League Observer: Trudy Gibbs
Present: Trustees Kathy Dodd, Joel Kurzman, Stephen Leonard, Senta Plunkett, Daniel Sullivan, Julie Wolf and President Bob Bielinski
Preceding the Village Board meeting, (26) 8th grade students from our LWV-W League of Student and Government Leaders program were paired with six Village Board members and five village administrators. The session helped students prepare for their roles in two mock board meetings in mid-March. The League is grateful to our elected officials, administrators and Wilmette Junior High School staff for the generous time spent with the students. The students stayed to observe the first hour of the Village Board meeting.
Topics Not Discussed
The majority of the issues before the board for the February 13th meeting were approved by consent agreement. Although the board and those attending the meeting had the right to remove any of the items for discussion, none were removed. Prior to the meeting, more than 200 pages of information about the items on the consent agenda were available for review in the online Village Board meeting packet.
The single item that was discussed involved a complex zoning issue. The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) had denied the applicant’s request. Their submission of the case to the Village Board was in hopes of obtaining an override of the ZBA ruling. At issue was a request to allow the retention of 1) an air-conditioning unit in the applicant's side yard, 3 feet from the property line and 2) a grill island and pergola in their backyard.
The complexities of the case resulted in over 90 minutes of discussion because: 1) all the items in question were non-conforming to Village code, 2) some of the work had proceeded without permits and penalties were involved, 3) the construction had taken place over a span of six years, and 4) the applicants were new to Wilmette and first-time homeowners at the time when much of the work had been completed.
Further complicating the case, the contractors who did the work should have known permits were needed and about the Wilmette zoning codes. Moreover, the construction was bothersome to a next-door neighbor.
The Village Trustees were divided between those who felt the applicants had not intentionally avoided permits and conformances and those who felt the law is the law and needed to be respected. They wrestled with their sympathy toward the owners mistaken understandings, the rights of the next-door neighbor and the rule of law. On the advice of the village attorney, the case was remanded to the ZBA for a fresh look because the case involved legal issues that could not be dismissed by the board.
Innovative Programs Introduced for Managing Zoning Issues
John Adler, the Village Community Development Director, explained how two recently introduced administrative practices have improved the processing of zoning cases.
The Village Board has asked Director Adler to give a brief overview of zoning cases prior to any discussion and to specifically lay out the issues that the Village Trustees are to address. This opening perspective helps orient the boundaries of the case for the Village Trustees, applicants and those in the audience. The intent is to provide a framework for the applicant’s presentation and a focus for the trustee’s discussions, thus shortening the time spent.
Director Adler also explained the Wilmette Zoning Board of Appeal’s Administrative Review process. Under the Administrative Review regulations, minor zoning disputes can be processed by the Community Development Department staff. For those applicants who qualify, the option has reduced the number of cases that need to be handled by the ZBA. The Administrative Review process also serves to reduce construction delays for residents. For more information about the qualifications for using Administrative Review, see pages 80-84 in the Zoning Ordinance posted on the village website.
Prior to the regular Board meeting, there was a chance to view the potential rainwater containment plans that the Board is considering. Residents had a chance to look at the drawings and give feedback to the Board. That meeting ended at 7:35.
The regular Board meeting began at 7:55. All Board members were present. President Bielinski thanked residents who were tuned into the meeting as well as those in the audience.
Allyson Haut, Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Wilmette announced that Rebecca Boyd, a member of the Wilmette LWV had been selected by the LWV of the United States as an observer to attend the 23 rd U.N. Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany. At that conference it was agreed that for the preservation of the earth, climate change needed to be addressed by local governments to safeguard public health.
Rebecca Boyd, LWV, who had been to the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, thanked Trustee Wolf and Trustee Plunkett for attending the North American Climate Summit in Chicago the prior week. The Paris agreement charged local governments to implement plans to address climate change. She believes there is momentum in Wilmette for helping address climate change here.
The League of Women Voters of Wilmette announced they were pleased that two Wilmette Village Board members attended the North American Climate Summit in Chicago the previous week.
Kate Gjaja LWV, spoke about the League’s commitment to the minimum wage in Wilmette and that the League supports the working group that has been formed to study the issue
Trustee Leonard requested that that the adoption of the ordinance amending the Village code for signage at West Lake Plaza be omitted from the consent agenda. It was removed. The Board then adopted the Consent Agenda.
Trustee Wolf spoke about her experience at the Climate Summit. She talked about new ways of tech monitoring of climate change and its effects. She thought it would be beneficial for the Wilmette Village to sign the Chicago Climate agreement which includes cities both large and small. She spoke about the Greenest Regions compact and thought Wilmette might be interested in joining.
Trustee Plunkett reported that there were mayors from all over the world, as well as Chicago and many suburban representatives attending the conference. She thought perhaps Wilmette’s Environmental & Energy Commission could be asked to study how Wilmette could take part in this effort and that the Board’s administration Committee might study how Wilmette might benefit from joining the Greenest Region Compact.
Mr. Frenzer reminded people about the holiday lights recycling program at the drop-off at Wilmette Public Works at 711 Laramie Ave.
Mr. Stein reported that there were plans for a local adjudication system in for non-criminal, non-jailable offenses to be heard in Wilmette. The local system would have and administrative law judge hearing the cases, have better arbitration hearings for local disputes, be less expensive to taxpayers, and give people an option to avoid Cook County Circuit Court. It would be handled by the Corporation Council’s Office and would start in late March. Anything criminal, like speeding would still need to be resolved at the Cook County Courthouse.
A representative from the West Lake Plaza owners asked for approval of two current signs being removed and replaced with new signs which would make it easier to see what all the businesses are at the Plaza. The new signs would mean the removal of the use of one parking space. The representative reported that their tenants are in favor of this. After discussion, the measure passed with the minimum votes. Voting “no” were Trustees Dodd, Kurzman, and Leonard.
After the presentation by the representative of the owner of 3110 Hill Lane who detailed the additional changes that were planned for the construction of a garage requiring variances. Trustees approved overturning the recent zoning board recommendation, but the final vote approving the project will be heard at the next Board meeting on January 9 th .
The last item on the agenda was a presentation by Artis Senior Living, which proposes a 3-story senior and disabled resident care facility on Ridge Road where the Wil-Ridge Plaza now stands. The planned building, as planned, would be 43’ tall instead of the 30’ current zoning. Artis estimated a doubling of property tax revenue for the property and has offered to donate $50,000 to Wilmette’s Housing Our Own. John Adler, Community Development, stated that any PUD (Planned Unit Development) building by definition must provide benefit to the Village. Trustee Wolf suggested a silver LEED building might help their case and was concerned about the lack of “green” space and landscaping. Trustee Leonard asked that Wilmette residents be considered first for the apartments. The Board postponed voting on the current proposal citing problems with the size and height of the building, insufficient stormwater control, and increased cost to the Village for emergency response. It was suggested that Artis return at the next Board meeting on January 9 th with plans to address the Board’s concerns
The LWV observer, Jan Barshis, left the meeting at that point around 10:00 pm.