Minutes of the Regular Meeting of the Gurnee Zoning Board of Appeals - May 26, 2010


Village of Gurnee
Zoning Board of Appeals Minutes
May 26, 2010

The meeting was called to order at 7:30 P.M.
Zoning Board Members Present:             Chairman Tom Hood, Edwin Paff, Don Wilson, John Spadaro, Jerry Kolar, Robert Monahan, Richard Twitchell       
Zoning Board Members Absent:              None
Other Officials Present:                          Bryan Winter, Village Attorney; Dave Ziegler, Community Development Director; Tracy Velkover, Planning Manager
1.   Approval of Joint Plan Commission & Zoning Board of Appeals Meeting Minutes for March 17, 2010.
Mr. Paff made a motion, seconded by Mr. Monahan to approve the Plan Commission Meeting Minutes for March 17, 2010.
Roll Call
Ayes:                Hood, Paff, Wilson, Spadaro, Kolar, Monahan     
Nays:                None
Abstain:            Twitchell
Motion Carried: 6-0-1
2. Public Hearing: Variation at 542 N. Route 21 (Six Flags Great America Park), for Great America, LLC
Chairman Hood stated Great America, LLC has submitted a variation petition to exceed the 125 foot height restriction to allow for the construction of a new roller coaster ride to a maximum height to 150.17 feet that will be located in the Space Port area. The subject property is the existing Six Flags Great America Park (located between Grand Avenue and Washington Street and Rte. 21 and the I-94 Tollway) and is zoned C/S-1, Outdoor Recreational District.
Chairman Hood asked for all persons from the Public who would be testifying or giving comments and questions to stand and be sworn in by the Village Attorney.
Ms. Velkover stated this is a request for a variation to exceed the 125 foot height limit within Great America. She stated the property is subject to an annexation agreement and conditional use permit.  She stated the conditional use permit limits the height of structures within the park to 125 feet and provides for a variance process for structures above 125 feet up to a height of 310 feet. She noted that above 310 feet is not allowed. She stated the property is surrounded to the north by residential R-1 and R-2; Quality Acres, Valley View Estates, Gurnee Highland Sub-Division, as well as commercial zoning; North Ridge Plaza Sub-Division. She stated to the east is commercial zoning; Riverside Plaza, Northridge Plaza; to the west is Industrial Zoning; Centre Point and Grand Tri-State Business Park, and to the south is office, commercial, and residential zoning, with uses including homes, offices and a gas station.
Hank Salemi, Park President of Six Flags Great America located at 542 N. Milwaukee in Gurnee, stated the intention is to relocate a roller coaster from one of their other parks. He stated they are very land locked in their footprint and pointed out on their drawing where the roller coaster would be located, which is in the location of where the the old “Space Shuttle” used to exist (bounded by parking lot (north), main pedestrian park entrance (east), existing Sky Trek Tower (south), and Hurricane Harbor Water Park (west)). He stated the ride has two needs for variances. The first is the initial lift hill which stretches just over 150 feet in height with another area just after the lift hill which is 137 feet in height.  He stated this is the first time they have asked for this variance in a number of years and this would be the first major thrill ride they have proposed to be added to the park since 2003, when they added the Superman ride. He noted that the Superman ride did not need a variance as it tops out at about 100 feet.  He stated there are a number of other rides in the park where they have received the variance over the years, with the latest one being 205 feet for Raging Bull in 1999.  He noted the white roller coaster (The American Eagle) located at the back of the park tops out at 129 feet, Sky Trek Towerat 310 feet and The Giant Drop at 227 feet. He stated the roller coaster being discussed this evening would be significantly less at just slightly over 150 feet.
He stated the roller coaster would be located next to their parking area by design at some level and by necessity at other levels. He stated there is really no other area to put this roller coaster as it has a big footprint. He stated unless they made a radical change and removed other rides from the park this is the only space the roller coaster will fit. He stated the roller coaster would stretch just to the front of the main gate and takes up approximately 90 parking spaces. He stated they would be adding some parking spaces to their back parking lot and noted they will still have sufficient parking at this location totaling 8,500 spaces.
He stated they feel it is important to continue to freshen their product enabling them to continue to grow which is not only important to Six Flags Great America but to every theme park. He stated they feel very good as they continue to expand and continue to increase revenue for both Six Flags Great America and the Village of Gurnee. Without the ability to install roller coasters like this, Six Flags would not be able to stay competitive with other amusement parks.
He stated that they wanted to present this to the Zoning Board of Appeals for the variance and then make decisions as they move along of what the finality of the decision would be with his company. He stated it is a long lead process of putting in a roller coaster of this size and wanted to allow enough time to do this, if Six Flags Great America does indeed decide to move forward with the relocation of this roller coaster.
Chairman Hood asked Mr. Salemi to describe the actual ride and the noise.
Mr. Salemi responded the roller coaster is a very quiet new generation stand-up roller coaster. He stated it is manufactured by B&M. He stated this would be the 5th B&M roller coaster they would have within the park and noted other B&M rides within the park are Superman the Ride, Batman the Ride and Raging Bull. He stated B&M coasters are the Cadillac’s and Mercedes of roller coaster ride manufacturers. He stated this roller coaster has polyurethane wheels making it a very quiet ride roller coaster. He noted that the Superman ride is located closer to residential areas and stated he believes there are no noise issues with that ride.
Chairman Hood asked what the name of the ride would be.
Mr. Salemi responded at this point they do not have a name for the ride.
Chairman Hood asked for testimony or comments from anyone from the Public.
Ms. Leigh Herrick,1039 Bough Court, stated that a lot of noise is not for the coaster itself, but instead from the people announcing the rides, people screaming, people walking through the neighborhood to go to the park; music; and fireworks.  She stated the noise is overwhelming and noted since the waterpark was added the noise is even worse.  She stated she bought her house in the wintertime and if she had known about the noise she never would have purchased a home in Gurnee. She stated she does not even want to sit in her backyard due to the noise and noted if she were to try to sell her home it would be difficult due to the noise. She stated getting in/out of the house is a nightmare due to the traffic. This is something to consider as far as property values in this area. She has no problem with them growing and suggested they add this roller coaster to the other side which is located by industrial areas.
Mr. Duanne Bracewell, 5160 South Road, stated there is noise associated with the park that Six Flags should be able to control, like train whistles sounding until 10 or 11 pm; concerts; park closing time of 10 or 11 pm and yet the roller coasters are stilling running until 1AM (he noted he didn’t know if the roller coasters running past the closing time of park was due to people still in line); and the location of the roller coasters being close to the residential side of the park when they should be closer to the area of I-94.
Ms. Janice Brogan, 5081 South Road, stated there is not enough parking as people park in the neighborhood and cut through her yard to a neighborhood park that has holes in fencing leading to Great America. She stated she spoke to Great America Security last October as well as showing Security the stockade fence where an entire section is missing. She stated they are also dealing with garbage from patrons in addition to them cutting through her yard. She noted last year she called police as 2:40AM with a complaint of noise from the roller coasters and music that was still taking place. She stated there is no reason for this.
Ms. Marti Kraft, 899 Fuller Road, stated that what she is hearing and what she has experienced is that Six Flags needs to be a better neighbor. She stated it is not how high the ride is at a point, it is being good to the neighborhood and the people around you. She stated residents have not gotten the support from the Village of Gurnee, the Police Department, or Great America when they have called with complaints. She stated she believes that what the ZBA is hearing tonight is the resident’s frustration at operational issues with the park rather than specific concerns with the height of the proposed roller coaster.
Ms. Diane Fearn, 1016 Bough Court, stated the screaming that is heard is obnoxious. She stated she cannot get her 2 year old granddaughter to sleep with this noise and the parade of lights. She noted the screaming especially from the Superman Ride which is very loud and obnoxious.
Ms. Sue Schneider, 960 Fuller Road, stated asked to see the diagram. She stated she has lived in her house for 33 years and has experienced all the different rides and changes at Great America. She stated a person adjusts to the day to day noise, but during the night time hours when trying to sleep the noise is a problem.
Mr. Elmer Knoll, 5059 Darlene, stated when Great America came to Gurnee the park’s closing time was 10:00PM. He asked when this changed. He asked if someone can set a time when the park would close for the evening to put an end to all of the screaming so people can sleep at night. He also commented on all of the speakers that are turned toward the residential areas.
Mr. Dan Fearn, 1016 Bough Court, stated that the proposed roller coaster is located close to residences. He stated there have been a number of times where rides are running at Great America late at night and noises are loud. He stated the location for this roller coaster is not so much a height issue but an issue of its proximity to his property.
Chairman Hood asked for any other comments from the Public.
Chairman Hood closed the floor to the Public.
Chairman Hood stated the ZBA is a recommending body and they do not make a final decision.  He stated the Zoning Board makes a recommendation to the Village Board and the Village Board is the actual decision maker. He stated he appreciates the comments from the Public this evening, but the Village Board meeting is a better place for these types of comments, which are related to operational issues with Six Flags. He noted that the Public comments that have been made are actually about the operation of the Park which the Zoning Board has no control over as a body. He stated what has been said this evening goes into the transcript and the Village Board will be able to read the comments from this evening.  He stated having a face at a meeting is always helpful and when it goes into enforcement it is an issue that is considered separately apart from variance requests.  He stated if the ride being installed was less than 125 feet in height there would be no reason to meet with the Zoning Board of Appeals. He stated this will be discussed this evening and noted that when the discussion takes place it will be just about the height of the roller coaster. He stated this is the only thing the Zoning Board can discuss and make a recommendation about this evening. He stated he didn’t want the Public to be dissatisfied and that they have heard all the comments. But again, he noted that the place for the Public’s comments for the Village Board as they are the body which can address operational issues with Six Flags, as opposed to tonight’s Zoning Board which is narrowly focused on the issue of the height of the roller coaster.
Mr. Wilson asked if then fence that has holes in it is located on the side where this roller coaster is located.
Ms. Brogan responded the holes are on the east side.
Mr. Wilson stated as any business, if you are not growing the business you are dying.  He stated he believes this roller coaster would be a beautiful addition to Gurnee.
Mr. Paff asked if there are sound ratings on roller coasters.
Mr. Salemi responded there are not really ratings but there are decibel levels.  He stated the operation mechanicals of this roller coaster are very quiet. He stated it is a steel roller coaster with polyurethane wheels which is generally a very quiet roller coaster. The noise, as noted form the residents, is mostly associated with patron’s screams.
Mr. Paff asked what direction the ride’s drop faces.
Mr. Salemi responded the drop will face toward the northeast.  
Mr. Twitchell stated in looking at the Standards for Variation there are nine Standards which are to be met. He stated the two most difficult to meet are the 1st Standard, which is the hardship standard, and the 9th Standard, which is deprivation of reasonable use of land. He asked if these two standards are really being met by this application. He stated the 1st Standard discusses topographical conditions and if the entire area had to be lowered by 25 feet to make the height limitation, a moot point, thus being a hardship. He stated he didn’t believe this actually meets the hardship standard. He stated on the 9th Standard, the reasonable use of land, is also not being met as parking is a reasonable use of land for an amusement park and other rides which are not over 125 feet which could also be placed at the location would still be a reasonable use of the land. He stated he believes that Standard #1 and Standard #9 may not really be met by this application.
Mr. Winter responded from a legal perspective the fact that it has a zoning designation of Amusement Park, is something to take into consideration. He stated these are fine points but one must also take into consideration the fact that there are already amusement rides there. He stated this goes back to the annexation agreement.
Ms. Velkover stated it goes back to the annexation agreement and a conditional use permit.
Mr. Winter stated in some respects he would caution the Board that this is an Amendment to an Existing Agreement and ultimately is a legislative decision that would be made by the Village Board. He stated in taking this into consideration, this is not a vacant piece of land and obviously these points would be well taken if this were a vacant parcel.
Mr. Twitchell stated not to get him wrong and believes this is a great location for this ride. He stated he believes hardship is a very difficult thing to prove in this case.
Chairman Hood stated from his perspective the statement that Six Flags made about needing to bring in new rides that are the quality and size that other amusement parks have in order to stay competitive, otherwise the park would die, is key. He believes that it is a hardship for the park to not be able to install this coaster to keep them competitive with other amusement parks and he also believes that this same argument can be used to prove standard #9, the reasonable use of the property. Great America needs to do this and at the end of the day it is bigger, better and faster that keeps them in business. He stated he believes both standards are satisfied.
Mr. Twitchell stated he agrees with Chairman Hood’s comment 100%. He stated this is what should have been said in the application for these two points and not the arguments that were made.
Ms. Velkover stated for the record that two emails were received; one from Carol Onstad of 731 Fuller Road in Gurnee and one from Nancy Becker of 1009 Branch Court in Gurnee. These e-mails will be attached as part of the record of this meeting.
Mr. Wilson stated this is a beautiful neighborhood and that Great America should address some of the issues raised tonight in another venue because the complaints have been about the loud noise late at night and holes within fencing. He stated perhaps there could be a neighborhood parking sticker again, to be addressed in another venue.
Mr. Wilson motioned, seconded by Mr. Spadaro, to forward a favorable recommendation on the requested variance for Great America.
Chairman Hood asked if the motion on the floor is to allow the variation as requested and presented.
Mr. Wilson responded correct.
Roll Call
Ayes:                Hood, Paff, Wilson, Spadaro, Kolar, Monahan, Twitchell
Nays:                None
Abstain:            None
Motion Carried: 7-0-0
Chairman Hood asked for motion to adjourn.
Mr. Paff made a motion, seconded by Mr. Wilson to adjourn.
The Meeting was adjourned at 8:05P.M.
Respectfully Submitted:
Joanne Havenhill

Zoning Board of Appeal