Neighbors Want Notice on Building Height Changes
City says it's following the law.
Those living near City Centre feel they have a right to be notified of proposed downtown building height changes, regardless of whether the city is legally obligated to do so.
"This is something that could potentially affect (residents) adversely, or maybe people think it's a good thing. Either way, people need to be notified," 1st Ward Alderman Paula Pezza said.
Pezza, along with fellow 1st Ward Alderman Diane Gutenkauf, spurred the cancellation of a Zoning and Planning Commission meeting in May after learning that notice was not sent to properties located within 500 feet of the Central Business District.
The ZPC was set to discuss a text amendment that would allow for 65-foot-tall buildings downtown without setbacks from the street or conditional use application. Local ordinance caps downtown buildings without a conditional use at 45 feet.
Than Werner, zoning and planning administrator for the city of Elmhurst, said City Hall has never issued notice for discussion of a zoning text amendment.
But Pezza and others said that the building height discussion, which was canceled after city staff consulted the city attorney, is not an ordinary text amendment.
"There's a distinct difference (between) asking for a text amendment to change the word "to" to "toward" ... (and) changing a whole district's zoning from 45 feet to 65 feet with no setbacks," Pezza said.
Werner said postage costs are one deterrent to mailing notice on a text amendment. Those costs would be covered by the $6,500 fee the text amendment applicant files with the city, but Werner said the city has filed every text amendment application itself since 1993.
"Rarely would someone from the outside ask for a text amendment ... most times, it's things we notice," Werner said. "You could come in and point out something that doesn't make sense and we might decide 'yeah, we might change our code.' "
Werner also denied that the text amendment discussion was meant to benefit a proposed 65-foot-tall development on Addison Avenue. Instead, he said the application was following through on a promise in the 2006 Downtown Plan to re-examine building height.
"I don't like to direct discussion or limit discussion, that's why I left it open-ended and said 65 feet with no setbacks and start from there," Werner said. "This had nothing to do with (private developer) ARCO/Murray. Everyone's kind of relating those two things together."
Werner said the only time the city filed a text amendment to directly benefit a business was in 1996, for Saturn of Elmhurst, once located at 505 W. Grand Ave.
"At the time we did not allow car dealers in the industrial area," he said. "We agreed that didn't make sense, so we put in a text amendment to allow car dealers in that district, but only as a conditional use."
Others disagree with that notion. Julie Melesio has lived on Larch Avenue long enough to remember the fight against a Sunrise Senior Living facility in her neighborhood, as well as the contentious, 178-unit Crescent Court development that spurred the formation of the Orange Ribbon Committee. The proposal ultimately failed and a development with 55 fewer units was approved in its place.
In both instances, Melesio said the city failed to provide proper notice to neighbors before development discussions.
"Growth isn't an issue, it's a matter of how the city does it," she said. "(The city) has done it before and it's frustrating."
Elmhurst resident Darlene Heslop told the City Council on Tuesday night she thought the reasons the city had given for not notifying residents about the text amendment changes were "weak." But she took her comments a step further and made a plea to Werner to show residents how such a change in zoning would benefit the community.
"I’d like Mr. Warner to please put together a Power Point presentation for the City Council and the citizens of this community to explain why increasing the maximum allowable building height by 20 feet, or close to 50 percent, is in the best interest of the city of Elmhurst, its residents and its downtown businesses," she said.
She asked that the presentation include "site lines, shadow studies and renderings of any potential buildings."
"Residents need to be informed of how a six-story building will affect the one- and two-story buildings that surround it—not only if you're looking at it from Addison Street, but (also) if you’re on York and looking at the back of it, towering over and casting shadows on the plaza at City Centre."
The city's Zoning and Planning Commission will discuss when to provide notice to neighbors on zoning amendments in either August or September. But Werner said the city has followed state statute all along.
"We've always been doing it by law," he said.