Putting The Brakes On “Dumb Growth”?

William White steps back from direct involvement in the Fairview Village expansion, and steps up big time as a resident advocate of good process.

This is worthy of a hard news story, and 5 will get you 10 Elaine Johnson will cover the bases over at DGreport far better than I could.

Just in the last two years, consider:

  • Bradley & 63rd LLC are availed of multiple opportunities to bring a drive through bank and a drive through…something else into a single family residential neighborhood at Hobson’s Triangle,and asking for free village alley land as part of the deal.
  • Developers successfully crack single family residential zoning at Maple and Chase to build at five times the previous housing density a luxury townhome development.
  • Fairview Village petitioners get multiple opportunities to keep submitting the same request to upzone single family residential to multiple family so they can build 32 luxury condos in a single family neighborhood.
  • The county is poised to approve turning 2 large lot homes in a single family residential zoned neighborhood into 24 townhomes by spot zoning high density into low density Belmont Park.

Exactly what the heck is going on here?  In two words: “Dumb Growth”.  Notice there is no mention here of high density projects built or proposed for areas zoned for high density.  That’s a telling point: the entire area in and around Downers Grove not only has zoning for specific uses in specific areas, there are land use maps, proposed land use maps, and comprehensive plans that show land use, allowable land use, to anyone who cares to look at them.  While DG’s Comp Plan may be 45+ years old, it is still in effect, and in most of the above cases still holds water.

Yet in all of the above, whether it is requests for upzoning to higher density, or requests for variances, or special uses, or exemptions from setback requirements, one thread runs through them all: residents are forced onto a tilted playing field and are made to fight an uphill battle to preserve what they already have-the single family home neighborhood that drew them to move here in the first place.

DG has committed to an updated Comprehensive Plan, to be completed after the Total Community Discussion Three effort.  TCD3 was supposed to begin this fall, with the new Comp Plan following shortly after.  Both of those needed things have yet to see definite dates locked in, and there is a very good chance they both may be sidetracked by budget revenue shortfalls this year.  In the meantime, project after project attempts to chip away at logical zoning, by spot upzoning higher density use.

This higher density translates directly into more money, more profit for those invested in the project.  The key is building something denser into an area where it is supposedly not allowed, by getting it allowed anyway.  In the cases of the townhomes, present and future, on Maple by Chase, it means gaming the county against the village, or the county against the unincorporated residents by making them fight that same uphill battle.

In the case of 63rd & Leonard it meant one BS justification after another, often the same justification.  It also meant residents got organized enough to turn out in force and derail approval until the project collapsed under it’s own preposterous weight.

In the case of Fairview Village moving to the west side of Fairview Avenue with spot upzoning, residents have fought that battle twice before, each time yielding ground with promises that it wouldn’t happen again.  Well, it happened again anyway, and residents around Lynn Gremer Court took it a step further.  They hired attorney William White of the DG Zoning Board of Appeals to represent them.  He has since stepped aside, but not before arming them with some advice, and a battle plan.  The advice is specifically requested to be put into the record, and this is his complete letter.  In it, White makes five telling points:

  1. The proposed re-zoning reaches the Village Council through a flawed process. If the requested zoning change is approved based on the current record, I assert this re-zoning would constitute illegal spot zoning;
  2. Approval of the proposed re-zoning, based on the current record would undermine the upcoming comprehensive review of the Future Land Use Map and Comprehensive Plan;
  3. A non-critical embrace of the Tracy Cross & Associates conclusions and the “MIT Study” touted by Village Staff would result in a number of undesirable and unintended consequences, including a lessening of our community’s ability to safeguard the integrity of our single family neighborhoods;
  4. The Staff recommended approval of the proposed re-zoning of the Lynn Gremer Court parcel is at cross purposes with the Staff recommended opposition to proposed re-zoning for the Belmont Park Townhomes; and,
  5. Thus far, the procedure employed to obtain the re-zoning of Lynn Gremer Court encourages an inappropriate camel’s nose approach that will establish multi-family zoning on the west side of Fairview Avenue as a fait accompli rather than through a proactive comprehensive planning

Additionally, they will point out the obvious on record; should the upcoming comprehensive review of the Future Land Use Map result in a multi-family designation as the preferred future land use designation, a new petition for re-zoning would become appropriate.

Update: Interestingly, staff has found and cites an MIT report on land use.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Study

Staff believes this study is relevant to the petitioner s request. The densities of the MIT multi-family developments and impact areas are similar to the petitioner s proposed development and the adjacent neighborhood. The study examined impact areas immediately surrounding the multi-family developments.

All well and good until you read the actual report Emphasis mine.

Most of the developments were located in areas with little nearby residential development, but that did not appear to hurt demand or affect resident satisfaction.

Four of the six developments were in “transitional” areas, in or just off commercial streets located on the edge of residential areas.

The two exceptions included a project built on town-donated land long scheduled for affordable housing and a site bounded on three sides by open land with limited development potential.

And this is pertinent how?  Of course, the petitioner has provided studies showing there is no loss of property values, nor any traffic problems caused by the development.  Quick, when was the last time a petitioner funded study found against the petitioners claims?

The current trend of taking upzoning requests one at a time flies in the face of responsible community planning.  The village has a responsibility to set and follow planning to maintain the integrity and coherence of the village as a whole.  That’s why there’s a Comp Plan in the first place, that’s why there’s a future use map, and zoning laws.  To allow these tools and long term policies to be ignored and eroded one proposal at a time flies in the face of common sense. Those tools are in place to protect us and enhance the value of our village for us, not so there can be one shot after another at putting higher density into lower density areas.

The residents currently locked into the Fairview spot zone issue may be prepared to go to court.  It will be interesting to see how litigation averse the village is on this.

Process is a treasured watchword of the present council.  Good process is valued highly, and rightly so.  Taking spot zoning requests singly and without good process does the village no service.

Growth is a continual process.  We aren’t the village we were 100 years ago, and that’s a good thing.  We aren’t even the village we were when we moved here over 25 years ago, and that’s probably a good thing too.  But if growth is not an outcome of good process, then it’s not smart.  If there’s no input of common sense, fact, process that leads to smart decisions, then there’s no robust, coherent, rational reason able to stand up under closer scrutiny.


One Response to “Putting The Brakes On “Dumb Growth”?”

  1. Sideline Observer Says:

    Your fonts are changing sizes. Check the WordPress FAQ’s. If you paste them over to Word and redesignate font and size, then paste back, you can correct that pretty quick.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: