Council insists on 2nd reading for special use permit
By Igor Studenkov
For the Bugle
The Park Ridge City Council voted unanimously to take the first step toward approving a Special Use permit for a new fitness center in Uptown, at 70 N Northwest Hwy during its Oct. 16 meeting.
The city council traditionally holds two readings to approve such application. In this particular case, the applicant asked the aldermen to waive the second reading to allow them to open faster. But the council voted 2-5 to deny the request, so the final vote will happen during the Nov. 6 meeting.
The new fitness center would be part of the San Diego Club Pilates franchise. The franchisee for this particular location would be Andy Gentner, who, according to the application, plans to open two other locations elsewhere in Illinois. According to his LinkenIn profile, Gentner is also owner of Massage Envy, a Scottsdale, Arizona massage and skincare business that also operates as a franchise.
The application documents indicate that Club Pilates will offer 30-40 classes, with each class having up to 12 students. It will be open between 6 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sundays.
The fitness center will be located in Uptown Station development. As previously reported by the Bugle, as part of the Uptown Redevelopment Agreement, if owner Uptown Station LLC leases out spaces to businesses that doesn’t charge a sales tax, it must pay the city the money that it would have otherwise got through sales tax revenue. The exact amount is based on square footage and consumer price index. In this particular case, Uptown Station LLC will pay $8,922 per year assuming the Consumer Price Index stays the same. If the CPI goes up, the amount will be raised as well.
The development agreement also specifies that the City Council must approve any non-retail tenants – which it did during the Oct. 16 meeting. But before the aldermen voted on the Special Use permit, Alexandria Vulpone, representative of Kolbrook Design, an architecture firm that designed this particular fitness center location, spoke on Gentner’s behalf. She asked that the council waive the second reading, making that evening’s vote final.
“I am simply requesting for the second reading of the Special Use to be waived in order for the client to get the permit [application process] rolling sooner so he can start construction before the holidays,” Vulpone said.
The City Council has traditionally approved Special Use permit applications in two readings, with the second reading usually included in the consent agenda. Residents can make comments at both meetings, and aldermen can remove the vote from the consent agenda, if necessary.
Waiving the second reading requires a super-majority vote. In other words, at least five out of seven aldermen must vote in favor.
Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) asked why the applicant was requesting the delay, noting that two weeks didn’t seem like that long of a wait.
“In two weeks where we have to wait for [approval], we can have a building permit by then,” Vulpone replied. “It’s a very small business, doesn’t need a lot of construction work. So we’re hoping that it just helps them to maybe get set up before the holidays.”
“Typically, most of those businesses generate their sales after the holidays, correct?” Mazzuca said.
“ From my discussion with him and corporate, they do certain benefits during holidays to try to sign members up, like discount rates,” Vulpone replied. “We’re just trying to help them out the best we can.”
Mazucca made a motion to waive the second reading. Missy Langan, member of the Park Ridge Zoning Board of Appeals, said she objected to the move on principle, just as she would object to any other attempt to go against long-stranding City Council practices.
Ald. John Moran (1st) had his own reservations.
“My only fear on this is just the optics of it,” he said. “I know the explosion of sushi restaurants and Starbucks and fitness centers in town has been talked about numerous times, and although I do support [Club Pilates], I don’t want this to look like we’re rushing it through just to keep the public away from having an opportunity to comment.”
Moran and four other aldermen wound up voting against waiving the second reading, with Ald. Marty Joyce (7th) and Ald. Nicholas Milissis (2nd) casting the “yes” votes.
Mayor vetoes zoning variance for Touhy Ave. gas station
Park Ridge Mayor Marty Maloney took a rare step of vetoing an ordinance that allowed the BP gas station at 1220 W. Touhy Avenue to build a larger sign then a zoning code would normally allowed.
In his message to the city council, the mayor noted that the applicant wanted a larger sign because signs of two nearby gas stations were larger and it wanted to be able to compete effectively. But those two signs didn’t follow the zoning code, either – and Maloney felt that allowing a third gas station an exception would only make the problem worse.
The city council can now either override the veto or leave it in place. If they go with the former, they must vote to override during the Nov. 6 meeting. The override must be approved by a super-majority – at least five out of seven aldermen must vote in favor.
In its application, the gas station asked for two zoning variances: to allow a pole sign with a total area of 72 square feet and allow that sign to be placed five feet from the property line. Under the property’s B-2 zoning, the outdoor signs must be no more than 32 square feet, and the setback must be no less than 10 feet from the property line.
The City Council held the first reading during its Sept 19 meeting and a final reading during its Oct. 2 meeting. In both cases, the aldermen split the motion into two, voting on each request separately. While the setback variance passed unanimously, the sign size variance inspired debate, with aldermen voting 4-3 to approve it.
During the Oct. 16 city council meeting, Maloney made his veto official. Reading from a prepared statement, he noted that, in order to get a zoning variance, applicants must show that the “strict application” of zoning regulations will result in “undue hardship,” that their plight is due to “unique circumstances,” and that, if granted, the variance would not alter the neighborhood character. While Maloney felt that BP met the third standard, he wasn’t convinced it met the first two.
“The applicant claims that they will be at a competitive disadvantage due to the signs of their competitors, who are east of them on Touhy and who each have larger signs, and [that] this is their unique hardship,” he said. “They are correct in that the signs for Thorton’s and the Shell gas station are larger. Thorton’s sign is 70 square feet and the Shell station’s sign is 91 square feet.”
However, he noted that those signs are non-conforming. He felt that the goal of the city should be to try to bring non-conforming signs into compliance, and having another non-conforming sign in the area wouldn’t help.
“Allowing the applicant to piggyback and use two non-conforming signs to create the backdrop for an undue hardship would be wrong,” Maloney said. “The decision this council needs to make and the direction we need to be heading, beginning with this case, is adhering to code.”
Having all three gas stations follow the same rules would truly level the playing field, the mayor argued.
“This should be our goal and not granting variances that play into the arms race of sign size and non-conforming use,” Maloney said.