The long-running OPRF lights saga would have made Kafka happy.
Round three just began, as the high school applies for a special-use permit to put up large poles (aka “light standards”) in order to illuminate the stadium and allow for night games and practices. As we have opined many times, this is potentially a very good thing for the community, but the NIMBY neighbors who oppose it have been fighting it tooth-and-nail for a very long time and don’t show any signs of giving up. If they lose this round (or the next), you can bet they’ll take it to court.
This war has been going on longer than the one in Iraq. It started in 2001, even before 9/11.
Round one, long and protracted, involved the high school holding public forums during which the neighbors got to present their case against lights. The District 200 board voted to approve lights anyway.
After a long delay, the high school applied to the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for a zoning variance that would allow the installation of the light standards. The neighbors got to present their case again. The hearings went on for months, the sessions sometimes lasting till after midnight. The ZBA has seven members and by state statute, they need four votes to approve something (decisions are binding). But one member recused herself because her firm had done work with OPRF High School. Another member was frequently absent. After many delays, they ZBA finally returned a 3-3 vote, the tie in this case going to the neighbors.
Pretty shoddy process overall as I noted in a column a few months back.
The high school then decided to go for Round Three, taking their case to the Oak Park Plan Commission, requesting a special-use permit instead of a zoning variance.
But the insanity has only intensified.
The plan commission has nine members, so state statute requires a majority of five votes for approval. But at present, the plan commission has one vacancy, so they started with eight members. Five votes are still required to approve.
Then at the first hearing last week, the neighbors protested the presence of one member who is a part-time track official (that is, he occasionally officiates track meets, presumably once in a while at OPRF). That’s a conflict of interest, the neighbors complained.
Huh? An official is, by definition, impartial. If Vic Guarino is capable of officiating at OPRF without being biased, then he can certainly deliver an objective vote on a special-use permit. The neighbors’ objection is completely illogical, but the plan commission caved and ejected him from the proceedings. Presumably, that should disqualify all the rest of the commissioners because they must have some connection to local sports, and since the lights involve sporting events, they can’t be expected to be deliver an unbiased judgment.
Anyway the commission was now down to seven members, but they still need five votes to approve.
Another member wasn’t present that night because of a serious medical situation in the family, so that member will most likely not take part in these deliberations, according to commission Chair Linda Bolte.
And then there were six. Five votes still needed.
Only five members were actually present at the first session last week because commissioner David Sokol couldn’t make the meeting. Bolte doesn’t see a problem with his participation, but she doesn’t know for sure. He is, after all, the husband of Oak Park Village Clerk Sandra Sokol, and the neighbors will no doubt find that objectionable as well.
If he’s eliminated, that brings the commission down to five, meaning a unanimous vote is required for approval.
And that’s not all. One of the remaining members actually lives on the 300 block of Linden, just north of the stadium. The neighbors didn’t object to his presence (surprise, surprise) and neither did the high school (God knows why), so he remains to pass judgment. But, presumably, he knows most of the neighbors who are objecting. They may well be his friends. He may also have personal objections based on living close by. If there was ever a case of conflict of interest, this is it, but he remains involved.
Curiouser and curiouser, crazier and crazier.
Obviously a negative vote on this special-use permit is a foregone conclusion. The best thing, therefore, the plan commission can do is vote quickly and get it over with, then pass on their highly tainted negative recommendation to the village board (the decision is advisory, fortunately, not binding). Let’s hope, then, the trustees recognize how ridiculous this whole process has been and overturn the commission’s recommendation.
And then the board needs to start re-examining this highly flawed citizen commission process. The ZBA and plan commission are critical to how this village conducts its affairs, but the rules make it almost impossible to deliver fair judgments.
The situation is appalling and needs to be changed.