By Dermot Connolly
An Oak Lawn property owner went away disappointed from the Aug. 13 Village Board meeting when the six trustees refused to grant him a special-use permit that would allow him to continue renting a single-family home as a two-unit property.
Mufid Saleh told the board he purchased the corner property at 9600 S. Oak Park Ave. 2.5 years ago with the understanding that it was a two-unit property. He said he has been renting it for two years without any problem, until village officials told him several months ago that it was not legal to do so because it is zoned as a single-family residence like all the other homes in the immediate area.
He asked the board to overturn a 6-0 decision by the Planning and Development Commission not to deny a special-use permit. But the trustees voted to uphold the earlier decision.
“The reason I believe it should stay the way it is because I bought it that way. Each apartment has its own entrance on separate streets and it was built that way,” said Saleh, who pointed out that the apartments are not connected and have their own water and gas meters. “There are no hidden staircases. All the ceilings are eight-foot ceilings. It cannot be made into one or I wouldn’t be standing here. I do construction work but it wasn’t one unit ever.”
He said the first-floor apartment has two entrances, and the second story has entrance accessed by a wooden exterior staircase.
“It has a garage, and there is plenty of parking on the street, but I will add more in the back if I need to,” he added.
He said three men live in each apartment, with some working days and others work nights so they are seldom home together and are “very quiet.”
“I paid dearly for it. (Realtors) showed me two separate entrances. I bought two licenses to rent them,” said Saleh, asserting that he pays property taxes as well as paying to maintain the property so “everyone will lose” if they are left vacant.
He said someone from a social service office who didn’t understand the apartments were separate offered him $2,600 in guaranteed monthly rent to house a family of six.
Responding to a question from Trustee Tim Desmond (1st), Saleh acknowledged that there is only one property identification number associated with the site.
“(The rules) are based on the zoning,” said Community Development Director Jack Gallagher, who said the house was built in 1945. “I think it was made into rental in 1965. It is complicated.”
Gallagher said there is paperwork showing that a new meter was added in 1966, evidently for the second floor.
“Did your attorneys explore this with you, before you purchased it?” asked Mayor Sandra Bury.
“I was approached about this property by many residents who live in that neighborhood. The concern is that is non-conforming (to the R-1 single-family zoning in the area) and will continue to be non-conforming,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd).
Village Attorney Paul O’Grady pointed out that the minutes of the commission meeting that setting a bad precedent was a concern of commissioners as well when they vote unanimously not to grant a variance.
Olejniczak said already there have been similar non-conforming properties in his district that were “grandfathered in” but had to be returned to single-family use when there was a change in ownership.
Village Manager Larry Deetjen said that the concerns of residents “should be the guiding light” for the trustees.
“We have other examples in the village and we should be consistent," Deetjen said. "This is spot-zoning that has been ruled illegal by the Illinois Supreme Court."
“What am I supposed to do with it, just keep it empty? It is everybody’s loss and I didn’t do it. It was built that way,” said Saleh.
“You should go talk to your attorney,” O’Grady told him.