Minutes of the Joint Meeting of the Gurnee Zoning Board of Appeals - March 11, 2009

The meeting was called to order at 7:56 P.M.
 
Plan Commission Members Present        Chairman James Sula, Stephen Park, David Nordentoft, Sara Salmons, Gwen Broughton, Patrick Drennan
 
Plan Commission Members Absent         Richard McFarlane
 
Zoning Board Members Present:             Chairman Tom Hood, Edwin Paff, Mike Deimler, Denise Smith, John Spadaro, Jerry Kolar
                                                           
Zoning Board Members Absent:              Don Wilson
 
Other Officials Present:                          Bryan Winter, Village Attorney; Tracy Velkover, Planning Manager; Molly Bacon, Associate Planner, Ryan Mentkowski, Associate Planner
 
 
1.        Informal Discussion: Incorporation of aesthetic standards into the Zoning Ordinance
Planning Manager Tracy Velkover stated staff has been working with the planning consultant on the updating of the zoning ordinance. Staff has reviewed drafts of the residential districts as well as drafts of the commercial and industrial districts. She stated as they have been going through these drafts questions have been coming up about to what degree does staff want regulations in the zoning ordinance controlling aesthetics. Ms. Velkover stated to a certain degree a lot of the regulations in a zoning ordinance do have the aspects of aesthetics. Setbacks are one example.
 
Ms. Velkover stated one of the reasons for being here tonight is to try to get feedback from the Commission so staff can go forward and give some direction to the planning consultant. This is needed so staff doesn’t waste his time and staff’s time in drafting regulations that you may not support. Ms. Velkover stated there are examples that she will run through. She further stated one of the reasons for wanting to incorporate some additional aesthetic controls into the zoning ordinance is the results of the community survey that is done every year. She stated the results of this survey done in 2008 reveals that a little over three quarters of the respondents feel it is very important for the community to manage developments in order to retain community values. This was up nearly 50% from the year 2000. In addition, the percentage of residents who felt the Village was meeting or just below meeting expectations has risen in that same time period approximately 2% to 11% over the same time frame with 64.5 % of the respondents indicating that their satisfaction level with this goal was either below or meeting expectations. Ms. Velkover stated in addition, the survey revealed there were individual comments from residents that Gurnee was lacking a sense of community because Gurnee does not have a downtown area. Other comments in the survey included that Gurnee’s developments are not attractive.
 
Ms. Velkover stated that in addition, a lot of the Planned Unit Developments and annexation agreements over the past twenty years have had some elements of aesthetics within those agreements. Ms. Velkover noted in the residential agreements there is usually an anti-monotony code; something that mandates that the same model cannot be within a certain distance or across the street from a model; that a certain number of three car garages cannot be next door to each other or across the street, in order to control the appearance of garage doors while going down the street.
 
Ms. Velkover stated there have been some basic aesthetic controls in the commercial development PUD agreements. Some of these include requirements that ground level rooftop and mechanical equipment be screened, dumpsters be screen and some very basic building materials requirements. She also stated that usually there is something included that prohibits metal skin buildings and metal can only be used as a decorative element but haven’t gone as far as stating it must be brick.
 
Ms. Velkover stated within the agreements the philosophy has always been to require some significant setbacks to the roadways and within those setbacks to have significant amount of landscape material. She notes as this landscape material matures there have been several businesses contacting the Village indicating they wish to thin out some of the material. This is due to the fact these business are retail and their business depends upon visibility in order to make their business work and when these businesses are hiding behind landscape material that defeats their purpose. 
 
Ms. Velkover stated that with the amount of landscaping required taken in hand with some of the new signage regulations which have eliminated the possibility of ground signs for many out lot buildings, is the reason for the desire to examine whether this is the same direction the Commission wants to go or whether the Commission would want to put some more quality into the buildings and slightly relaxing some of the standards. This would provide nicely landscaped developments and nice buildings that could be seen as well as the businesses being successful.
 
Ms. Velkover noted some of the communities in this area as well as throughout the United States do have design standards within their zoning ordinances. She stated examples of commercial development standards are of mechanical ground level equipment, screening of dumpsters, and glazing which provide interest for customers while connecting the building exterior / interior and putting eyes onto the development. In addition, glazing provides human scale to the building facades and visibility into the businesses so activity is seen. Ordinances can be used to require a certain percentage of the facades whether it is the ground floor or the top floor to be occupied by windows.  In addition, facades with glazing requirements are usually applied to those that face a public street or private access drive where there is high visibility.
 
Ms. Velkover stated there can requirements for building materials. She noted a lot of communities will require a certain percent of the front building elevation that faces the street to be constructed with certain high quality materials. That percentage can be set to whatever percent is decided upon. The material is usually brick or stone and accent materials which provide visual interest in the building and so the building is not all one building material. She stated this discussion is very informal and there are examples that will be shown to the Commission.
 
Ms. Velkover explained that façade articulation can be used for any size building but usually used for larger big box store fronts where there is a long wall of a building. It requires changes in plane of a certain depth, so there is relief from the vertical element of the wall. This can also include changes of color, texture, or materials, either horizontally or vertically, at specified intervals. 
 
Ms. Velkover stated there can be requirements for roof design. For example, for a flat roof building, a requirement that every X amount of feet there be a change in the roof line so visual interest is realized. Some ordinances require that sloping roofs be used with a minimum roof slope. 
 
Ms. Velkover noted some ordinances require four sided architecture which means the same building materials are carried around all four sides of the walls.
 
Ms. Velkover explained there are varying degrees for any of these requirements and the Commission can choose whatever they would like. She stated staff would like to know to what degree the Commission would like to incorporate some of these into the zoning ordinance.
 
Ms. Velkover mentioned there are site design elements such as pedestrian benches, walkways either brick pavers or stamped concrete to denote pedestrian walk way areas. She stated in many commercial developments there are walkways in the center of the development so pedestrians are not walking through a parking lot and flow to the storefront areas.
 
At this point of this informal discussion, a PowerPoint presentation was presented to show visual aspects in commercial buildings of the following: high quality building materials, glazing, façade articulation, variation in roof designs, and decorative elements including benches, light poles and planters.
 
Associate Planner Ryan Mentkowski noted the Golden Corral restaurant being shown in the Power Point presentation was approved in Franklin, Wisconsin in the 27th Street Design standard overlay district that covered an entire state highway and any new building had to abide by the overlay standards.
 
Ms. Velkover stated this is not an all or nothing proposition. She stated the Commission can pick sections of what is liked out of the aesthetic controls.
 
Chairman Sula stated he believes we are on to something good and until he hears the words PUD he holds his breath because the only way anything can be enforced is through a PUD or perhaps an overlay district. He stated this is a good project to work on.
 
Ms. Velkover asked if the consensus is to put some design standards into commercial districts or developments. She also asked if the Commission’s thinking is for this to be in all commercial developments or a threshold size for big box users.
 
The Commissioners responded all commercial developments to the previous question.
 
Ms. Velkover asked the Commissions if they would support site design standards for commercial office and industrial developments.
 
Both Commissions answered yes to both.
 
Ms. Velkover then stated if you support design standards for commercial office and industrial, to what extent? Do you want basic standards for the front façade of the building having certain materials or do you want more extensive standards including basic materials, roof design, glazing, or articulation? Or do you want to step this up to include site design issues in terms of pedestrian walkways, brick paver walkways, benches, etc?
 
Chairman Sula answered he is not as concerned interior amenities as he is about street appearance and line of sight from residential.
 
Ms. Velkover asked if this is the consensus or if the board would like to see some other site design issues?
 
Mr. Park commented if someone liked bricks and if a certain percentage were to be brick, he could show the board some hideous brick buildings. He stated this cannot be done with just materials. He also stated it just can’t be done four-sided because money might be wasted. He noted an example of the shopping center with the Old Navy store. He asked why you would do the back elevation as there is a 15 foot high berm with a 10 foot fence and no one would even see it. Mr. Park noted there are some communities that do not want any type of dry wood. And there are other communities that say they want a particular type of architecture. Mr. Park stated there are standards that can be put together that address the easy stuff. He stated when you get to the architecture of a building it is more than just materials, it is design. He noted this is what is tough to get into an ordinance, and that this cannot be done prescriptively; it is a judgment call. He stated Dan Robison did a very intensive analysis and has a 120 item checklist and that you have to pass “x” number of items to get architecture approved. He stated the concept of integrating architecture into site design is very valid and you need to be careful about being too prescriptive. He notes this just cannot be written because it eliminates the creativity of the architect and a good opportunity may be missed. Mr. Park asked how this would be judged; at a staff level, a Commission level and at a board level. He noted he has seen far too many boards and Commissions that have no clue as to what architecture is all about.
 
Mr. Park suggested that the Commissions highlight what is trying to be achieved first, rather than trying to come up with how to get there and what are the real goals.
 
Ms. Velkover responded those are all valid points. She stated when the zoning ordinance draft is done, if it doesn’t look like it will work there may need to be some plan Commission review. She also stated they want to keep this as streamlined as possible.
 
Chairman Sula stated this should start with a mission statement or philosophy statement and that he agrees with Steve. That you cannot anticipate every single aspect in an ordinance in terms of what is good design and what is not so good design. He notes that common sense isn’t so common and what is good design isn’t so obvious to everyone.
 
Ms. Velkover responded there may be some scoring system, as was mentioned, that leaves some flexibility with the designer but you would have to have a certain score to move on.
 
Mr. Park stated at one time his wife was the staff person that dealt with the architectural review Commission in Buffalo Grove and they had issue that would not allow any white houses. He commented on what they were trying to achieve with this and stated this is why objectives are needed. In referencing the pictures in the Power Point presentation, Mr. Park stated what is right for us and asked if staff is trying to retrofit or is the object to catch the new stuff. He noted the opportunity for new stuff versus retrofit is very different. He mentioned the discussion just included retail, office, and industrial which are three very different types of criteria.
 
Mr. Park asked how do you do a pitched roof on an industrial building?
 
Ms. Velkover responded that she didn’t know if that would be a standard in an industrial area.
 
Mr. Park noted that Lake County and Wadsworth are trying to do just that at Rt. 173 and the Tri-State. He noted there are zero buildings built that way but that is the standard they came up with and it’s an award winning planning design.
 
Chairman Sula stated they are not trying to design the particulars but trying to give direction.
 
Mr. Spadaro stated this looks good, and feels good, so it must be good.
 
Ms. Velkover stated there is good direction for commercial and knows that it will be a challenge.
 
Ms. Velkover asked if the Commission wanted to go onto the residential portion. She stated residential is another issue noting there are single family, duplex townhomes, and multi-family. She stated the Commission may feel differently about single family and not controlling aesthetics or having design standards but when you get to multi-family or townhomes the Commission may want some esthetic controls. 
 
Ms. Velkover stated some standards that other communities have used are building materials, window glazing, as well as some requiring covered entrances. Staff is not promoting any of these, rather just trying to get some feedback.
 
Ms. Velkover said one concern staff has had with townhomes is the repetition of garage after garage. She stated there can be some standards put in place to limit the number of garages that can put in a row. Ms. Velkover stated at the very least staff wants to try to incorporate an anti-monotony code or some sort of statement within the ordinance. She suggested that some ordinances require a certain percentage of the façade of a home to be the home and not the garage so not to be dominated by the garage doors. This is fairly basic for single family residential and these standards can be incorporated into townhomes so that there are not four garage doors in a row. This would need to be mixed up with putting the garage doors on either end of the townhome or duplex structure.
 
Ms. Velkover noted as Mr. Park stated for industrial buildings, that you wouldn’t have the same standards for industrial as you would for commercial. The Commission may want to look at some standards for multi-family that are more in line with commercial such as articulation on walls (if they are exceedingly long), building materials and roof line.
 
Ms. Velkover asked the Commission if they were interested in single family regulations, and if so there should probably be some sort of anti-monotony statement so there is some variety, and not to get hit with the same model of house after house after house and some controlling of three car garages.
 
Mr. Sula stated the Commission wants variety without hodge-podge.
 
Mr. Paff asked if these restrictions are in the Planned Unit Development’s (PUDs).
 
Ms. Velkover responded not in a lot of the earlier PUD’s, but some of the later PUDs have a statement that you cannot have the same model with the same elevation within a certain distance or across the street.
 
Mr. Paff asked if Alecia Fields had this.
 
Ms. Velkover responded no, that it was one of the first PUD’s to go and one of the reasons for that.
 
Mr. Paff stated it is bad and so many people have gone to someone else’s house.
 
Ms. Velkover asked if the Commission is giving support for anti-monotony and garage controls for residential.
 
Ms. Salmons stated that anti-monotony is good and likes to focus on building materials for both single-family and multi-family because it looks nice. She stated that with multi-family she would like to see the articulated roofs.
 
Ms. Velkover stated to keep in mind for building materials on single family to look at Providence Oaks where there is a New England theme using brick and stone or if requiring a mixture of materials it is getting away from that. She states that if you want to look for a high quality material and you consider cedar, a high quality of material and not require a mixture of materials it would probably be ok.
 
Ms. Velkover questioned whether she was receiving support on building materials standards for single family and a percentage on the front façade that faces the street.
 
Mr. Paff stated he has a hard time with it because he would not like someone telling him what he has to build and but on the other hand someone could build something totally inappropriate for a subdivision but he could imagine there aresome restrictions.
 
Ms. Velkover responded right now there is nothing, and you can build whatever you want and stated the idea is to have some fairly simple controls for single family and ramping those up for duplex or multi-family.
 
Ms. Salmons stated that this sounds reasonable.
 
Mr. Park stated you may have different standards for existing versus new as well. And if someone is doing an addition it may be a different answer for someone who is doing a small sub-division.
 
Ms. Velkover asked the Commission if there is interest on some aesthetic controls on multi-family, larger apartment buildings and townhomes with a little mix on single-family homes.  She also asked that in regards to single-family homes whether the Commission wants to do something more than anti-monotony.
 
Mr. Deimler stated the single family home subdivision price point will control itself depending on where the home will be built. He stated that there has to be some control. He stated that we can get away from the garage thing if possible, but people need to get to their garages. Mr. Deimler stated some controls are necessary depending upon the type of construction proposed but it should not impede any development because we cannot build all brick homes in Gurnee.
 
Ms. Velkover stated if something were to be done for single family materials it would just be a certain percent of the front façade depending on whatever threshold the Commission would want.
 
Ms. Velkover stated she is struggling with what the Commission wants for single family homes. She states she is not hearing, other than monotony and percentage of façade that can be occupied by garage doors, other consensus on building materials for single family homes.
 
Chairman Sula stated he is not sure whether the Commission wants to get involved on specific building materials for single family homes. He stated some sort of delineation needs to be made on a situation if someone is taking a big lot and turning it into 3 small lots versus someone who wants to put in a 20-25 home development. Chairman Sula noted it is a different set of rules and if it is a larger development there needs to be some sort of emphasis on a theme without being monotonous.
 
Chairman Sula mentioned Providence Hills and stated it works for the particular neighborhood because it is consistent and is not sure how this would be incorporated into an ordinance. He further stated right now the Commission is flying blind unless someone states PUD or overlay. He suggested for right now to have some basic anti-monotony and quality material points so there is something the Commission can go to which would avoid a bunch of cinder block.
 
Ms. Velkover stated staff would talk with their planning consultant for his ideas on what may trigger the larger developments having to comply with design standards.
 
Ms. Velkover also noted there will be a call out in the single family zoning districts for cluster single family by right to encourage people to do cluster single family and to preserve some of the natural features. She stated the only way this can be done at this time is to go through the PUD process and a lot of developers don’t wish to go through this process because it is time consuming as well as high in cost. She stated staff and their consultant is exploring a district where cluster single family is done by right by preserving a certain percentage of the development with natural features such as woodlands or wetlands. In doing this a density bonus may be given which also saves the Village money because it would result in fewer infrastructure requirements in terms of streets (sewer & water lines) and plowing of those streets. She stated there may be a way to write some aesthetic controls as well as something to get the more traditional larger residential subdivisions.
 
Chairman Sula stated this is really needed because right now the only way to assure a quality development is if the PUD comes up. He said this should be pursued and it would probably take three or four drafts. He added there needs to be a stake put into the ground.
 
Ms. Velkover stated it seems the Commission wants to go down this road and staff will go ahead and work with their consultant. She noted there will be many drafts they will go through before getting it to the right point.
 
Chairman Sula stated in terms of priority that perhaps a look should be taken at the comprehensive plan and what big parcels of property are out there and are most likely to develop. He said to take care of those first and work toward the smaller parcels once the larger ones are taken care of.
 
Mr. Kolar asked what the total area build out is in Gurnee, as far as percentage of vacant land.
 
Ms. Velkover responded that she did not have the number in front of her, and stated there are not that many large parcels left for development.
 
Mr. Sula responded the largest single property is the Lodeski property and it is not residential at this stage.
 
Ms. Velkover confirmed the majority of the Lodeski is non-residential with only a slight portion residential. She stated there is some on the Merit Club property that could potentially be residential or could also be office, which is located at the southwest corner of Rt. 21 and Rt.120, right at the corner.
 
Mr. Nordentoft commented that something good has been hit on regarding the single family trigger for design requirement at a certain number of units. He stated there should be a safety net in this category where at a certain number of units then the controls or design standards can kick in. He noted a lot of what is happening in town is in-fill development where a developer will split off a lot and put up a house and the developer may try to architecturally tie in the house, but he didn’t see the point in having design standards for the smaller subdivision. He further stated that he wanted to make sure that the Village was being protected for sites such as Bobby’s Golf property or other similar types of properties. He stated that there should certainly be standards for multi-family developments. He lastly stated that as long as there is a trigger mechanism for requiring design standards we should be okay.
 
Ms. Velkover responded she had thought of this trigger mechanism as well. She said there used to be a trigger mechanism before the tree ordinance kicked in, with 5 lots before trees had to be preserved or replaced.
 
Mr. Park stated he is interested in exploring the path that staff is proposing to go down, but he does not know where the Commission is going yet so he didn’t know if the Commission would actually get there. He stated he is a skeptic overall because of the difficulty of it, but very willing to explore it.
 
No further comments were made regarding said topic.
 
The Workshop Meeting was adjourned at 8:38PM.
 
Respectfully Submitted:
 
 
 
Joanne Havenhill
Plan Commission & Zoning Board of Appeals Secretary