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Guest Column: Is your property being downsized?

November 24, 2010

By Paul Arena
President, Rockford Apartment Association

The City of Rockford is in the process of changing zoning designations in various areas of the city. Some of the areas being rezoned are having the zoning reduced to single-family residential (R-1). This change is being made regardless of the type of properties that exist in a neighborhood.

The justification for this action is the idea that single-family neighborhoods are more stable. That statement is true when owning a home requires a person to save a down payment and establish good credit. Owning the home becomes the symbol that identifies a person who has been financially responsible. Neighborhoods where the majority of people have stable lives become stable neighborhoods. The point is that the use of the property is not what defines the neighborhood; it is the character of the people who live there.

When the requirements for home ownership were changed, so did the reliability of the positive effect home ownership would have on a neighborhood. There are many single-family neighborhoods in Rockford that have many properties that are now foreclosed and vacant. They are likely to be purchased by investors who will repair them and put them back to use using whatever means work to attract an occupant. That could include renting, or some type of financing arrangement where the occupant becomes the homeowner someday. It really doesn’t matter how the occupant retains their residence as long as they do nothing that detracts from the quality of life of their neighbors.

Many things could be changed in the law that would encourage renters to be more connected to their neighborhood and conduct themselves the same way we expect a homeowner to conduct themselves. Changes could also be made in laws to encourage the owners of rental property to continue to invest and improve their properties. Down-zoning of property is not one of the changes that will have a positive effect.

Properties that are not zoned to conform to how they are used are more difficult to market, finance and insure. Those factors depress value and discourage investment in improvements. It is true that by down-zoning to a single-family designation, properties that are multi-family and are damaged more than 50 percent could only be rebuilt as single-family homes. It is unlikely that circumstance will occur with enough frequency to cause a noticeable number of properties to be converted to single-family use. Also, down-zoning would prevent any additional properties from being converted from single-family to multi-family use. Again, those types of conversion do not happen with enough frequency to offset the negative impact non-conforming zoning could have on property values.

An example of where this down-zoning is proposed is the Signal Hill neighborhood, composed of the blocks of Church Street and Court Street, north of Whitman Street. Almost half of the properties in that area are multi-family. Some of the properties are conversions, and many are used as they were constructed. Properties where the use has been legally established should be zoned for that use whenever possible. Much of the property in older sections of Rockford like this one does not conform to its zoning designation. That has been an ongoing problem when property is sold. Making this zoning change in this area and others like it is unnecessary. Other options are available to limit conversions and improve the condition of rented property.

The City of Rockford Codes and Regulations Committee will address this proposed zoning change at 4:30 p.m., Nov. 29, on the second floor of City Hall, 425 E. State St. People who would be affected by this zoning change should attend and express their opinion.

From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue

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