If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that there are many types of jobs – ones that usually get done inside of an office building down in the Loop or out in the suburbs – that can be done from anywhere, really.
With a solid internet connection, a web camera and a computer or smartphone, working from home, or close to home, is suddenly routine.
There are drawbacks. Living and working in the same space can be a little tedious, and family members can compete for space with a spouse also working from home or with children attending classes remotely. Just the everyday background noise of a household in action can be a distraction or even an unprofessional intrusion.
But, according to Riverside Trustee Wendell Jisa, if you have a detached garage, you have the potential for an office that’s separated from home life, offering a professional setting to take meetings and generally get to work.
“Whether it’s a dual-income family or single-income family, working from home is hard, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. That’s a fact,” Jisa said during a discussion of the subject at the Riverside Village Board’s meeting on Sept. 3.
“What I’d like to propose is that we start talking about the opportunity for homeowners in Riverside that live in smaller homes or larger ones, it really doesn’t matter … they be able to build something above their garage,” Jisa said, adding that allowing such uses would be a “progressive” approach to a situation he doesn’t see changing any time soon.
His suggestion interested enough of his fellow trustees that the matter will be taken up by on Sept. 23 the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission, who will mull a text amendment to the zoning code, allowing home offices above detached garages.
The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road. It will also be televised on Xfinity Channel 6 and ATT/U-Verse Channel 99 and livestreamed on Riverside TV (riversidetv.us).
Detached home offices exist to an extent in Riverside presently, but ones above detached structures are supposed to be limited to coach houses that have been designated local historic landmarks.
Historic coach houses actually qualify to be accessory dwellings, though there are non-historic coach houses – Jisa himself owns one – where second-story offices have been built out over the years. Those essentially are grandfathered in but can’t be converted into dwellings.
Sonya Abt, Riverside’s community development director, said there are other home offices/studios/workshops that have been built as additions to detached garages, but they’ve been allowed because they are not located above the garage.
Jisa used Hinsdale as an example of a suburb that allows offices to be built above garages. The code there limits build outs to an office and a bathroom, but prohibits kitchens.
Trustee Doug Pollock called Jisa’s request for consideration “timely” and requested that the Planning and Zoning Commission begin reviewing an amendment to the zoning code.
While he said he was “intrigued” by the idea, Trustee Edward Hannon, expressed some fear that allowing a full bathroom for offices above garages might eventually lead to those spaces morphing into dwelling units.
“Having been a guy who lived on my own and did not have a kitchen, but had a hot plate, I understand how those things can function,” Hannon said.
Hannon also said he wanted more information on whether employees and clients might be coming to the home office and whether that might pose a disruption in a residential neighborhood.
He gave the example of a therapist running a business out of such an office, with clients coming in every hour throughout the day or someone conducting business meetings involving 10 people or more.
“Home office versus functioning business, is that something we want to distinguish between the two?” Hannon asked.
Finally, Hannon wondered how a proliferation of home offices might impact the local commercial office market, small though it is in Riverside.
Jisa said his intent was not to create home businesses but home offices, “where instead of sitting in a basement with a six-foot ceiling, you can actually have a professional setting.”