Building Review Board Meeting Minutes November 3, 2010

Building Review Board

Proceedings of November 3, 2010 Meeting

A regular meeting of the Lake Forest Building Review Board was held on Wednesday, November 3, 2010, at 6:30 p.m., in the Council Chambers of City Hall, 220 E. Deerpath, Lake Forest, Illinois.

Building Review Board members present: Chairman Lloyd Culbertson and Board members, Madeleine Dugan, Charlie King, Peggy Vignocchi, Monica Ruggles, and Jon Clair

Building Review Board member absent: Board member Steuart Tray.

Staff member present: Catherine Czerniak, Director of Community Development

1. Introduction of Board members and staff, overview of meeting procedures –

Chairman Culbertson

Chairman Culbertson provided an overview of the meeting procedures. He asked members of the Board and staff to introduce themselves.

2. Approval of the October 6, 2010 meeting minutes.

Approval of the October 6, 2010 minutes was postponed.

5. Preliminary consideration and direction on a request for construction of a new single family dwelling on a vacant lot at 27 W. Onwentsia Road.

Owners: Rajul and Gopal Bhalala


Representative: Mike Minchillo, contractor, Shawn Purnell, architect

Chairman Culbertson asked the Commission for any Ex Parte contacts or conflicts of interest. Hearing none, he invited a presentation from the petitioner’s architect.

Robert Churchill, attorney representing the owners, introduced the petition. He stated that his clients have been residents of Lake Forest for 21 years noting that they lived in the Ponds Subdivision before moving to their current residence on Green Bay Road. He stated that his clients have owned the property at 27 W.Onwentsia Road for 20 years. He introduced the members of the project team and stated that this petition is presented to the Board for preliminary information and input at this time. He noted that Ms. Bhalala is in attendance, but Dr. Bhalala was called out of town for business.

He stated that the lot is approximately 1.88 acres and is a buildable lot. He explained that the lot is not visible from the street.  He stated that the proposed house complies with all rules and regulations.  He described the property as a “flat bowl” and stated that the house is designed to accommodate the continued storage of stormwater on the site. He stated that preliminary approvals from FEMA are in place and noted that the project engineers are available to answer questions. He stated that the design of the house is unusual and beautiful noting that there is no streetscape view of the house since the property is located behind another lot.

Glenn Christenson, Erickson Engineering, noted that the 3-dimensional image is not meant to accurately depict the architecture of the house, but instead, to give an understanding of the site. He stated that the architectural drawings should be referred to for information on the house. He reviewed the 3-dimensional animation of the project and noted that drainage is the driving factor in the design for on this property.

He reviewed the configuration of the lot and surrounding properties. He commented on the grading and filling proposed to create the building pad. He noted that the buildable area is very limited due to required setbacks, the floodway, the flood plain and the required compensatory storage areas that need to be created on the site to replace the water detention area that is being lost due to construction. He stated that the project team has worked on this project for over a year and reviewed the process with FEMA that has occurred to date. He requested feedback and information from the Board in order to move forward with the project. He stated that the proposed house is setback significantly from the street and noted the Building Review Board Minutes existing trees on the perimeter of the property and along the driveway. He stated that a tree survey was completed and that some trees will need to be removed due to the work that needs to occur on the site.

He stated the intent to save as much of the significant landscaping as possible and to install additional plant material. He discussed the landscape plan noting the area where sod is proposed and the area where a mesic, water friendly seed mix will be used. He stated that the seed mix selected is appropriate for a wet site. He stated that the entire driveway will be a pervious surface noting that the bump outs along the driveway, to allow cars to pass each other, will be grass-crete and will not be identifiable as driveway. He stated that two runners of permeable pavers for the tires will be used and will be the only visible aspects of the driveway. He described the fence or wall proposed along the driveway near the house noting that it is necessary to separate the driveway from the lower grade below. He acknowledged that the proposed house is over the allowable building square footage due to the exposed lower level that results from the grading and filling on the site and the need to allow high water to flow under the house. He noted that the lower level will not be habitable. He stated that this is a result of the unique features of this site noting that if this was a “normal” lot, a true underground basement would be proposed and no square footage would be calculated for the lower level because it would be entirely below grade. He noted that the design team has looked at several alternatives that would lessen the building scale overage, but stated that it is the owners’ intent to request a variance from the building scale ordinance.

Mr. Purnell, architect for the project, stated that the architectural style was chosen by the owner and the need for a creative solution to address the challenges of the lot. He stated that the French Eclectic architectural style was chosen to allow some asymmetry in the design and to accommodate the garages given the tightness of the buildable area on the lot. He stated that a story and a half design scheme is proposed to soften the appearance of mass of the home. He described the materials noting the stone and brick, with copper accents, on the various elevations of the home.

Ms. Czerniak provided some history on the lot noting that the subdivision that created this lot would likely not be approved under today’s requirements. She acknowledged that it has taken a great deal of time and work to get this project to this point given the complexity of the property and need to involve FEMA. She stated that this property is a legal building lot because of the previous subdivision but pointed out that no portion of the lot is unencumbered by flood way or flood plain. She stated that FEMA has a process to allow for a map amendment noting that conditional approval has been granted by FEMA.

She stated that the City Engineer has been involved in the project for many months noting that the Engineer does not recommend development of the site, but acknowledges that if FEMA requirements and other stormwater regulations can be met, approvals for construction will be given. She stated that staff has consulted the City Attorney on this project and confirmed that when the City issues permits for construction on this lot, a disclaimer will be added to the permit noting that the owner asserts that all necessary FEMA approvals have been obtained and that no off site drainage impacts will result from the project. She stated that this lot is very wet during periods of heavy rain noting the adjacent creek.  She reiterated that the property will be completely re-graded and certain areas will be lowered to hold water to provide compensatory storage in exchange for the portions of the site that will be filled. She stated during heavy storm events, stormwater will infiltrate the site including the areas under the house and adjacent to the driveway. She stated that this is a lot-in-depth and commented on other unique aspects of this lot including the reduction in lot size for the purposes of calculating building scale due to the exclusion of the access area and the increased zoning setback requirements. She stated that staff estimates that the project as currently presented exceeds the allowable building scale by approximately 2,000 square feet. She stated that the Board, as a matter of practice, has not granted building scale variances for new construction. She acknowledged that the exposed lower level space in the proposed home adds significant square footage and adds to the appearance of mass.  She noted the limited significant vegetation in middle of the lot due to the recurrent flooding of the area. She stated that it is staff’s understanding that the existing vegetation along the perimeter of the site will remain. She stated that the landscape plan will need to be reviewed by the City Engineer noting that because this lot must continue to accept stormwater even after development, the options for significant plantings are limited.  She stated that staff encouraged the petitioner to bring forward the project at this time for preliminary input from the Board due to the complexity of the project. She thanked the petitioners for providing the 3-dimensional model to give a clearer understanding of the proposed grades on the site, the proposed siting of the building in relationship to the grades and the relationship of the proposed development to the surrounding properties. She stated that as the project moves along, a simple massing model of the house could also help in understanding the project.

In response to questions from Board member Vignocchi, Mr. Reed stated that the water that infiltrates this site is a direct result of the adjacent creek. He explained that as currently envisioned, water will enter the area below the house through eight vents in the lower level and will exit through the same vents. He stated that the grade of the overall site will be lowered slightly and compensatory storage areas will be created. He stated that water will exit from the lower level of the house into the compensatory storage areas and from there, flow back into the creek as water levels recede. He stated that additional compensatory storage areas, above and beyond what is required, are planned on the site. He stated that installation of a pipe is planned to direct water to the creek by gravity flow. He stated that the proposed house will be construction on a full foundation.

In response to a question from Chairman Culbertson, Mr. Churchill stated that this is the Bhalala’s dream lot and noted that they have planned to build a retirement home on the lot for 20 years.

In response to questions from Board member Vicnocchi, Mr. Reed stated that the vents must be located within one foot of the existing grade. He stated that a drain tile is proposed to direct roof water and water from along the driveway into the compensatory storage areas and back into the creek.

In response to questions from Board member Vignocchi, Mr. Purnell noted that the section provided is a typical architectural section noting that the draintile shown is to accommodate roof water only and that at this point, it does not account for the other unique engineering aspects of the project.

In response to questions from Board member Ruggles, Mr. Reed stated that the vents for the area under the house are sitting at the floor level to allow water to exit. He confirmed that there are no vents on the north side of the home. He noted that the vents are specifically manufactured for this purpose. He confirmed that the area under the house will be a crawl space but noted that there will be no access from the habitable portion of the home into the crawl space. He stated that at this time, the crawl space area is intended to allow for gravity flow of stormwater into and out of the area. He added that there will be access to the area from the outside to allow for the use of a pump to wash the area out from time to time.

In response to questions from Board member Vignocchi, Mr. Reed stated that the water exits the crawl space through the same vents through which it enters. He stated that the height of the water will force the water out of the space once water in the creek begins to recede. He stated that water can get up to about 3-1/2 feet in the crawl space. He confirmed that the crawl space is calculated as part of the compensatory storage area.

In response to questions from Board member Dugan, Mr. Reed stated that all of the construction materials within the crawl space are waterproof. He stated that the plant materials in the compensatory storage areas outside of the house will absorb the water quickly. He commented that this area will not flood with every rainfall, only with heavy rainfalls.

In response to questions from Board member Vignochhi, Mr. Reed stated that the crawl space is expected to flood beginning with a five-year flood.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Reed confirmed that he has used similar construction techniques and vents in homes in the the Chain of Lakes area. He acknowledged that the vents could be forced closed, but noted that there is not any mechanism that is fail safe. He explained that the vents have a flap that swings with the flow of water. He stated that there are no mechanicals planned that would dehumidify the air in the crawl space.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Purnell confirmed that the mechanical system is within the home and not within the crawl space. He stated that the gypsum board ceiling is typical of the second floor. He stated that there will be a waterproof membrane and vapor barrier within the crawl space. He stated that there will be insulation in the floor.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Reed stated that a regulatory floodway is that portion of the flood plain that carries a current. He clarified the transition from the creek to the floodway and floodplain noting that the floodplain is the entire area that floods in a 100-year storm and the floodway has a current during the 100-year storm. He stated that water will flood the basement approximately every 5 years. He clarified that the 100-year flood indicates a 1 percent chance of a flood occurring each year. He acknowledged that there have been significant storms this year that have flooded this property. He identified the location of the creek, the floodway and the larger flood plain.

Mr. Christensen explained that the flood plain is relative to the elevation and the floodway is related to flow within proximity to the creek and does not follow a particular elevation.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Reed described the CLOMR-F noting that it is a conditional letter of approval for a map amendment relating to fill that is issued by FEMA. He stated that FEMA has reviewed and approved the grading plan conditioned on receipt of a stormwater management permit from the City, a contract for grading and fill work and the approval of a map revision from FEMA. He stated that with the letter from FEMA in hand, the next step is City approval of the development of the lot.

In response to a question from Board member Clair, Ms. Czerniak stated that Engineering staff has been involved with this project for many months and has conditionally accepted the site plan based on the acceptance by FEMA up to this point in the process. She stated that the City Engineer will be involved with this project every step of way to carefully monitor all changes to the plans and field work. Board member Clair agreed that the property is setback from Onwentsia Road and may not be directly visible from the street.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Christensen noted that the majority of the trees on the perimeter will not be impacted by the re-grading. He identified the trees along the access road and along the creek and south perimeter of the site. He stated that the pervious surface proposed for the driveway is not required by FEMA, but is desired by the petitioner. He stated that the site is planned to be approximately 10% impervious material. He confirmed that the necessary soil borings were completed.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Reed stated that a soils consultant has been retained and will be involved as the project moves forward. He stated that at this point, use of caissons is not planned noting that there is sand in the soil.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Purnell stated that there is a small amount of square footage in the attic, approximately 330 square feet. He stated that generally, the roof pitch is 12:12 with the exception of the exterior veranda. He stated that various roof configurations were considered and modifications were made to lower the roof and raise the floor height in an effort to reduce the square footage. He stated that the visual appearance of the height of the home from the front is 35 feet. He stated that if the lot were flat, the house would comply with the building scale ordinance. He stated that essentially all of the building scale overage is in the crawl space which is needed for water storage.

In response to a question from Board member Vicnocchi, Ms. Czerniak confirmed that there has never been a house on this property.

In response to questions from Board member Dugan, Mr. Reed stated that no changes will be made to the grades on neighboring properties. He stated that the existing water flow will remain as a result of the pipes and topography changes proposed. He stated that the amount of space for water storage on the site will almost double with this plan from what currently exists on the site. He stated that the water will continue to flow in the same direction and will flow around the house and to the creek.

In response to questions from Board member Dugan, Mr. Christensen confirmed that the drainage in this area will be improved with the drainage improvements proposed on the site.

In response to questions from Board member Vignocchi, Mr. Reed stated that the finished floor height of the proposed house and the house to the north are similar.

Mr. Christensen stated that the finished first floor of the house to the north is at an elevation of 661.21 and the proposed finished first floor of the new house is at an elevation of 661.5. He also noted that the house to east has a first floor elevation of 662.45.

In response to questions from Board member Clair, Mr. Reed stated that it is not anticipated that additional dirt will need to be brought on to the property. He stated that some of the dirt may need to be hauled off the site, but stated that most of the excavated materials will be used on site. He stated that the amount of dirt to be carried off the site is not significant.

Board member Ruggles stated that a foundation plan would be helpful as this project moves forward. In response to questions from Chairman Culbertson, Mr. Purnell stated that the style of architecture is French Ecclectic. He stated that the garages obscure the true front elevation of the house noting that a section drawing was provided to better explain the front elevation. He stated that the house is designed to be approximately 6,500 square feet, not including the lower level. He stated that staff made the determination that the lower level should be included in the calculation. He stated that approximately 6,600 square feet are permitted on the site noting that the lot size used to determine the maximum permitted square footage excludes the access easement area. He stated that the overage is due to the lower level, the crawl space.

In response to a question from Chairman Culbertson, Mr. Churchill noted that a plan would need to be prepared and presented to the homeowner in order to determine if a smaller home would be acceptable and fit their needs.

In response to questions from Chairman Culbertson, Mr. Christensen stated that the owners desire a house of the size proposed. He stated that the site is unique and asked the Board to look at this as a unique request due to the need for compensatory stormwater storage space under the house.

Chairman Culbertson stated that the square footage overage is considerable and noted that the Board has never granted an overage for new construction. He stated that given the large overage requested, the petition will be difficult for the Board to support.

Chairman Culbertson reviewed the basic principles of architecture including the consistency of style, simplicity of massing and proportions, symmetry and hierarchy, regularity of the appearance of openings including windows and doors all as discussed in the City’s design guidelines. He stated that the massing as currently presented is irregular and a hierarchy of massing is absent. He questioned whether the elements used present consistent use of a specific architectural style and encouraged re-working of the design to assure that all architectural elements used adhere to a single architectural style. He noted the different rooflines and roof shapes. He noted imbalance in proportions and the shapes of openings. He stated that the overall design appears irrational and erratic. He suggested simplifying and cleaning up the design and stated that refinements to the design are needed.

Mr. Purnell noted that the massing of the roof forms were difficult due to the odd shapes and desires of the owners. He noted that as the home gets near the floodway, the house is truncated since it cannot encroach into that area.

In response to questions from Board member Vignocchi, Mr. Purnell provided a view of the home from the driveway. He showed the approach perspectives from the 3-dimensional model. He stated that the home will not be perceived from the streetscape.

Board member King raised the question of whether the Board should focus on the details of the project at this point noting that if the decision is made that the square footage must be reduced, the design will change substantially.

Ms. Czerniak stated that the petition is before the Board for preliminary input. She commented that the input provided up to this point is helpful. She confirmed that discussion of specific details is not necessary at this point in the process. She requested that the Board provide clear direction on the request for a building scale variance to the extent possible at this point. She asked whether the Board is opposed to a building scale variance or any magnitude, or if the Board would be willing to give a little latitude on the square footage if an appropriate design is presented, given the uniqueness of the site.

Mr. Churchill noted that the design team explorec alternatives to mitigate the square footage overage. In response to a question from Chairman Culbertson, Mr. Churchill confirmed that he has reviewed the Building Scale Ordinance. He stated that when the home was designed, it was under the assumption that the project complied with the ordinance and that the exposed crawl space would not be counted due to the need for stormwater storage. He noted that the overage was identified by staff after the application was submitted for Board consideration.

Mr. Christensen stated that the alternatives reviewed did not reduce the livable square footage of the house, but instead attempted to mask the crawl space area. He stated that one option was to slope the soil up to the edge of the foundation to eliminate the exposed lower level. He stated that in that scenario, the engineering plan would need to be designed to allow the water to flow into the structure. He stated that a wall around the perimeter was also considered.

Chairman Culbertson invited public comment.

Katherine Govas, owner of the neighboring property to the east at 410 Onwentsia Rd, noted that while she resides at 999 Walden Lane, she recently purchased the house on Onwentsia Road and is working on building a small addition before moving into the house. She stated that she is downsizing from her home on Walden Lane. She stated that she purchased the property due to the natural setting and beautiful vegetation. She stated concern about the size of the proposed residence noting that it will impact her new lot due to the height and size of the proposed structure and limited vegetation. She stated that there is not a lot of vegetation that thrives in the wet area between her property and the subject property. She stated that she did not realize the size of the home that was proposed and asked that consideration be given to reducing the height and the bulk. She stated that her home is a ranch home and stated concern about what she will look at if this project is approved.

Greg Strauss, 50 Honeysuckle Road, stated that he is on the Board of the Homeowners’ Association for Onwentsia Gardens to the west of the proposed new home. He stated that in the last 6-8 years the 100 year flood has occurred every 2 years. He commented on the significant amount of water that flows to and in the creek. He stated that all of the building activity occurring north of the creek has resulted in higher and higher water levels downstream. He noted that at the northwest corner of the property, the plan presented proposes to pipe the water back into the creek. He noted the location of the drainage pipe for Onwentsia Gardens. He stated concern about pumping more water into the area as a result of the large home planned and commented on other large homes existing in the area. He stated that the Association is concerned about the displacement of the water from the land that has been absorbing water for many years. He noted concern about the magnitude of the building scale overage that is requested. He stated that the overage requested alone is comparable to the size of other homes in the community and expressed concern for the size of the proposed home. He stated that the homes in the Association do not want to see a new home and he speculated that the new owners do not want to see the adjacent homes either. He requested that vegetation be preserved and new plantings be required for the area between the new home and the Onwentsia Gardens subdivision.

Mr. Churchill stated that as to the water, the proposed plan keeps more water on the site and will improve upon the current situation after completion of the project. He stated appreciation of the comments from the neighbors.

Mr. Christensen described the new landscaping that is proposed and the landscaping planned to remain. He stated that with the additional landscaping, the house will be fairly well screened from view from other homes. He stated that the new trees will help break the line of sight between the properties. He stated that the fence line is pretty well landscaped.

Chairman Culbertson suggested that the Board clarify the building scale issue before getting into the design details.

Board member Vignocchi stated that alternatives that reduce the square footage should be explored.

Board member King stated appreciation for the efforts and creativity surrounding this project but stated that he could not approve a new home that is over the allowable square footage.

Board member Ruggles stated that given the sensitive site, the entire design team needs to work together to develop a design that works with the site and is within the building scale requirements. She noted that the footprint and mass may need to be reduced to make that happen. She stated that in her opinion, there could be some latitude if something related to the aesthetics of a good design necessitated a small overage, but stated that as the project is currently designed, that is not the case. She stated that what is proposed is just too much home for the site.

Board member Dugan concurred with the comments of the other Board members.

Board member Clair stated that this is a challenging lot noting that today, this would not likely be approved as a buildable lot. He stated that the petitioner has gone to extremes in attempting to deal with the water issue. He stated that the drainage drives the need to raise the house out of the ground. He stated that despite that, there is the opportunity to build a house on this lot that meets the building scale ordinance. He stated that the size of the proposed structure is large and massive. He stated that the project should be re-worked to be consistent with the building scale requirements.

Board member Ruggles emphasized that the project should be designed in a manner that is consistent with the allowable building square footage. She stated that the dream of a 6,500 square foot house is not supported by the lot.

Chairman Culbertson encouraged the petitioner to work with staff to explore ways to reduce the square footage of the proposed house. He requested that design issues and questions raised by the Board be addressed prior to returning the project to the Board for further consideration. He stated that without a definitive building scale calculation, it is difficult to determine if the alternatives presented are viable. He stated that it is clear that the Board is requesting that the project be within the regulations. He noted that the item should be returned for full Board deliberation at a future meeting once modification is made consistent with the Board’s direction.




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