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Is Oak Park starting a national trend in housing!

Is this a good idea? Depends on whether grandma is coming to live with you?

Oak Park Village Board OKs converting basements, attics, into separate dwelling units


JAN 18, 2022 AT 9:04 AM

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Oak Park’s Village Board on Jan. 10 voted 6-0 to allow residents to create accessory dwelling units, or separate units in their basements or attics, where family members or caregivers could live.

Since 2017, the village has allowed accessory dwelling units, sometimes called “granny flats,” above garages. With the board’s vote this month, however, residents will be able to create accessory dwelling units inside their homes, including in converted basements and attics.

Trustees praised the idea of increasing homeowners’ flexibility in creating accessory dwelling units as a way to provide affordable housing in the village, and to allow residents to age in place, rather than needing to leave Oak Park.

The restrictions limit accessory dwelling units to just one per zoning lot, and either the single-family dwelling unit or the accessory dwelling unit must be owner-occupied.

“One of our major concerns is the availability of affordable and accessible housing for older adults in Oak Park and nearby communities,” said retired Oak Park Residence Corp. executive director Ed Solan, who spoke at the meeting while representing the Arbor West Neighbors group’s advocacy committee. “ADUs can offer any potential benefits to the older residents of Oak Park as they age in place. For example, an older couple who are financially strapped could rent out a portion of the home or have a newly built ADU on their property that could enable them to age in place.

“Alternatively, an older couple could sell their existing home to a relative and remain on the property in an ADU that is more appropriately sized and accessible. ADUs can also be used for intergenerational housing that would enable the older residents to lease out a portion of their home to a younger family member or a caregiver who can assist them with the activities of daily living.”

In October, the village’s Plan Commission had voted 5-3 to recommend expanding the parameters of accessory dwelling units. However, the three “no” votes at that time were because the three commissioners voting no had wanted to recommend allowing such units in basements and attics, while the five prevailing votes did not.

Ultimately, the Village Board voted to allow such housing units in home’s basements and attics as well.

“I always come back to (making) this town affordable for people to be able to live in, to experience a quality of life that I think we all should have access to, and I think this is a huge step in getting us there, especially when it comes to affordability and broadening that scope and allowing us to have a multidwelling unit within a home,” said Trustee Chibuike Enyia.

“That really does help that generational family. I’m wanting to just applaud the village staff and the Plan Commission for working on something like this, and getting us to the point where having that unit within the home makes perfect sense and let’s just be more flexible for different kinds of situations that might not be as traditional as most.”

Several trustees expressed concerns about the implications of accessory dwelling units on property tax assessments of structures, and upon village services. However, Trustee Susan Buchanan said she didn’t share those concerns.

“In the background information that was included with our agenda item was data showing the very low uptake of ADUs in communities that have passed these,” she said. “It may be different here because we’re more dense and we’re closer to the city. I also want to point out that these similar concerns of services to the village don’t come up as much when we build high-rises. I think it’s going to take a long time before we add as many people to the village from ADUs as from the high-rises that we’re building.”

The Village Board asked Oak Park’s village staff to gather data on accessory dwelling units after a reasonable amount of time. Tammie Grossman, the village’s development customer services director, said her staff likely would bring information back to the board in a year.

“We’ve talked about how we might not see an influx (right away), said Village President Vicki Scaman. “I’m still very excited about the opportunity. I just happen to think that it might be good for us and not be immediate, but I think we’re ripe for it as a community who is a little older, who is very unique and has different types of houses and a very active, aging community.”

Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.

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