With a six-month moratorium on property subdivision applications set to expire, the Riverside Village Board last week voted 4 to 0 to strengthen local laws regarding residential property subdivisions with a particular emphasis on protecting the village’s status as a U.S. National Historic Landmark District.
Village President Ben Sells cast the fourth and deciding vote for changes to the village’s preservation ordinance and subdivision regulations at the village board’s March 3 meeting.
Others voting in favor were trustees Joseph Ballerine, Ellen Hamilton and Scott Lumsden. Trustees Patricia Collins, Doug Pollock and Michael Sedivy were absent from the village board meeting.
Among the changes approved was a provision adding language to the “purpose and intent” section of the subdivision ordinance that specifically states the ordinance is in place “to help preserve the village’s national historic landmark designation and the  General Plan [of Riverside]’s preference for large residential lots.”
In addition, the law now clearly states — as a requirement for subdivision — that “no subdivision shall be approved that would negatively impact the village’s national historic landmark designation” and that subdivisions contrary to the General Plan’s preference for large lots be approved “only after careful consideration of the current character of the immediate area.”
The law also now expressly requires that subdivision of property “shall protect, to the maximum degree possible, historic sites, scenic points, desirable natural areas and other environmentally sensitive features worthy of continued preservation.”
Changes to the subdivision ordinance were recommended unanimously by the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission after a series of meetings in January and February, which included a joint meeting with the Riverside Preservation Commission.
Another result of those meetings was a change in procedure regarding future subdivision applications. Language was added to the village preservation ordinance requiring anyone seeking subdivision of a property containing a local landmark structure to obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the Preservation Commission.
Certificates of appropriateness already were required when the owner of any local landmark structure applied for permission to alter or renovate the exterior or to demolish a landmark structure.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine wondered why the village wouldn’t simply seek to prohibit subdivision of landmark properties in order to remove any ambiguities. But Sonya Abt, Riverside’s community development director, said that planning and zoning commissioners felt such language might be unduly burdensome and could dissuade some from buying landmark properties.
There might be some instances in which the village might approve subdivision or demolition of a landmark property, Abt pointed out, such as a property that has fallen into extreme disrepair or has been destroyed substantially by a fire.
Questions about how much the village’s preservation and subdivision ordinances protected landmark properties came into question in August 2015, when the owner of a landmark home on Longcommon Road applied to subdivide his property in order to create an adjacent buildable lot.
The plan was not recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission and there was some fear that a lawsuit might result from the village’s decision. In the end, the subdivision application was withdrawn over discrepancies between the plat of survey used in the application and county land records.
The village then moved to place a six-month moratorium on subdivision requests while the Preservation and Planning and Zoning commissions revised the language of the code.