Harvard considers zoning option to discourage renters

HARVARD – Concerns from locals about recent crime in Harvard – including a string of shootings earlier this year – has the city developing a plan to limit rental properties.

A new zoning option would allow members of a neighborhood to petition to change the neighborhood's zoning in order to regulate rentals. Property owners within neighborhoods granted the distinction – technically termed a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District or NCOD – wouldn't be allowed to change their existing single-family houses or duplexes into rentals.

A petition for a change to an NCOD would need at least two-thirds of property owners within the district, which must contain at least 50 dwellings, according to the ordinance as it's currently drafted.

But those points are still subject to change, and the city hasn't worked out exactly how it will regulate existing rentals, City Administrator Dave Nelson said. A public hearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission has been preliminarily scheduled for Dec. 3.

Harvard would become the first municipality in Illinois to adopt the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District distinction, Nelson said.

The city is considering NCOD because several people voiced their concerns about the type of people brought to the community by rental units, Nelson said.

"The normal concerns about rentals," he said.

Mayor Jay Nolan said several people contacted him earlier this year after a rash of gang-related shootings.

In the spring, the city was the scene of three shootings within a month. In July, the teenage parents of a 1-year-old died in a murder-suicide.

"We had some shootings in town, and some of the neighbors asked what they could do about it," Nolan said. "This will give them the tools if they so desire to move forward with it."

The Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District proposal isn't the only way the city plans to address the issue, Nelson said. Officials are drawing up a "chronic nuisance" ordinance that would allow police to fine landlords of properties that repeatedly require police attention.

"It's a two-prong thing to address some of these concerns in the mayor's office," Nelson said.

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