What takes longer in Forest Park, firing a cop or installing a cooler? It’s a question that many followers of village affairs have pondered recently, and on Monday night they came one step closer to receiving an answer.
The village’s Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve caffe De Luca’s plans to add a combination refrigerator and freezer to the rear of the restaurant, located at 7427 Madison St.
The decision came after two hours of debate, and the commission included several provisions in its recommendation to the village council.
One of those provisions, requiring caffe De Luca owner Art Sundry to install a 3-foot parapet wall to reduce noise, was also recommended by the Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 30.
The Plan Commission also recommended that the village council, which will has the final say on the matter, consider stating a specific noise level that the unit will not be permitted to exceed based on accepted norms which village staff was asked to research.
Monday night’s meeting was a continuance of a hearing at the commission’s Feb. 6 meeting, where the Plan Commission accepted member Tim Condon’s request that the decision be held until the board received a professional opinion to help them quantify the amount of noise the unit would produce.
No such professional opinion was on hand, however, leading to protest from Condon as well as Steve Backman, who resides on Warren Avenue across an alley from the restaurant.
“I was under the distinct impression that we would have expert testimony,” said Backman. “We need to not act like Mayberry but like the professional community that we are.”
With the village lacking an ordinance in its zoning code regulating noise, the question for Condon became how to make a decision on something as difficult as quantifying sound.
“What if we go through all this effort, [Sundry] spends a lot of money, and the neighbors still say it makes too much noise?” he asked.
Sundry said that the noisier of the unit’s two condensers would produce 69 decibels of sound, while the quieter one would produce 62 decibels at a distance of 10 feet. Michael Boyle, head of the village’s Building Department, estimated that with both running, about 72 decibels would be produced.
Sundry said that, according to expert opinion that he had received, the addition of the parapet wall as well as a sound-absorbing material inside the unit would drop the level of noise an additional 15 to 20 decibels.
All parties present seemed to agree that the village should explore adding noise regulations to its zoning code to avoid the same issue coming up in the future, but struggled to find a way to deal with the current situation in the absence of such regulations.
“If everything is within codes and someone is still complaining that it’s a nuisance, though code compliant, it certainly does create a challenge in enforcing anything,” said Boyle. “But my experience with Art is that he’s a reasonable man open to reasonable solutions.”
In addition to the provisions requiring that Sundry add a sound screen and be required to comply with an as-yet undetermined norm for noise production, the Plan Commission recommended that Sundry contribute an undetermined sum of money to support a future parking structure for Madison Street.
In order to build his cooler, Sundry will need a variance exempting him from the zoning requirement to provide two parking spaces.
“I can’t say yes to a figure I don’t know, but if it’s a reasonable fee and others will participate as well I don’t have a problem with that,” said Sundry about the fee requirement.
Sundry serves on the Main Street Association as well as the Business Improvement District Committee, which has met several times to discuss the possibility of a new parking structure or other parking solutions for Madison St.
A plan proposed by Village Administrator Michael Sturino in August for new Madison Street businesses to pay a fee to the village which would be put toward parking improvements in lieu of a requirement to provide parking failed to get off the ground, as many business owners felt the suggested one-time fee of $2,500 per 1,000 square feet was excessive. Under that plan, however, existing business would have been exempt from the fee.