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.