It may feel oppressive to neighbors who weren’t expecting their streets to fill with parked cars all day all schoolyear [sic], but if that’s the case, they can lobby the village to use some other land to locate parked cars. At least that’s how I see it. We have to run the ‘business’ we were elected to run, and not set ourselves up to solve problems that belong to the rest of the village.
—District 90 trustee to the D90 board president
That quote came 45 days before five D90 school board members voted to fill the streets around Roosevelt School with parked cars by removing half the parking spaces on school property. Spending 2.5 years and $130,000 on designs for Roosevelt Middle School that don’t comply with local zoning ordinances has wasted substantial amounts of time and money.
The symmetry of D90’s leadership misbehaving like their elementary-aged students would be funny if not for the serious implications for our neighbors and taxpayers.
In 2011, D90 formed an insular committee of Roosevelt parents and staff to “re-imagine” a 25- to 50-year “campus” plan. While improving Roosevelt’s storm water management and aesthetics have merit, D90 leadership failed to do their most important homework. Committee members received no information regarding zoning regulations at Roosevelt. They toiled diligently, unaware they were spending tax dollars under flawed assumptions.
It isn’t clear why experienced D90 administrators and trustees failed to consider zoning in 2011, but by February 2013, zoning questions were being raised by a member of the zoning board. Citizens expect their elected representatives and well-compensated staff to make good-faith efforts to clarify whether plans to remove significant parking spaces are allowable under the zoning code. That did not happen.
One administrator tried an end run, advising that a “safe-harbor” could be found, allowing D90 to avoid zoning review. Another asked D90’s attorney for an opinion on the basis that “it looks like if we convince the community that we are still grandfathered, then the [zoning] code doesn’t apply.”
Granted, the zoning code is long and dense. But stated clearly is its purpose: “to promote the public safety, health, convenience, comfort, preservation of property values, and general welfare of the village.” Scheming, through omission or intention, to bypass zoning rules makes one question whether D90’s leadership shares a commitment to the community at large.
Now it is 2014. Hundreds of volunteer and staff hours have been diverted from focusing on education. Trust and goodwill built up by D90 over years of thoughtful community collaboration have been needlessly squandered.
A November 2013 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Roosevelt is part of a Planned Development Agreement and subject to zoning oversight after all.
It would be reasonable for D90 to simply explain their mistake, apologize for time and money wasted, promise to improve and get back to real work improving education.
But not this leadership. Ignoring the missteps that the FOIA identified, D90 moves full steam ahead. More lawyers and a loophole-laden request to eliminate 23 spaces was submitted to the village last month.
D90’s superintendent bristled in an email at the “misinformation” of a citizen characterizing D90 as a “bad neighbor.” He understated the matter. Purposely ignoring the zoning code, attempting to push school employee parking to neighbors’ homes, seeking loopholes rather than accepting responsibility, and making up arguments about safety unsupported by their own traffic engineer are not the actions of a bad neighbor. These are the actions of a bully.
Bullies need to be stopped. Thankfully, Village Administrator Eric Palm has directed D90 to the Development Review Board to rule on D90’s plan. Residents can heed the trustee quoted above and “lobby the village” to stop this outrageous decision to create congestion, impair the ability of residents to enjoy all resources on that block and degrade neighborhood property values.