Friday, June 27, 2008

More from Chicagoland

Village to revamp zoning ordinance

June 26, 2008


Wilmette officials soon will explore ways to encourage renovations instead of teardowns and accommodate new environmental technologies in the first comprehensive revision of the village's zoning ordinance in 18 years.

The village is still casting around for consultants to help with the review, which likely will take more than a year, but officials have laid out goals for the process. Those goals include clarifying rules that have grown thick with hundreds of lines of amendments and streamlining a process that often requires hearings and months of waiting for builders and homeowners.

"Since 1990, there really hasn't been a comprehensive look at the code and that's what we're looking to have started," said John Adler, the village's community development director.

In 1990, the village established limits on the bulk of new homes for the first time, but many amendments have been added since then, Adler said. Most were intended to clarify the rules, but years of piecemeal revision has led to its own confusion, and new issues have emerged over the past two decades.

One concerns environmental building practices. Rules aimed at easing regional flooding limit the use of asphalt and other hard pavement on properties, but ignore the possibilities of newer technology. Examples includes permeable pavers that let water drain, Adler said.

Part of the review will focus on finding better ways to accommodate solar panels, a technology that was a curiosity in 1990 but is likely to become more common with skyrocketing energy prices and growing environmental awareness. Under current code, the panels run into confusing regulations on height and placement.

"It's definitely one of the things we want to sort out," Adler said.

Adler said the review also will look at the broader issue of teardowns to see whether better ways exist to encourage renovation and reuse of existing homes. In some ways the lull in the economy has given the village some breathing space to consider the issue. Demolition permits have dropped from 77 in 2005 to 60 last year and 15 through mid-April of this year.

There may be ways to make renovations more attractive than teardowns, Adler said. The teardowns of the last decade were driven by the profits of selling the larger replacement homes, but also by the fact that builders have a clean slate with new homes. Putting additions on existing homes can be complicated by the need for variations and the fact that many older homes are already considered out of compliance with more modern rules.

"We want to see if there are certain things in our zoning code that encourages people to say, 'You know what? It's easier just to start over,'" Adler said.

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