Minutes of the Regular Meeting of the Gurnee Planning and Zoning Board - August 21, 2013

Village of Gurnee
Planning and Zoning Board Minutes
August 21, 2013

1.  Call to Order and Roll Call

The meeting was called to order at 7:30 p.m.

Planning & Zoning Board Members present:  Chairman James Sula, Richard McFarlane, David Nordentoft, Richard Twitchell & Edwin Paff

Planning & Zoning Board Members absent:  Sharon Salmons and David Ohanian

Other Officials present:  Bryan Winter, Village Attorney; David Ziegler, Community Development Director; Tracy Velkover, Planning Manager, and Molly Booth, Associate Planner
2.  Pledge of Allegiance

3.  Public Comment

Mr. Sula asked if anyone from the public had any questions or comments regarding anything not on the evening’s agenda.   As there were no responses, Chairman Sula closed the floor to the public on the matter.

4.  Approval of the Planning and Zoning Board’s May 1, 2013 meeting minutes.

A motion to approve the minutes was made by Mr. Nordentoft, seconded by Mr. McFarlane.

Voice vote:
All "Ayes", no "Nays", none abstaining
Motion carried:  5-0-0

5.  Public Hearing:  Variance (Six Flags Great America)

Six Flags Great America, located between Grand Avenue and Washington Street and Route 21 and the I-94 Tollway, is requesting a variance to allow the establishment and operation of a new roller coaster with a maximum height of 165 feet.  The roller coaster is proposed in the County Fair area of the theme park, where the Iron Wolf coaster was previously located.  The subject site is zoned C/S-1 (A.P.) Outdoor Recreational District with a Special Use for an Amusement Park.

 Ms. Booth stated that Great America LLC is requesting a variance to exceed the 125 foot height limit within the Six Flags Great America theme park for construction of a new roller coaster with a maximum height of 165 feet.  The property is subject to a conditional use permit from 1974, which limits the height of structures within the park to 125 feet.  The conditional use permit provides for a variance process to allow structures up to a height of 310 feet.  Structures above 310 feet are not allowed.

The theme park is generally bounded to the north with residential zoning, including the Quality Acres, Valley View Estates, & Gurnee Highlands’ subdivisions, and some commercial zoning with North Ridge Plaza.  To the east is commercial zoning with Riverside Plaza and Windsor Court; to the west is industrial zoning with Center Point and Grand Tri-State Business Parks, and to the south is office, commercial, and residential zoning, with uses including homes, offices and a service station.

Mr. Hank Salemi, Park President of Great America LLC, was sworn in by Village Attorney Bryan Winter before giving a short presentation on the proposed roller coaster which he stated was planned to open for the 2014 season.  Through visual aids, he illustrated the proposed location of the new coaster; this location was once the site of another roller coaster, the now-dismantled “Iron Wolf,” that had been there from 1989 through 2011.  He noted that the Iron Wolf coaster did not exceed the 125-foot limit.  He pointed out that the 125-foot limit will only be exceeded at a single point of the ride’s structure.
In acknowledging that the location of such a ride may affect the Board’s decision, he stated that proposed site is near the park’s own administrative offices, and--that the use of that particular space will be relatively quiet.  He also again pointed out that the site had been the location of another such thrill ride that had once been a part of the park.  However, he also added that the new coaster will have polyurethane wheels, making it even quieter than Iron Wolf.  He stressed the need for the park to remain competitive, by introducing new coasters.  He noted the strength of the company’s ability to make such a multi-million dollar investment and the resulting revenue to be enjoyed by the Village through taxes placed on increased admission revenue.  Wrapping up his presentation, Mr. Salemi stated he would be happy to address any questions.

Mr. Twitchell asked if there would be any additional speakers to accommodate the new ride. 

Mr. Salemi stated that there would not be any more than what had already been there for the Iron Wolf.  After requesting clarification from Mr. McFarlane, Mr. Salemi explained that the speakers, which are located on the ground, would be used to give safety/operational commands and “spiels” regarding the ride.  He added that there may be T.V. sets placed along the queue for the purpose of entertaining guests waiting in line.  He stressed that none of this noise would likely be heard outside the queue, much less outside the park. 

Chairman Sula then opened floor to public, requesting that any comments/questions be directed at the Board and indicating that they would all be addressed after all comments/questions were received.

Duane Bracewell, 5160 South Road, asked if Board members had any control over the location and/or positioning of a ride in the park.  He also asked what would “pull the ride up” and if it would it involve chain that may “clank.”  He expressed concern over the position of the first “dip” of the coaster, as living near the park’s “Superman” ride he often hears screams and language of riders that he feels he may not have if the dip of that particular ride was positioned to face I-94. 

Janice Brogen, 5081 South Road, stated that she is aware that she lives near a theme park.  She said that she has lived there for about 23 years, and—until the last couple of years—it’s been “okay.”  But, in these last couple of years, she feels she has been impacted by things she claims she was promised she would not be (i.e., loud music and debris from fireworks from the park).  She expressed concern on what impact this new roller coaster may have, and questioned why a variance is being considered if rules have been set in place. 

Sue Schneider, 960 Fuller Road, stated that she had expressed concern in prior meetings over the park’s show, “Ignite,” and asked if any study has been done on the impacts (noise, etc.) of such a show on a neighborhood.  She explained that she feels “powerless” and asked who was going to help.

David Nevolo, 7272 Brae Court, stated that, as a “theme park fan” and an Urban Planning major, he felt the addition of the new coaster to the park is positive, and pointed out that whatever noise is generated by fireworks or the “Superman” ride have to be less than that created “Shockwave,” a ride that was located on the site now occupied by the “Superman” ride, due to the older engineering and louder lift chains once used.

Barb Becker, 5075 Darlene Court, stated that her backyard is up against the park’s “backyard” and that, while she has gotten used to the impacts on her property, the noise is no longer as buffered by the wooded areas as they (the woods) are diminishing. 

Chairman Sula then addressed the comments and questions from the public, but stated that comments/question related to the “Ignite” show and fireworks would be more appropriately addressed by contacting the Village Board as they do not concern the variance being discussed at this time. 

The Village Attorney Winter informed attendees of the meeting that state standards for noise have been adopted by the Village and that Village staff is working with the park, adding that the noise levels are to be measured at property lines. 

In regards to comments/questions/concerns over the location and positioning of the ride, Ms. Booth stated that review is limited to setback restrictions, height restriction, and impact on parking. 

In regards to the noise related to the propulsion of the ride, Mr. Salemi acknowledge the noise created by the planned mechanics of the ride (riders will be chain-pulled while ascending up the hill of the ride).  He also acknowledged that, yes--riders will likely be screaming while on the ride, especially when descending down the drop.  But, he stressed that such noise will not likely be any louder than that resulting from other rides (in particular, the one that had been located on that same site). 

Mr. McFarlane asked if the proposed drop on the coaster—ascending on the south and dropping to the north—could be “flipped”.

Mr. Salemi stated that—due to necessary navigation of the ride around other attractions—he did not think that was possible, or that it would even make much of a difference. He specifically noted that this orientation would place the chain pull substantially closer to residential.

Chairman Sula proposed running through the specific criteria of the individual “Standards” that are to be met when addressing a request for a variance. 

After comments from Mr. Twitchell, it was determined that the petitioner’s answers to the “Standards” questions should be considered.

Furthermore, the Village Attorney felt that, due to the uniqueness of the proposal, it would be appropriate to discuss features unique to this type of business, including that this is the only C-S1 zoning in the Village.

Chairman Sula stressed “maintaining a competitive advantage to the business that’s housed there”.

Mr. Paff added that--if such a business is to be there--such improvements need to be allowed. 

The height standard in the conditional use permit from the 70’s reflects a hardship on the use of the property, as an Amusement Park, since ride technology and ride heights have changed.  Also, the proposed roller coaster is in an area at the southern end of the park, near the employee grounds, where another larger coaster previously existed.

Mr. Nordentoft made a motion, seconded by Mr. Paff, to forward a favorable recommendation for the requested variance, per the testimony given.

Roll Call Vote:
“Ayes”:                         Paff, Nordentoft, McFarlane, Twitchell & Sula
“Nays”:                         None
Abstain:                        None
Motion Carried:            5-0-0

6.  Next Meeting Date:  September 11, 2013

7.  Adjournment
Chairman Sula asked for a motion to adjourn the meeting. 

Mr. Nordentoft made a motion to adjourn the meeting, seconded by Mr. Sula.

Voice vote: 
All "Ayes", no "Nays", none abstaining
Motion carried:   5-0-0

The meeting was adjourned at 8:35.

Respectfully Submitted,

Joann Metzger
Planning and Zoning Board Secretary