UPDATE: Monday, March 4, 12 p.m.:
City Manager Jim Grabowski has updated the press release sent out last Friday to add that "the city had been advised that the topics discussed were proper under the exemptions to the Open Meetings Act."
It took a long time to go a short distance at Elmhurst's Zoning and Planning Commission meeting Thursday. Commissioners are no closer to a decision on building height for the Addison Avenue project.
Arco Murray/Addison Corridor LLC is asking to build a six-story building at 135-149 N. Addison. Current zoning allows four stories.
Things became complicated immediately as questions arose about whether the presenter was even qualified to represent the developer at the hearing.
Leonidas Stellakis is director of operations for Arco Murray Construction. Addison Corridor LLC "is made up of a group of investors, of which a collection of them are partners in Arco Murray," Stellakis said. He is a shareholder representing a group of sharholders that make up Addison LLC, he said.
City Attorney Nick Peppers said Stellakis has sufficient interest in the property to represent the developer.
"You have the appropriate petitioner. You've got the right party. He's got the interest under the agreement," he told commissioners.
Then and Now
When the Addison project was envisioned in 2009 it was to address a need for parking. The original proposal included 450 parking stalls and 16,000 square feet of retail space.
Today, the developer is proposing 620 stalls, 30,000 square feet of office space, 20,000 square feet of retail, two additional stories and setback waivers to fit it all in. Stellakis said the building is designed so that parking spaces on the upper levels could be converted into office space if desired. He said offices will be occupied daily, and the extra parking will entice shoppers.
The developer wants to build the property all the way to the lot line, but that won't alter the character of the neighborhood, he said, because the surrounding buildings also are built to the lot line.
Open Meetings Act Violation
Several residents encouraged the commission to end the hearing because of an opinion issued by the State's Attorney's Office last week, stating the city of Elmhurst twice violated the Open Meetings Act by discussing the Addison project in closed session.
Related: Attorney General's Office: Aldermen Violated Open Meetings Act with Closed Talks About Addison Project
Maryam Judar, attorney with the Citizen Advocacy Center, said the the violation could be resolved if the city makes available minutes and audio recordings from the two September closed sessions. She said the public should have a chance to review the minutes before the Zoning Commission rules on building height.
But at about 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, the city of Elmhurst sent out a press release stating a course of action has not been determined regarding the "advisory and non-binding" opinion from the State's Attorney's Office.
"The city attorney has been asked to research all options available to the City Council," the statement said. The matter will be up for discussion March 4.
"It has been the intent of the city to always comply with the Open Meetings Act, and it will continue to do so," according to the statement, which was not signed or attributed to any alderman, staff member or committee.
Will Arco Murray Call Addison Avenue Home?
Elmhurst resident Tamara Brenner told the Zoning Commission the ownership of the building is murky.
She said the deed states the city of Elmhurst owns the property. The application materials state that retail and office space will be owned and maintained by the applicant, however there is "no agreement in existence to purchase the office space by the developer," she said.
She also said Arco Murray plans to relocate or expand its offices to the Addison building.
She said the "ownership interest of the developer in the future retail space is an insufficient ownership interest" to allow him to apply for zoning relief.
"If they come forward and apply for office space, then that would be the time to hear the argument for conditional use," she said. The city would be within its rights to make a decision on conditional use, but there has been no public discussion by the City Council, she said.
"If Arco Murray wants to move to Elmhurst ... great. But I don't like that the city will be paying 100 percent of the construction costs," Brenner said.
A basketball court in the final plan "just adds insult to injury," Brenner said, because that space could be used for parking.
Resident Claude Pagacz said the city's own consultants discouraged office space on Hahn Street.
"The consultants flatly told (City Council) to forget about offices," Pagacz said. "I don't see anybody from the city saying, 'I want retail, I want offices' because it was never discussed in an open meeting."
Judith Fuchsen, owner of Al's Hobby Shop, said she can't imagine how a six story building could be compatable with the neighboring three-story buildings. And she said there already are too many vacancies in town.
"I think you know we have a problem here," she said.
Pezza Takes the Podium—Not That Pezza
Real estate attorney and broker Dave Pezza, who is married to 1st Ward Alderman Paula Pezza, had much to say about the developer and its interest in the property. He again asked the commission to stop the hearing.
Again Peppers addressed the commission: "You have enough information before you to continue this process. We have a due-process obligation to the petitioner and the public attending this hearing."
Pezza made many accusations about legal documents being changed, underhandedness with regard to the demolition of Athar Restaurant, and millions of dollars paid by the city to benefit Arco Murray. He presented a term sheet from the original 2009 contract, on which a paragraph mentioning a six-story building was stricken out and initialed by former Mayor Tom Marcucci.
"This says, 'we don't want six stories,' " he said. "There is no other amendment to this contract or public discussion about changing that."
At this point, several commissioners insisted Pezza stay on point.
"I don't want to hear about terms of the contract," Commissioner Dan Corrado said. "It should be about six versus four stories. You're going way off track."
Tom Torcasso said all he was hearing was conspiracy theories.
"I have not seen one document—nothing but opinion and allegation," he said.
Commissioner Alan Brinkmeier suggested the Attorney General's opinion on the Open Meetings violation could be germane to the discussion. But Peppers said that opinion is directed to conduct at the City Council.
"It's not germane to the procedure here tonight," he said.
The Hearing Continues
Pezza shifted his discussion to potential traffic problems, loss of on-street parking, some shadows missing on the shadow documents, the petitioner's lack of testimony to support his claims, the risk of the development causing flooding problems, setting a precedent that other buildings would follow, and more.
"They have not met any standards for the variance or conditional use," Pezza said.
After several other residents had been heard, Brinkmeier made a motion to continue the meeting to March 14.
"I am very weary," he said. "I don't know that all of us are at 100 percent capacity after having given our heart and soul for three hours."
If someone comes forward with more information, the commission typically lets them speak, he said.
"We don't know if that's going to happen. We don't know what the city's going to do about the (Open Meetings Act violation)," Brinkmeier said. "Let's keep the process open."