A two-two split left the Plan Commission gridlocked and unable to make a decision Monday, leaving local artist Jeanine Guncheon and co-developer James Robinson, Sr. the option of seeking village council intervention in their proposed development at 243 Circle Ave.
The split came at the end of a contested “workshop” session concerning the development proposal. The topic of discussion was the latest reincarnation of Guncheon’s plans for development of the three and a half parcel lot at Circle and Washington.
Earlier this year, the first draft for the development was met with resistance at the Plan Commission level and Guncheon and her partner were forced to go back to the drawing board to reduce the density of the intended development.
Monday, following several discussions between the developers and the village’s development consultant, Jo Ellen Charlton, the developers appeared before four of the five members of the commission seeking “planned unit development” (PUD) status for the project.
Robinson spoke for the developers, telling the commission that the PUD status would allow them the flexibility to develop the property more creatively, while reducing the density and maintaining the existing structure on the lot.
At the center of the controversy is the developer’s desire to maintain a 90-year-old stucco house that currently sits on the lot.
During the meeting, a stoically silent Guncheon rose to speak out in defense of keeping the old house intact. “The house, presently there, was built in 1915 by the family we purchased it from,” she said, adding she would hate to lose it. “In the code they are asking for diversity in housing, we were thinking this could be a different kind of project, I would hate to see townhouses lined not facing the street.”
In order to secure approval, Robinson said, he and Guncheon reduced the number of structures they planned for the lot by one unit and switched access from the alley to two driveways from Washington Street and Circle Avenue.
The problem with seeking PUD status for this property, however, is that the property is 6,718 square feet, or 31 percent, shy of half of an acre the minimum requirement for a lot to be granted PUD status.
Currently a property must be at least 21,780 square feet, or half an acre to qualify for PUD status, thus, in order to grant the status, the commission would have to recommend that the property be granted a waiver.
The commission attempted to reach a decision on the waiver twice during the meeting, however, with Commissioner Tim Condon’s absence, the commission was at a stalemate with two commissioners in favor and two opposed.
Commissioner Martin Tellalian, was the staunchest opponent to the waiver.
“I have some thoughts on a PUD of less than half an acre and the precedent it sets,” he said. “There is not a total hardship here. There is a lot and a half that can be built on. You can get five units on the property and maintain the character of the neighborhood. Should we allow this PUD to fit five units on a property when they can build four without issue? I feel four is fine.”
Commissioner William Kirchner disagreed with Tellalian, quoting from the PUD definition in the zoning code and in the village’s comprehensive plan.
“We have only had planned development since the summer of 2002,” he said. “Its intent is to ‘provide a means of achieving innovative and creative design and flexibility of development which would not otherwise be permitted pursuant to this chapter’.” According to Kirchner, the half-acre requirement was simply a “number put in there that was large enough.”
Currently, the proposed development spans three conforming rectangular parcels, with an additional triangular half parcel jutting out into the corner. The proposal is for five units on those three and a half lots, including the existing structure, which sits on two of the parcels.
Commission Chair Steve Bitter pointed out that the lot deserved consideration precisely because it is oddly shaped and Kirchner agreed adding that, if the irregular triangular parcel were a complete rectangle, and the half parcel that is missing were part of the development, then the lot in question would be within one percent of the half acre mark and qualify for PUD status.
Following the meeting, Guncheon said she was disappointed with the result and said she would be appealing to the village council.
“We may be forced to go to the next step, which would be to tear down,” she said. “This lot will support six townhouses. Yes, I want to make money but what I really want is to build an aesthetic project. It appears that is not what the village wants. They want conformity.”