A far-reaching rewrite of Riverside’s zoning code that began in 2020 could come to the village board for a vote in February following months of fine-tuning by village trustees at their meetings this fall and winter.

And while there are still some tweaks to come, all but one trustee indicated during the latest discussion of the subject at their Dec. 1 village board meeting that they not only support taller and denser development in what will be designated the B1-TOD zoning district along Harlem Avenue between Addison and Lawton roads but also in the village’s central business district.

All trustees, except for Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga, agreed that buildings up to 66 feet ought to be allowed by right in the proposed B1-TOD district, and most were OK with buildings of up to 60 feet tall by right in the B2 central business district. 

Buildings up to 66 feet would also be appropriate in the central business district as part of a planned unit development, trustees agreed. For comparison, the water tower is 70 feet tall and the Village Center building at 10 E. Burlington St. is 50.5 feet tall.

“I think we’re trying to encourage density and height,” said Trustee Meghan Claucherty.

But Marsh-Ozga disagreed about allowing such tall buildings either along Harlem Avenue near the train tracks or downtown.

“We had a lot of issues with the Village Center getting five [zoning] variations to be at the height that it’s at,” she said. “I think people are starting to become accustomed to it, but I don’t want to see any higher, greater development in our central business district that would compete in height with the Village Center and then with the water tower. That is getting to be a little bit excessive.”

The existing zoning code, Marsh-Ozga added, allowed buildings up to 48 feet in the central business district. The proposed height for the downtown in the amended zoning code was 60 feet, but most trustees were OK with extending that to 66 feet as part of planned unit development. The additional six feet would allow for the construction of a five-story building.

“For someone to get a PUD [approved] they would have to show substantial public benefit way beyond just meeting code,” said Trustee Doug Pollock, who acknowledged that the building heights proposed in the amended code would likely be the most controversial changes.

But Pollock also said he wouldn’t be comfortable allowing something taller than the Village Center building by right in the central business district.

“I would want to make sure that staff, trustees and Planning and Zoning Commission members, that everyone is aware that [66 feet] is not as of right,” Pollock said. “You have to do something extraordinary to get that extra height.”

Trustees also agreed that the zoning code should be amended to increase building heights in the village’s R3 Multifamily and R4 Office Residence districts from 38 feet to 48 feet.

There are five R4 districts in Riverside, one bounded by Park Place, the Desplaines River, the BNFS railroad tracks and roughly Kimbark Road, one along Ogden Avenue west of Lionel Road, one on the north side of East Burlington Street between Delaplaine and Herbert roads, one on Harlem Avenue from Lindberg Road almost to Addison Road and a small section of Harlem Avenue immediately north of Blackhawk Road.

There are two R3 districts, one on the south side of East Burlington Street between Delaplaine and Herbert Roads on both sides of East Burlington Street just west of the central business district.

Trustees also suggested changing the proposed code’s limitations on allowing office uses on the ground floors of buildings in the Harlem Avenue and downtown business districts.

While trustees understood that retail businesses and restaurants were preferable because of the foot traffic they attract, they also acknowledged that filling storefront vacancies was important.

“I think restricting office use given the realities of the central business district is shortsighted,” said Trustee Edward Hannon. “I think the market will dictate what kind of businesses will be highest and best uses in that area.”