NEW ~ Highlighted May 4 BRB Minutes concerning 27W Petition Approval

Bold and Italics highlights by OnwentsiaMemorandum  January 21-2012

Building Review Board

Proceedings of May 4, 2011 Meeting

A regular meeting of the Lake Forest Building Review Board was held on Wednesday, May 4, 2011, at 6:30 p.m., in the Council Chambers of City Hall, 220 E. Deerpath, Lake Forest, Illinois.

Building Review Board members present: Chairman Vignocchi, Board members, Steuart Tray, Monica Ruggles and Charlie King.

Building Review Board members absent: Madeleine Dugan, Jon Clair and Mike Bleck (new appointment pending orientation)

Staff members present: Catherine Czerniak, Director of Community Development

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

Chairman Vignocchi asked members of the Board and staff to introduce themselves. She provided some background about the Building Review Board and reviewed the procedures followed by the Board.

2. Approval of the minutes from the April 6, 2011 meeting.

The minutes from the April 6, 2011 meeting were approved as submitted.


3.  A request for approval of a new single family dwelling on a vacant lot at 27 W. Onwentsia Road.  Owners: Rajul and Gopal Bhalala  Representative: Shawn Purnell, Architect  Glenn Christensen, Consultant  Bud Reed, Engineer

Chairman Vignocchi asked the Board members for any conflicts of interest or Ex Parte contacts.

Hearing none, she invited a presentation from the petitioner.

Mr. Churchill, attorney for the petitioner, introduced the project team and noted that this matter has been before the Board on previous occasions.  He noted his understanding that the architecture and site design are under the purview of the Board and that the engineering aspects of the project are under the purview of City staff.  He noted that the Board appointed a subcommittee to work with the petitioners on design related aspects of the proposal and commented that a meeting of that group was held and modifications were made to the plans to reflect that discussion.

Mr. Christensen, petitioner’s consultant, provided responses to the questions raised at the last meeting.  He noted that a study was completed of the elevation of the first floors of nearby properties.  He stated that the study showed that the elevations of the first floor of the homes in the area are within a foot or two of the elevation of the proposed first floor of the residence. He added that the home is proposed at an elevation that is close to that of the street.  He pointed out that the footprint of the proposed residence is smaller than the footprints of most neighboring residences. He added that most of the existing vegetation will remain on the site, with tree removal limited mainly to internal trees and trees in the footprint of the future driveway. He noted that the proposed plan provides for the addition of native vegetation to the property.

Mr. Purnell, petitioner’s architect, noted that at the last meeting, there were concerns about some of the design elements. He stated that to discuss and resolve those, he met with a subcommittee of the Board and staff. He provided a massing diagram showing the proposed massing of the residence in comparison with those on the surrounding properties. He noted that the massing proposed is not out of character with the other homes in the neighborhood. He stated that as a result of the meeting with the subcommittee, the tower element was reduced in height and the balusters were modified and reduced in number to provide the appearance of less mass. He added that a terrace above the garage was removed and noted that an alternative exterior material, siding, is now proposed on the second floor element above the garage. He reviewed the rear elevation, noting that that an open terrace was changed to a screened porch to soften the elevation. He noted that the railing detail was revised to achieve a more residential character.  He discussed the brackets and the eaves noting the changes in the detailing to make them more consistent with the selected style.

Mr. Christensen stated that the number of balusters had been reduced by roughly 75 percent noting that they are now only proposed near the driveway.

Ms. Czerniak noted that staff has met numerous times with the petitioners’ representatives.  She stated that the changes made since the last meeting, as described by Mr. Purnell, slightly reduce the bulk and help to make the residence more consistent with the chosen architectural style.  She noted that although the Board and staff have suggested that alternative styles might better lend themselves to the unique limitations on the site, the Board does not dictate architectural style.

She commented that due to the uniqueness of the site, there had been numerous discussions regarding the most appropriate style for the site and noted that the petitioners brought forward plans based on three or four different styles over the course of the project.  She noted that there are still a number of questions regarding drainage and compensatory storage and how the site will work after re-grading.  She noted that additional correspondence was received from neighbors and was provided to the Board. She stated staff’s commitment to working through the engineering issues as this project moves forward and noted that despite the City’s authorization to review projects for consistency with County regulations; additional project review has been requested from Lake County’s Stormwater Management Commission due to the complexity of this site, and as verification to the City Engineer’s review. She noted that to date, the project has received conditional approval from FEMA. She stated that staff understands that further review by FEMA will be required later in the process to obtain final approval of a map amendment as requested by the petitioners.  She noted that the entire lot is encumbered with either designated floodway or flood plain. She stated that no construction is permitted within the floodway and that the petitioners have requested a map amendment for the flood plain from FEMA. She stated that the Community Development Department will work with the City Attorney prior to the issuance of a building permit, to prepare a legal document to be recorded with the property deed regarding representations and assertions as to the functionality of the proposed design and placing any liabilities with the property owner, not the City.

Board member Ruggles, a member of the subcommittee, reviewed the work of the subcommittee noting that the petitioners’ representatives were receptive and response to comments from the subcommittee. She noted the reduction in the total square footage of the proposed home and modifications to the balusters and the tower element to address concerns raised.

In response to questions from Board member Tray, Mr. Purnell stated that the cast stone balusters that were originally designed are placed just along the driveway in the current design and that the remaining balusters are now proposed as wood composite.

In response to questions from Board member Ruggles, Mr. Purnell, confirmed that on the rear elevation, the porch trim, porch columns and the balusters will all be a composite material. He stated that he does not have any concern about the brick base being exposed to water on an ongoing basis.

In response to questions from Board member King, Mr. Purnell discussed the chimney acknowledging that it was added since the last review to help break up the expansive brick area on the west elevation. He noted that windows cannot be placed in a consistent pattern on the west elevation. He confirmed that the off-white color of the composite material used for the second story element above the garage is accurately portrayed in the rendering noting that it will contrast with the brighter trim.

In response to a question from Board Member Ruggles, Mr. Purnell confirmed that the bracket and the frieze board are the same color.

In response to question from Chairman Vignocchi, Mr. Purnell confirmed that the area of the crawlspace and the water retention area in the crawl space are unchanged from the previous submittal. He added that the footprint of the residence has not changed.

In response to questions from the Board, Mr. Reed discussed the “smart vents” that will be used in the crawl space. He stated that the vents open and close automatically and require little maintenance except for removal of large debris. He stated that the detention on site is sized to handle a 100-year storm within two feet of the foundation.

In response to questions from Chairman Vignocchi, Mr. Purnell confirmed that the first floor is not proposed to be concrete, but a typical floor structure. He described how the floor will be protected from water, confirming that it would be able to withstand extensive moisture. He described the mechanical venting, stating that moisture buildup would be ducted out through a fan system that will run throughout the crawl space.

In response to questions from Board member Tray, Mr. Reed confirmed that the vents are strictly mechanical. He acknowledged that some type of maintenance will be required. He stated that as water rises, the pressure will allow water to flow into the crawl space. He stated that once the water is inside, reverse pressure will allow water to flow out of the space as water levels recede.

In response to questions from Board member Ruggles, Mr. Reed stated that in order to provide for the compensatory storage that is required on the site as a result of filling the area on which the house will be constructed, the crawl space under the home must be designed to hold stormwater during heavy storm events to compensate for the filling that will occur on other areas of the lot.

In response to questions from Chairman Vignocchi, Mr. Reed stated that the vents are sized to meet the requirements of FEMA.

In response to questions from Board member Tray, Mr. Reed confirmed that the floor of the crawl space will be concrete and that the vents will be at ground level. He confirmed that there will be a sump pump in the crawl space which will shut off when water fills the area.

In response to a question from Chairman Vignocchi, Mr. Reed stated that the maximum height inside the crawl space will be 5.5 feet.

Ms. Czerniak stated staff understanding that the crawlspace is completely uninhabitable and will not be used for any purpose, included storage. She noted that the crawl space may need to be accessed from time to time for removal of debris and maintenance.

In response to questions from Board member Tray, Mr. Purnell confirmed that the vents in the crawl space will be on the rear elevation as shown on the rendering although they are not shown on the architectural drawing.

In response to a question from Board member King, Mr. Purnell confirmed that the tower elements break the second floor cornice line and noted that this effect is consistent with the selected architectural style. He commented that this solution will likely be achieved with a saddle behind the tower.

In response to questions from Chairman Vignocchi, Mr. Purnell stated that the siding on the second floor element was chosen to reduce the appearance of overall mass of the structure. He added that this choice addresses the awkward appearance created by the replacement of second floor terrace with a roof and is consistent with the appearance of the now screened-in porch.

Chairman Vignocchi invited public comment.

Deborah Haddad, attorney for the neighbor to the east at 1 West Onwentsia, the Govas’, noted that the neighbors are so concerned about the project that they have hired an independent engineer to evaluate the engineering drawings and approvals issued to date by FEMA. She distributed a letter raising 17 questions about the engineering plans. She urged the Board to delay final action until the Stormwater Management Commission completes an independent review of the project rather than conditioning the issuance of the building permit on that review.

She stated that the independent engineer has concerns about the validity of the CLOMR-F issued by FEMA and noted that additional review of the impact on the wetlands on the site is needed.

She noted that the jurisdictional determination received from the Army Corps of Engineers is no longer valid. She stated that the independent engineer was unable to fully concur that the compensatory storage requirements are met. She described the potential inundation of the surrounding lots that could occur during a heavy storm event due to the changes planned to the site. She stated that the independent engineer believes that minor modifications could be made to this project to reduce the impact of flooding of nearby properties.

Jamie Pruett, 135 S. Poplar, stated that he is speaking on behalf of the residents to the west and south of the propertyHe noted that a letter signed by 12 neighbors was submitted and included in the Board’s packet. He reviewed the various issues that were raised in the letter including:

  • technical issues with stormwater management,
  • life and health safety issues,
  • the potential lack of precedents for the proposed engineering solution in the City of Lake Forest,
  • the possibility of vents not working or becoming blocked and
  • the difficulty in finding future buyers for the home.

He reviewed questions voiced by Board members at previous meetings.

  • He noted that former Chairman Culbertson raised questions about remediation options in case the proposed engineering solution does not work.
  • He stated that there is still no plan in place in case the plan, once put in place, fails.
  • He noted that current Chairman Vignocchi raised concerns regarding the floor elevations of neighboring homes and the large size of the proposed residence.
  • He noted that the massing study presented by the petitioners in this meeting did not include comparison to any of the residences in the Onwentsia Gardens area.
  • He urged the Board to delay approval until all concerns are addressed.

Tom LeClair, 51 W. Onwentsia, resident of the adjacent property to the north, asked questions about the

  • “smart vents” questioning how the water will get out of the crawl space.
  • He questioned whether the team had used these vents before.
  • He stated that it would be good to hear from owners of homes who have “smart vents” and the neighbors of those homes.
  • He stated that once this project is authorized; there will be no turning back.
  • He stated that the final approval from FEMA will not be issued until the project is already completed.
  • He questioned what will happen if the engineering solution does not work and flooding results.
  • He stated that he has been watching what has occurred on the property and noted that the only permit issued was for removal of 6 trees.
  • He noted that much more has occurred on the property including the clearance of the front woods and the removal of the wetlands

Jan Gibson, 59 E. Franklin Place, stated that she is speaking on her own behalf and

  • suggested that an expert be consulted regarding the potential impact of the water on the mortar and bricks.
  • She commended the Board for the effort and time put into this project. She stated that she is troubled by what is presented noting that the proposed formal house is inappropriate for the site.
  • She suggested that a house on stilts would be more appropriate, noting that there is a precedent for such a design in the City of Lake Forest.
  • She suggested that the City consider purchasing the property and then declare it to be unbuildable, rather than allowing building in the flood plain.

Kerry Friedman stated that she owns the adjacent property to the north. She stated that she is concerned about the contractors proceeding in a manner that is not in conformance with approvals that are granted. She stated that she was not alerted that work was going to occur on the property commenting that her fence was removed without her being consulted. She acknowledged that the fence was on the neighboring property but noted that if asked, she would have removed it. She stated that in the past, she has been accused of denying access to the property but noted that she allowed real estate agents to park in her driveway to show the property when it was for sale. She noted that work was completed without permits in the form of clearing the property using a front loader. She stated that the contractor has threatened her and left the worksite in an unsafe condition, killing heritage trees to make it legal to remove them.  She stated her concern that the contractors cannot be trusted to follow approved plans.

Richard Norton, 237 E. Onwentsia Road, stated that he has lived on Onwentsia since the 1970’s. He noted that he has seen the bridge on Onwentsia Road underwater at least twice. He urged that the Corps of Engineers and other agencies should be pushed to do further investigation to ensure that the lot is buildable. He suggested that the City may have made a mistake in approving the subdivision in 1981. He stated that the current proposal is uncomfortable for all involved.

In response to Chairman Vignocchi’s request for responses to public testimony, Ms. Czerniak stated that to-date; the City has authorized clearing on the lot to allow access for purposes of minimal clearing, staking and soil borings. She acknowledged that early in the clearing process, the City stopped work at the site to confirm that proper permits were obtained and to clarify the extent of work permitted at that time. She stated that on an ongoing basis, the City has monitored the site closely. She confirmed that the City received the report of Ms. Friedman’s fence being removed and she acknowledged that that incident was unfortunate and encouraged communication about work on the site due to the proximity of Ms. Friedman’s property. She stated that the site is unique and difficult and noted that under normal circumstance, property owners are encouraged to leave the site in its natural condition until approval from the Building Review Board and building permits are received. She stated that this property presented a unique situation because some clearing work and soil borings needed to be done to analyze the floodway and flood plain issues. She recommended that as the project moves forward, the Board require proactive inspections of the site to require regular City monitoring of the site, over and above the standard inspections, to confirm compliance with the approved plans and in an effort to avoid any negative off site impacts during construction.

In response to a question from Board member King, Ms. Czerniak confirmed that before a building permit is issued; all engineering approvals must be issued. She reiterated that the City has forwarded the site plans and various documents to the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission requesting an additional review. She confirmed that a building permit will not be issued until comments are received from the County. She stated that the letter submitted by Ms. Haddad will be reviewed by the City Engineer and a copy provided to the petitioner. She stated that if appropriate, the petitioner will need to conduct additional study prior to the issuance of a building permit.

Chairman Vignocchi invited rebuttal from the petitioner.

Mr. Churchill clarified that the fence erected by Ms. Friedman restricted access to the Bhalala’s property. He stated that the fence was removed after the Police Department was notified. He stated that at this point in the process, he is surprised to see a new engineer reviewing the project.

He stated his understanding that the Building Review Board reviews architecture and the City staff reviews engineering. He noted that the Bhalala’s have owned the property for 20 years and stated that there has never been a suggestion that the City acquire the property until this meeting.

He stated that the petitioners have worked that City staff with respect to the tree removal and that there was no intent to go beyond what was permitted. He also stated that the project has been designed so that the property will take on more water during storm events, than it does currently.

Mr. Christensen stated that before the construction of the home is started, a grading plan will be requested from the City to change the elevations to conform to those approved in the CLOMR permit received from FEMA. He stated that once the grading is complete, the petitioners will resubmit to FEMA requesting a map amendment before construction of the house begins. He noted the petitioners’ willingness to comply with all the conditions recommended in the staff report. He stated that there is a considerable amount of work that needs to occur before application for a building permit for the house can be made.

Mr. Purnell showed the aerial exhibit with elevations of first floors of surrounding residences noting that the Onwentsia Garden residences were researched and included in the analysis.

In response to questions from Board member Tray, Ms. Czerniak clarified the purview of the Board. She confirmed that if the Board grants approval, the engineering requirements will still need to be addressed before a building permit could be issued. She pointed out that this is a unique project given the fact that the engineering issues are directly influencing the siting of the new residence, height of the structure, the landscape plan and overall character of the project.

She stated that it is possible that changes to the engineering requirements could impact the design of the project. She stated that staff wants to be extra vigilant to make sure that outside agencies involved in this site are in agreement before any permits are issued.

Board member Tray commented on the amount of time that has passed since the Board first started reviewing this project and questioned the fairness of delaying action at this time.

In response to questions from Board member King, Ms. Czerniak clarified that the recommendation in the staff report is to eliminate all of the stone balustrades from the design based on the comments from the Board at the previous

Board member Ruggles noted that she reviewed the Board’s standards and she acknowledged that the engineering approvals so seem to directly dictate the location of the house in the corner of the site impacting and limiting the design options. She stated that if this project moves forward, it should be clear that all necessary approvals must be obtained prior to the issuance of a building permit. She stated that the drainage aspects of this project are overwhelming. She stated a wiliness to rely on the experts with respect to the drainage noting that the Board approval should reflect that all appropriate agencies must grant approvals prior to construction of the house. She commented on the architectural style noting that it may not be the ideal style for the site however she noted that the elements of the selected style are consistently applied to the design. She stated that the style of architecture is the choice of the homeowner noting that the project complies with building scale and zoning setback requirements.

In response to questions from Chairman Vignocchi, Ms. Czerniak noted that the mechanics of the vent system are not part of the City’s review; she noted that the petitioner’s representatives have stated that the vents being used are approved by FEMA. She reiterated that the City Attorney is working on a document that will be recorded with the deed clarifying that the property owners assume the responsibility for proper functioning of all aspects of the site. She stated that staff understands that FEMA will need to grant final approval of the plan. She reiterated the comments of Mr. Christensen noting that a final grading plan will need to be approved by FEMA before a building permit can be issued. She noted that the City Engineer will help guide the process and only upon his authorization will a building permit be issued.She stated that all of the testimony raised by the public will be looked into and answered prior to the issuance of a building permit.

Board member Tray questioned whether this is a buildable lot given all the complications with drainage. He acknowledged that the Board is looking at the architecture, but stated that he is struggling with approving the overall project.

Chairman Vignocchi stated that architecturally the project has come a long way and acknowledged that petitioner’s responsiveness to the Board’s requests. She stated that the Board has provided direction on the architecture but since the architecture is so dependent on the engineering issues, the Board may need additional information and reassurance before granting final approval.

In response to questions from the Board, Ms. Czerniak stated that if the Board is comfortable with the architecture and overall site design, but concerned with the drainage, this item could be brought back to the Board on the Consent Agenda after engineering issues are fully addressed.

She noted that the petitioner could continue with construction drawings of the house while the engineering issues are worked out if they are confident that the design will not change. She provided the Board with options for proceeding with a motion noting that the Board could grant approval subject to conditions or continue the item and request more information. She noted that with only four members of the Board present, all four members would need to vote favorably on a motion to approve the petition.

Board member Tray stated that architecturally, he supports the project. He stated that he is concerned about the questions raised about the engineering related issues and how they potentially could impact design aspects of this project.

Board member King stated appreciation for all of the efforts of the petitioner’s team. He stated reluctance to do more than indicate support for the architectural elements of the project. He questioned whether the petitioner should be directed to eliminate the stone balustrades as recommended by staff.

After Board discussion, Chairman Vignocchi summarized that the Board appears to accept the stone balustrades along the bridge on the driveway.

Board member Ruggles commented that the majority of the stone was removed from the design and given the minimal number of stone balustrades that remain; she can support that aspect of the plan. She suggested that the exterior finish material be examined for the lower level noting that brick sitting in standing water is not a good idea.

Board member King suggested that the petitioner consider submitting some testimony from a homeowner who has experience with the proposed “smart vents”. He added that pictures or manufacturer information could be provided. He stated that the comments raised in the correspondence from the neighbors should be addressed. He stated that the questions raised regarding drainage are beyond the Board’s expertise.

In response to questions from Chairman Vignocchi, Mr. Reed stated that additional information can be provided on the “smart vents”. He stated that he would be reluctant to provide the Board with too much technical information noting that he could bring a sample. He added that this is one of the few engineered systems that FEMA recognizes. He stated that it is an elite system.

Mr. Churchill stated that it may not be possible to find someone who lives in a house with the smart vents willing to come to the meeting to provide testimony. He asked the Board to be mindful of construction schedules and sensitive to the petitioner when delaying this matter.

Chairman Vignocchi noted that the Board is sensitive to construction schedules.

Mr. Christensen provided a catalogue cut sheet of the vent system proposed for use in the crawl space. He noted that the water pressure will cause the vent to open to either allow water to flow into the crawl space, or out of the crawl space. He pointed out the notation on the sheet that states that the vent is accepted by FEMA. He stated that the size of the vent proposed for this project was calculated based on the volume of water expected. He noted that the specifications were submitted to the City Engineer.

Hearing no further Board discussion, Chairman Vignocchi invited a motion from the Board.

Board member King made a motion to continue the matter subject to refinement of the following elements consistent with the Board’s discussion including consideration of an alternative exterior finish material on the lower level of the home, further information on the vents, further input from the County and response to the issues raised in the Bleck engineering letter provided at the hearing dated May 4, 2011.

The motion was seconded by Board member Ruggles and it was unanimously approved by the Board.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:09 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Catherine Czerniak

Director of Community Development


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