lot/parcel that the building is located on) exceptions, among others. When zoning variances over time are nearly 100% always approved, it begs the question if the variance process was actually needed.

Can we complete research/traffic analyses/fiscal impact studies before changing the zoning?

We agree sound decisions are made on solid data. That is why we require all planned developments to undergo a rigorous application process. For each proposal, the Village requires applicants to provide a professional traffic study, a professional economic analysis, and an analysis on the anticipated impact on village services and infrastructure. These studies are performed at the developer’s cost.

Right now, there is no development application to analyze.

There is an infinite number of possibilities along these corridors and analyzing hypothetical proposals would have limited value. The costs for any such study would have to be borne by the Village.

Will these proposed changes lead to skyscrapers in River Forest? 

No. The proposed changes increase the maximum height limits by 15 or 20 feet, depending on the commercial district. The new height maximums would be 50 feet along Madison Street, and 65 feet in other commercial districts. There are several buildings in River Forest that currently exceed these height limits, and have been approved through the Planned Development process. The proposed height limits are far lower than the heights of buildings in downtown Oak Park. For example, The Emerson at 1135 Westgate is 221 feet tall. 

What impact will the proposed changes have on parking?

There are no changes proposed for on-street parking, and overnight parking will continue to be prohibited. There is no interest in changing those restrictions at this time. The proposed parking changes are specifically for on-site parking, or the amount of spaces that must be provided for any development. The proposed changes reduce the required parking from 2 spaces to 1.5 spaces per residential unit. This means that a 20 unit building would need to have a parking lot with 30 spaces.

Can the Village force a developer to provide more parking than the minimums that are being proposed?

Yes, the Village always retains the final decision on a development, and can impose conditions on design. Developers will always consider the project's total cost and seek out communities where parking restrictions are less restrictive, such as Elmwood Park. Parking is costly and can take up space that could be devoted to additional units, amenities or commercial space. For the Village, it must prioritize the needs of the community, while considering factors that will attract a quality development. 

Will this lead to more studio apartments and condos?

No. These zoning changes do not propose additional studios, that would come from  a proposed development.  There are currently are no bedroom requirements for residential developments in commercial districts, and there is no proposal to change that. Each development will stand on its own and propose their own mix of units, which will be subject to Village approval.

Will the Village be taking additional property to develop?

The Village will not use eminent domain to acquire any properties, and nobody will be forced out of their own home or business.