Learning that the Opera Club mixed-use building at the southeast corner of South Boulevard and Marion Street was built 5 feet higher than it was supposed to be drove the Oak Park Village Board last night to levy a hefty fine–$188,223 plus temporary use of an 83-space parking lot–against the developer.

The board learned in early July that a dozen changes had been made to the building since it received village approval in 2004, the most egregious being a change in the brick used on the building’s facade. Most of the changes were warranted by obstacles that came up during construction.

But board members railed against architect John Schiess in a Monday night meeting, saying he should have at least let Village Planner Craig Failor know about the changes before continuing with construction.

The 13th change–that the building was built to 75 feet, rather than the approved 70 feet–was the last straw.

“The height issue is a serious issue,” said Trustee Ray Johnson, who Monday night had suggested leniency in the fine because in his view part of the problem may have been the fault of the village’s procedures.

“This takes us to another level,” Johnson said. “That’s a major problem for me.”

The $188,223 figure was reached in negotiations between Schiess and village staff members. Interim Village Manager Ray Wiggins told the board that Schiess thought the number was too high, but that he would honor it if the board chose to fine that much.

Part of the fine Schiess and developer Alex Troyanovsky are responsible for will be paid by creating a new surface parking lot near downtown.

The Jaguar-JIC building at the southwest corner of South Boulevard and Forest Avenue will be razed, and an 83-space surface parking lot will be constructed there at the developer’s expense. The lot will likely be used for employee parking and is expected to be ready before the holiday shopping season.

The effort is estimated to cost approximately $33,000.

In negotiations, the use of the property was offered as a way to offset a cash fine, but the village board chose to levy both the maximum fine and use of the lot.

Steve Witt, director of the Building & Property Standards Department, said a survey of the Opera Club shows its height to be 75 feet, but that the measurement could have been affected by where the measuring device was placed.

Drawings approved by his department show the maximum height of the building at 75 feet, however the drawings approved by the village board in the planned unit development (PUD) process show the building’s height as 70 feet.

Witt said the village is reviewing its procedure for comparing construction drawings with approved architectural drawings.

“Certainly the procedure leaves something to be desired,” Witt said.

Village President David Pope, though, said, “There’s a responsibility that lies with the developer to ensure that [building plans] are in conformance with what’s been approved.”

The building’s height was the major issue in the PUD approval process. Schiess said at the time the project would not be desirable to the developer if it were any shorter than seven stories. Neighbors wanted no more than five stories. Schiess said the concession was made to build goodwill because Troyanovsky owned–and still owns–a number of high-profile properties he plans to develop.

Schiess said last night he and village staff knew from the beginning the building would be 5 feet higher than approved. When he received drawings back from a structural engineer, a foot of space had been added to the area between each floor.

“It’s unusable volume,” Schiess said.

He said he met with Failor and another staff member to review the plans and they talked about the height difference. Staff had the opportunity to not approve the plans, but they approved them, Schiess said.

Before last night’s meeting, the major issue had been a change in the choice of brick to be used on the building’s facade. Approved were standard-sized bricks, but what Schiess used were 4-by-4-by-12-inch “utility” bricks.

The entire east side of the building was built with the utility bricks.

Building & Property Standards approved the changes, but that department judges material only by safety and other standards and not by aesthetics. Village code requires changes to be approved by the village planner, however Schiess did not let Failor know about the changes.

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