Berkeley should change public notice procedures for property use changes, area resident says
Berkeley needs to do a better job of informing village residents when a change in property use is being considered by the Village Board, a resident who opposed plans to for apartments at on St. Charles Road said during a recent interview.
"I don't want to criticize these people," Roger Roland told the West Cook News. Roland lives across the street from an existing building at 5440 St. Charles Road that he said village trustees earlier this week approved for apartments. "I spoke up at the meeting and said I think that, all in all, they do a good job. The trustees are in kind of a thankless job. But they have to listen to the constituents. We're the ones who go to the ballot box and vote for them."
Roland said he was present during the Berkeley Village Board on Tuesday when the board voted 4-1 to approve a special-use permit to allow the existing commercial building to be converted into multifamily residential use.
The board vote followed a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting in November, during which an attorney for Joe Junkovic, who owns the St. Charles Road property, said he satisfied zoning code and special-use permit goals and requirements, according to the minutes for that meeting. "He made significant improvements to the building, both interior and exterior, while preserving the footprint of the building as requested," those minutes said. "Since there are only eight apartments, there is no traffic concerns and will bring in some commercial use."
The minutes were posted with the agenda for Tuesday's board meeting. The village posts agendas for its board meetings the Friday prior to each meeting and minutes are posted after they are approved, generally at the next board meeting, according to the village website.
The idea of changing the use of the existing building on St. Charles Road into apartments first came up at a zoning board meeting about two years ago, Roland said. "We had 13 neighbors come to that meeting," he said.
"They asked if anybody wanted to speak in favor of the project. Nobody raised their hand. They asked who was against it and 13 hands shot up. I felt then that, 'We're trying to tell you that we're united in opposing this,'" he said.
Roland said he repeated to the board Tuesday what he and other area residents have been concerned about since that initial board meeting. "I expressed to them that it seemed like the zoning board, when they started with this two years ago, was more concerned about what this place would look like rather than the impact on the residents," he said. "And the residents have been saying all along that we don't want apartments there. We're afraid of what they're going to rent to, we're afraid of Section 8, we're afraid of parking problems because there's very limited parking there."
Area residents also are concerned about what development in that building will do to property values in the neighborhood, Roland said. "I would have been more in favor of condominiums because that would have been private ownership," he said.
"I've lived here 28 years," Roland said. "I just spent last summer getting the concrete fixed up in front of my house. My neighbor had a new driveway put in, repaved the driveway, built a beautiful new garage. Other people had concrete work done and did all sorts of other things to upgrade and maintain their property. And something like this goes in, that affects the property value."
Though he arrived an hour before Tuesday's meeting was scheduled to begin, in hopes he could "lobby" trustees in advance of their vote, the effort was futile, Roland said. "It seems like they made this decision," he said. "They were just going to pull with it and damn anybody who was against it, that's my opinion."
However, Roland said he also discussed with board members and other city officials better ways to provide notice about property-use changes. Roland said he was told that only the owners of property within 250 feet of the building received an official notice and that, in some cases, that was the mortgage holder.
"I found that to be real silly," he said. "A mortgage company doesn't vote for these people, they're not likely to come forward and tell these people 'We got this, just so you know.'"
He said it also wasn't clear that everyone in the 250-foot area received a notice. Roland said he didn't receive a notice and he spoke with owners of homes even closer to the property. "They said they never heard anything," he said.
Roland reported that board members seemed receptive to the idea of posting public notices on property where a change in use is being considered. "Like they do in other towns, saying this building is asking for a zoning variance and that we're going to have a meeting on this date to discuss it," he said.
"I know that's the way it is in Des Plaines where I grew up," he said. "I've seen that in many, many other towns. So maybe we'll get that done and maybe avoid having another problem like this happening again. But, so far as we're concerned, the damage is done."
Roland said he didn't believe there is anything he and his neighbors who oppose the apartments could have done differently. "I was disappointed that they weren't forthcoming with the residents, telling people what was going on there, what was planned there," he said.
He also said he saw no recourse. "We tried, we failed," he said. "It's time to move on."