• Megann Horstead

Residents air concerns over new construction in Old Town Neighborhood


The Village of Frankfort’s Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals met some resistance at a March 8 meeting from Old Town neighborhood residents making their case against the construction of a new home in the downtown area.

The property in question, located at 122 Walnut Street, is in talks between the Village and Alexi Development for construction of a 3,288-square-foot new, single-family residence.

The applicant purchased the lot with the intent of making the home fit the overall site design and character of the surrounding area.

In order to proceed, however, a set of variances will require the Village Board’s approval. Variances requested include a front yard setback requirement from 30 feet to 20.5 feet, rear yard setback from 30 feet to 28.2 feet, corner yard setback from 30 feet to 21 feet, lot coverage from 20 percent to 20.1 percent, and first floor building materials to permit the construction of a new home.

“We’ve been through a couple iterations of the home,” said Tony Bari, president of Alexi Development. “This home is absolutely completely different than the first home we proposed back in October [2017,] I believe. It was based on feedback that we received from the community.”

The applicant has been working to reduce the size of the home on the lot to meet municipal codes. Changes to the home to this point include the front porch, deck, and windows.

Several residents took time to make their concerns known to the Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.

“My opinion, living across the street this house by turning it, it ruins not one block but two,” Mark Adams said. “It ruins the block that it’s on, plus the block [to the] sideway.”

Adams acknowledged that the home has a nice streetscape facing Oregon Street and said the problem is that residents won’t be able to see it along Walnut Street.

“We’ve asked several times to please turn the house, let us enjoy the front of the house because we are, like I said before, we’re a neighborhood of porches,” he said. “We don’t get to enjoy that front porch. They don’t get to enjoy the front porch. Nobody walks on Oregon Street. They’re always walking on Walnut Street. They’re walking on Hickory Street.”

Several residents wanted the construction of the home to be denied for that reason.

Teresa Kara questioned the board’s direction said she is concerned for the new homes entering the neighborhood, as they get larger and larger.

“We’re just not sure what the cause and effect of all this is going to be to us,” she said. “What I can tell you that with this happening consistently now for a few years, we’ve had few homes go in. Is there anyone—because I don’t know the qualifications of the board, here, looking at this—is there anyone who’s giving us some feedback to what kind of cause and effect these houses are have on a town for us that have an older home.”

None of the commissioners, nor Village staff, could provide a direct response to the question.

Not everyone expressing concerns during the meeting lives within the Old Town Neighborhood. Consider Frankfort’s Emily Biegel, a director for Southwest Suburban Activists. She called into question the Village’s adherence to its ordinances and the leniency afforded to new homebuilders.

“If the rules are supposed to decide who gets to do what and those aren’t being used, then what is?” Biegel asked.

Commissioner Lisa Hogan contended that there are a number of lots that if the Village adhered to its rules and did not grant variances, the lot would sit empty.

“You can’t make a rule that fits absolutely every scenario,” she said.

Biegel said the voices of those in the community are not being heard.

The lot in question is currently occupied by a home. If the applicant’s proposal is approved, that structure would be demolished.

“I think that the request at hand represents everything that’s been happening,” Cristina Ruiz said. “A decision is made tonight, [and] that takes precedent for a decision in the future. It’s something that continues to snowball.”

Ruiz said she thinks the history and the background, in terms of what’s been happening in downtown Frankfort, is very relevant to this matter.

“Because what happens today is what’s already happened in the past and what’s going to continue to happen in the future because there are no rules downtown,” she said. “We don’t have any covenants, like all of the other neighborhoods. It’s the Wild West downtown, and we’re relying on you [the Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals] to help us.”

Kara questioned if the Village can put a pause on the board’s action until they can determine what is the potential impact.

Commissioner Don Schwarz refuted the idea and said the board needs to make a decision.

Commissioner Margaret Farina asked if the homeowners would be willing to compromise further.

The homeowners wanted it to be known that they are open to ideas. The idea of changing the home’s orientation was not supported, however.

“It’s very accurate to say that we don’t regulate the orientation of a home because the only time orientation is mentioned in the zoning ordinance is around garages,” Commissioner Jessica Petrow said. “It’s not mentioned around the door entry or the way that a home would be facing. So, I think it’s appropriate to then look to our other tools, which is our comprehensive plan, and it does talk about residential areas around site design and building orientation.”

Petrow said she could not support the applicant’s request in any of her votes, citing that the home would change the neighborhood’s character.

A motion to table the matter until the Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeal’s April 26 meeting failed in a 2-3 decision with Commissioners Maura Rigoni, Alicia Hanlon and Lisa Hogan casting dissenting votes. Commissioner Gene Savaria was absent.

In a series of additional votes, the board went on to recommend the project’s approval to the Village Board. All but one of the following measures was approved in a 4-1 decision, except a motion to permit construction on the lot being passed in a 2-3 vote. Farina, Petrow and Hanlon were the dissenting votes in that case.

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