Vote comes down to 4-4; Mushow abstains

By Dee Longfellow

For The Elmhurst Independent

It was a meeting of the Elmhurst Zoning & Planning Commission that offered a public forum, even though none of the testimony was able to be further considered for the topic at hand. Still, six people took to the podium to express their concern once again about the Elmhurst Extended Care nursing home facility planned on Fremont Ave.

A few people were kind enough to wish the Commissioners happy holidays.

“I’d like to thank the Commission for your hard work,” said Terese McCarthy. “I realize you are residents like us. Happy Holidays to you all.”

Eileen Franz, Asst Zoning Administrator for the City of Elmhurst, explained the conditional use proposal and the steps the Commission had to discuss to come to a recommendation, which will then go before the Planning & Zoning Committee, before appearing on the agenda for the full City Council’s vote.

A nursing home cannot be placed in an R-1 district without a conditional use, Franz said. Currently the Elmhurst Extended Care facility (EEC) is on a lot, which could have been subdivided into two lots, but could actually even fit three homes. Someone posed the question, if there were three homes planned on this lot, what would the bulk be for those home, vs. the bulk of the nursing home?

The proposal was voted down once before by the ZPC, so this meeting represented the Commission’s second look at the facts to determine a recommendation.

To establish a conditional use, the applicant must show that nothing about it will be detrimental to the comfort and general welfare to the neighborhood.

“It is a big disadvantage to the neighbors that they understand the size of the property at the time of purchase,” said Commissioner Dan Corrado.  “To have that change so drastically is of detriment to the neighbors, and it’s really not the way our town is. Most of our applicants find a happy medium in some way, but I don’t feel that has happened here. They have been in an egregious confrontation. I’m saddened that we have come closer to having the applicant give in on this.

“Has this particular condition been met? Yes, no question, I just think we’re all going to come to the conclusion that it is going to meet [the conditional use] but is that what we want to do?”

Commissioner Lisa Callaway lives in the neighborhood, so she is familiar with the project first-hand.

“We live in the neighborhood so I’m very familiar with what’s happening there, but any of our lots could change at any time, even though there’s a residence next to us. I was sure the house next to me would be a teardown. In terms of this, I believe it’s been met, but what did we buy into when we bought our house?”

“Is this use compatible with the neighborhood?” Commissioner Susan McCoyd asked. “It was zoned for single family residents. The zones are [put in place] to protect commercial buildings from encroachment from incompatible services. That’s right in the zoning book.

“We have the ordinance that says a nursing home COULD be in a residential neighborhood, but needs a conditional use. The question is, does it meet the requirements for conditional use?”

“It’s a good question,” said Commissioner Dave Garland. “It’s a significant setback, but a single family home could be put in there just as high,[which could] block the neighbors’ view just like this.”

“I think it’s always challenging to take each one [conditional use] separately and then look at the whole thing as a whole,” said Commissioner Jordan Uditsky. “I don’t see that it helps the general welfare. They do have to satisfy a substantial portion of each of these conditions and we want to go by what we can, but we all have certain opinions. It’s challenging but the bottom line is,I have a really hard time that, all things being equal, you could end up with a brick wall next to you, but it could be a home. I don’t think we could say this property will diminish the neighborhood.

“And what IS the neighborhood? Is it Fremont?”

ZPC Chair Susan Rose shared some advice from the City Attorney.

“We have been advised that we should [look at these conditional uses] one by one. Whether we like it or not, it’s a process we really have to go through. Is there anyone who thinks that this project does NOT meet the first condition?”

The consensus of the Commissioners was that the applicant did meet the first conditional use.

The second conditional use had to do with diminishing or impairing property values in the neighborhood.

“The neighbors are telling us it is going to be injurious to the property values,” said Corrado. “If people move in later, it’s going to be a negative. It’s going to be big and it will diminish the quality of the value. That’s why we are here. We need to interpret it and make a ruling. I believe it does not.

“We kept hearing the petitioner say that the property values won’t go down, but the neighbors said, ‘oh yes, they will.’ It’s a personal gut feeling that if you build a nursing home [in a residential area], it changes the neighborhood.”

Esthetics werecalled into question.

“With all due respect to the applicant, the building is not very attractive,” said Callaway. “It’s a leap to say that just because it’s a bigger building means that property values will be going down. It’s a lot more attractive than what’s there now. Just because it’s bigger does not mean it will affect property values negatively.”

Garland agreed it was unattractive.

Commissioner Kevin Byrnes, who is a commercial real estate appraiser, noted that this issue had more or less “a sort of volley back and forth between the petitioner and the neighbors.”

“According to the Appraisal Institute, in this instance the most appropriate method to test market value would be a sales analysis,” he said. “Find the proposed condition somewhere else and look at prices of real estate and then look at another areawith the same project and see the difference.”

Callaway said the analysis doesn’t just have to do with property values.

“When you look at property values alone, they don’t satisfy the rest,” he said.

Callaway also noted that a single-family home could be built to code in that location and could also be unattractive.

“What really struck me is that the aerial map is the most telling thing,” said Rose. “We had a long discussion about the fact that there is an apartment building at the end [of the block], but this is right dead center of the neighborhood. Is it injurious to the neighborhood? Well, it plunks it right down in the middle of the street.

“Then I was truly struck by the model presented to us. To me, that was stunning. I think you get a real idea of the scale. From my perspective, the criteria is injurious to other property in the immediate vicinity, but I don’t disagree with Callaway’s comment,that a neighbor could come and build an ugly house, but a structure that is in truth in the middle of the block? I asked the petitioner if people could use the front area, and was told they could not. It’s someone’s front yard.

“The scale seems significantly out of place there.”

Another of the criteria to discuss was, “will the project impede orderly development or improvement to the surrounding properties.”

“If we deny the property, there’s got to be 10 or 15 things we could put there, you could put a school or a church if it met all conditions,” said McCoyd.

“Could this have a negative influence on the desirability of the neighborhood?” Byrne asked. “Is this going to accelerate that?”

“Are we accelerating that type of development?” Rose said. “Are we making a statement with that?”

“It’s complete conjecture,” said Callaway.

“We [as a Commission] are asked to engage in conjecture, that it will not interfere with other properties,” Rose said.“How can we say that?”

When it was all said and done, the vote was taken and came out 4-4 with Commissioner Frank Mushow recusing himself. (Asked later why, Mushow said it had to do with interviewing a woman for a job in the past who had worked with one of the developers. He felt it was inappropriate for him to take a public vote. He said later that had he voted, he would have voted ‘no.’)

Those who voted ‘yes’ were Byrnes, Callaway, Garland and Kurt Warnke. Those voting ‘no’ were McCoyd, Corrado, Udinsky and Rose.

The motion failed due to the split vote, therefore the petitioner’s request was denied by the ZPC. It now goes before the Planning & Zoning Committee for the second time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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