April 19, 2004
Benedictine University will be spending some time in the detention hall until it completes its homework.
Several members of the Lisle Board of Trustees, primarily Trustee Ann Duker, raised various concerns about—and for the time being, rejected—a proposed annexation agreement which would finally incorporate Benedictine University into the village.
The proposal was sent back for revisions to be re-evaluated at a later date; despite the setbacks, however, both sides are convinced that outstanding matters will be addressed and resolved in due course. “In its present form, it would not be acceptable,” Trustee Tom Frey said of the document—although he agreed that there was nothing that couldn’t be overcome.
The general consensus regarding the document was that its wording was ambiguous, as well as that it left the university free to expand with minimal regulation and with little input from the village. Moreover, the village officials said, they hadn’t been given the most recent draft of the contract. Trustee Duker spearheaded criticism of most of the other concerns, including zoning classification; lighting; taxation; height, signage and density restrictions; parking; and special events.
Kathleen West, an attorney of the law firm of Dommermuth, Brestal, Cobine & West, represented the university at the Monday evening public hearing. She summarized the university’s two goals: to be annexed into the village and to be placed within a new zoning classification called the College University District.
Trustee Duker objected to the idea of forming a CU District because, under Benedictine’s Master Land Use Plan, they could expand at will and without height or density restrictions. Village Attorney Robert Bush reported that an 8-foot height limitation was incorporated into the most recent version of the draft—which, as Duker pointed out, the Board didn’t have. She refused to make any decisions “until I see the text,” adding, “If the public hasn’t seen these restrictions, how can they have a meaningful chance to comment on them?”
Duker objected further, saying that under the proposal, Benedictine would be forced to comply with the sign laws—but only within a 40-foot periphery. Attorney West had stated that beyond that 40-foot margin, the village would have no jurisdiction because it’s “within the interior of the campus.” Duker argued that this left the school free to set up commercial billboards all over the place if it wanted to, although Trustee Michael Connelly dissented, saying that he would be “hard-pressed to believe Benedictine would do anything to pollute their own campus.”
Another item which was brought up for discussion involved rules regarding streetlamps. After Duker inquired as to why Benedictine would not have to maintain streetlights along certain parts of the property, West replied that there are not any lights in that particular location. Community Development Director Tony Budzikowski added, however, that a local ordinance would require streetlights to be installed.
In response to an inquiry from Connelly, West clarified that the university did not plan to put up billboards but simply place signs within the campus grounds to serve as a guide for students and visitors. Duker, stating that there were “no meaningful restrictions” on how the university chose to develop the campus, said she did not want to see advertisements all over the campus—a concern which Trustee Kimberly Brondyke said she understood. West said that she and the university would be willing to consider adding a stipulation to the contract to curb commercial posters.
A question which Duker had asked earlier was why Benedictine, according to the agreement, would pay utility taxes but not have to pay impact fees or property taxes. When Trustee Ed Young brought up the topic again in favor of the college’s exemption, Mayor Joe Broda noted that an assessment from last year showed that Lisle would actually gain a marginal financial benefit from annexing.
Further reservations surfaced in regard to the master plan, which stated that revisions would not have to be subject to board approval. Duker expressed her displeasure with the attorney’s apparent unpreparedness and the ambiguity of the documents, saying, “We have a right to know what is planned.” Furthermore, she snapped, “We don’t have a current plan, we don’t have a future plan and we have no control over anything.”
The discussion shifted back to the subject of the proposed CU District zoning, which West said was used by North Central College in Naperville. Connelly asked whether changes to Benedictine’s master plan would have to be approved by the Lisle board, to which she basically replied that only within 100 feet of the periphery would the college have to adhere to the village policies—although, she commented, the university would be willing to consider extending the 100-foot span.
Duker disagreed with the contract’s wording—in particular the paragraphs involving population and density regulations—on the grounds that it would “give carte blanche” to the university to build and expand; Trustee Frey concurred with her on the concern. Budzikowski responded by explaining, “The intent was to give the university some flexibility as to what they are currently doing.”
“It’s not a question of good faith,” explained an adamant Duker, continuing to insist on more stricture in the contract. “We don’t know what needs it will have 20 years from now and we won’t have an opportunity to say it’s not appropriate.” The university does expect growth, West remarked, but not by a considerable amount.
A number of other academic institutions have been employing the CU District plan, West informed the board, including Rock Island’s Augustana College, Charleston’s Eastern Illinois, Carbondale’s Southern Illinois and Northwestern University. Creating this new zoning district within the village, explained Budzikowski, would be the most efficient and appropriate for serving the college’s needs.
Duker again returned to her initial apprehension about height, density and usage rules, remarking that the board had “no articulated standards in what we’ve been asked to do tonight.” She called the phrasing of the document “vague” and asked why there were no minimums for frontage or lot area. The response from West—that the sections to which Duker were referring were only included because of the configuration of local ordinances—did not satisfy Duker, who reiterated the density issue.
Questions regarding parking requirements were addressed next, to which West stated that Benedictine would expand as necessary to provide ample parking. Verifying that the university assumed responsibility for supplying parking, West referred the board to schemata on the master plan which showed prospective parking layouts.
Duker inquired about a proviso in the contract called “performance standard” which referred to special events. Departing from her standard no-nonsense attitude, she asked lightheartedly, “Does this mean there can be unlimited concerts at the university?” Budzikowski explained to her that the clause was included to give the college a degree of pliancy, although Duker said she was worried about traffic congestion and noise.
The board decided to adjourn the public hearing and shelve the matter, agreeing that they would address changes and review a revised contract at the next public hearing—on the grounds that the modified draft be done by December 15. Although he concurred with the feeling that the document needed work, Trustee Frey said, “I think it’s long overdue that they be annexed into our village.”
Like the students, Benedictine University administrators have gotten their papers handed back. And if they don’t want another detention slip, they’d better make the grade.
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