Or at least that was the initial feeling of the parties involved last Wednesday when the Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), in a 3-3 split, failed to approve the zoning variance allowing Oak Park and River Forest High School to install stadium lights.
The board voted 3-2, Jan. 8, but four votes are required to approve variances. Member Alan Raphael, who missed most of the previous meetings because of scheduling conflicts, attended Wednesday’s session, casting a no vote.
With the ZBA split, the variance automatically failed, according to ZBA rules.
OPRF officials had no immediate comment about the decision.
On Monday, District 200 Supt. Attila Weninger expressed disappointment.
“The process is what it is. The ZBA was thorough and fair in its deliberations. We’re disappointed in the decision, but we don’t view it as a setback. We’re going to take a step to the side and determine our next options,” Weninger said. He did not elaborate on what those options are.
Joining Raphael in voting no were Pamela Freese and Robert Schoen. ZBA Chair Steven Rouse and members Adrienne Eyer and Thomas Brashler voted for the variance. Member Margaret Kostopulos had recused herself from earlier hearings because her law firm does work for the high school.
Neighbors long opposed to lights were pleased, gathering in back of village hall council chambers after the vote to hug and congratulate one another.
Jack Lanenga, OPRF assistant superintendent for operations, wouldn’t discuss the vote, but instead said, “We had a fair hearing, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Lanenga and Terry Lieber, one of the leaders on the neighbor’s side, hugged each other shortly after the vote though both were nursing colds, a coincidence the two acknowledged.
Last Wednesday’s session was the shortest to date since the ZBA began deliberating on the lights issue in October 2007. Members took less than 10 minutes to decide on OPRF’s case before going on to other business.
The neighbors and the school rested their cases in December, and the ZBA deliberated Jan. 8. Raphael was required to review evidence and testimony from the previous missed sessions before voting.
Reading a brief statement, he concluded that the high school did not meet three of the four standards for granting its variance, including that lights would not negatively impact the neighbors and the community.
The high school wanted to construct 80- to 100-foot towers requiring the school to file for a zoning variance. One of the neighbors’ arguments was that the school needed a special use permit to install lights.
Mike Gibbs, president of the OPRF Boosters, which has staunchly supported stadium lights, said it was up to the school to decide what its next move is.
“As for any advancement, it now falls to the administration of the high school.”