With an eye toward streamlining and improving the development process in Riverside, the village board is moving to merge its Zoning Board of Appeals and Plan Commission.

Following a Nov. 7 discussion of the matter, where village trustees appeared unanimously in favor of merging the two groups, Village President Ben Sells sent letters to all members of the two advisory commissions, notifying them of the board’s intent.

The letter also asked members to consider whether or not they would like to be named to the new seven-person commission.

In a separate interview with the Landmark, Sells indicated he would like to draw members from both commissions and consider new members to serve on the new commission.

“I’d like to get folks from each commission and supplement it with one or two new people,” Sells said.

Sells added that he wants to consolidate the commissions as a way to move ahead with recommendations in the downtown comprehensive plan laid out by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).

“The real issue is the CMAP issue,” said Sells. “We want to refine the review structure so it’s easier for development.”

Both the Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals previously discussed the village’s request to consider consolidation. The Plan Commission agreed that the merger would be beneficial, but a split Zoning Board of Appeals disagreed, arguing that it might be a conflict for the same body to both craft zoning legislation and oversee the variance process.

Arguing strongly in favor of the consolidation were village trustees Doug Pollock and Jean Sussman.

Pollock, who also serves as the village planner for Burr Ridge, said the conflict identified by the zoning board was not enough to keep the two bodies separate.

“It’s the village board which determines if variations are granted and the village board that makes the legislation,” said Pollock, noting that both commissions were advisory only.

“I’ve found the combined Plan Commission/Zoning Board of Appeals to be more effective because they understand why the law was written and are able to fairly judge variations, because they have a greater understanding of the history of the zoning ordinance … and its administration,” Pollock said.

Sussman, who previously served as a member of the Riverside Plan Commission and is a past chairwoman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, agreed. She argued that the Riverside Zoning Board of Appeals did not meet nearly often enough for its members to become very effective in interpreting the zoning code. In Riverside, the zoning board does not meet for months at a time.

“The most effective zoning commissioners are those who have either served when there is a lot of zoning appeals going on, so people understand what zoning’s about, or they’ve also served on another commission, particularly the Plan Commission,” Sussman said. “We have these wonderful volunteers who don’t meet, and in one instance I think they didn’t meet for a year. That knowledge and talk and learning is important.”

Pollock acknowledged that a drawback to the combined commission is that fewer people are involved in village government, “but the cost of that far exceeds the benefit,” he said.

The Riverside Village Board is likely to bring the proposal up for a vote prior to the end of the year, said Village Manager Peter Scalera, though no date has been set.

“We’re going to get feedback [from the two commissions] and then propose an ordinance dissolving the two commissions and creating a new commission,” said Scalera, “with the hope that we have a new commission in place in early 2014.”

In the coming months, the Riverside Village Board is expected to take up potential changes to the rest of the advisory commission structure in Riverside. Sells on Nov. 7 pushed for the board to look at possible changes to other commissions.

“We’ll work through issues and see if there are any changes necessary,” Sells said. “If folks do have other viewpoints it gives them a chance to come in and be heard as we’re going through this process.”