The Elmhurst Zoning Commission has unanimously rejected a proposal to build a private-public mixed-use building on Addison Street. The now City-owned property has been the subject of much controversy: illegal closed meetings as determined by the Illinois Attorney General, City financing to the developer to purchase the property, and a request for increased building height to accommodate two additional floors for office space (including a private athletic facility) in an already saturated office market – just to name a few.
A civics lesson: The approval process for development projects requiring exceptions to the Zoning Code has three steps: 1) The Elmhurst Zoning and Planning Commission, a group of appointed (non-elected) officials, holds a public hearing wherein the applicant must prove why and how a project meets City standards for conditional use or variance from the Zoning Code; interested parties from the public have an opportunity to submit their opinions about the proposed project for the official record during this hearing; the Zoning Commission then deliberates and issues its specific “findings” and recommendations indicating if the applicant has proved its case; 2) The Zoning Commission’s recommendation then goes to the City’s Development, Planning, and Zoning Committee, a standing Committee of the City Council composed of three Aldermen selected by the Mayor. The DPZ Committee reviews the Commission report and makes a recommendation in turn to the full City Council which has the ultimate vote. The recommendations of both the Zoning Commission and the DPZ Committee are advisory and may be overturned by City Council. A vote of two-thirds of the aldermen then holding office is required to approve a project contrary to the recommendation of the Zoning Commission.
The Citizen Advocacy Center has been opposed to the Addison Street Project, not because we dispute the need for more parking, but rather because the public process around this project has been anti-democratic from the start, resulting in a proposal that was fatally flawed in several respects. While the Zoning Commission was able to consider only the information before it as submitted by the developer and signed off on by the City, we applaud the Commission’s recognition and rejection of the fatally flawed application based on the following:
• The Traffic Study included in the application identified several engineering and safety issues that were not addressed.
• The three buildings identified in the central business district as examples of buildings higher than 45 feet were distinguished individually and collectively as different from the proposed Addison Street project.
• A recent City Consultant report identified excessive unoccupied office space in downtown Elmhurst.
• It was unknown how much public parking would be lost due to a required loading dock, the addition of bike parking, and the revisions needed to accommodate engineering and safety issues, none of which were in the application.
• Safety issues identified as ‘very problematic’ were not addressed related to lot-line to lot-line development, and narrow alleys vis a vis truck/ car/ pedestrian traffic.
• The inability of the City to implement creative new pedestrian amenities in the immediate area if the requested zoning relief were allowed.
The commission further rejected the application on grounds of the plans being, as stated by the developer, “fluid and subject to change.” Approval must be based on what was submitted by the developer and commented on at the public hearing process. Altering or changing the development plan would necessitate a new application and a new public hearing.
The Citizen Advocacy Center asks that the DPZ Committee, and eventually the full City Council, concur with the recommendation of the Zoning Commission: the application as submitted should be unanimously rejected. Furthermore, the Zoning Commission report raises questions about the advisability of going forward with this project even at a building height that does not require zoning consideration.
Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center
182 N. York St.
Elmhurst, IL 60126