Real estate developers who once may have bypassed Riverside because its zoning code lacked flexibility may now give the village another look, officials hope, after trustees voted 5-0 on June 18 to amend the code and add a planned unit development (PUD) process to it.

Instead of simply making developers go through unpredictable zoning variance hearings or having to accept substandard developments that fit the letter of the zoning code, Riverside officials hope a planned unit development process will benefit both developers and the village.

“In general a PUD provides options to get a quality product everybody will be happy with,” said Riverside Community Development Director Sonya Abt. “With infill development, there can be factors that make it prohibitive to a developer. Having a PUD in the code is helpful in showing that the village is willing to look at options for a developer, and it gives us a fair bit of leverage to get what we want in terms of a quality product.”

While some municipalities, like Brookfield, require planned unit developments to be a certain size, Riverside will have no such limitation. They can also be a tool used in any zoning district, including residential districts, although the process can’t be used to construct single-family homes. 

Planned developments are also subject to the underlying zoning of a particular district, unless an exception is granted. For example, there are churches and schools that have existed for decades in single-family zoning districts.

Riverside School District 96 is in the midst of a major expansion at Ames School, a project that may have benefitted from a planned unit development process rather than a straight zoning review.

“Those unique legacy uses, I think make for opportunities to provide more workable solutions,” Abt said.

The planned development process, however, will be most useful in commercial and mixed-use redevelopment in the village’s downtown and Harlem Avenue business districts, where developments might seek exceptions to height, bulk and density standards in exchange for the village obtaining high-quality design and/or public amenities, such as underground parking, park space, a reduction in the use of impervious materials, additional landscape screening or preservation of historical features.

Planned unit developments are allowed as special uses in all zoning districts and are subject to a public hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission during the preliminary design review stage.

Trustees also agreed to add language to the code that will require planned unit developments to get a hearing before the Riverside Preservation Commission, after that advisory group raised concerns that such developments might harm the village’s designation as a national historic landmark.

Once those groups consider the preliminary review and submit their recommendations, it will go to the village board for a vote. If village trustees approve the preliminary design, the developer will then submit a final design, which the village’s zoning administrator – in this case Abt – will analyze to make sure it’s in conformance with the preliminary plan.

If it is, the village board will vote to approve or deny the final plan. Any changes to the plan after that final approval will need to be reviewed. Minor changes can be handled by Abt, but major changes trigger another public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission and a vote of the village board.