Buckley hearing rescheduled for March

Attorney Bruce Migatz presents a plan for Buckley Country Day School's proposed additions at a meeting of the Village of North Hills' Board of Trustees. The next public hearing, which was rescheduled multiple times, is taking place Mar. 17. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

A second, seven times-postponed public hearing on an application from Buckley Country Day School for an expansion before the Village of North Hills Board of Trustees is scheduled to be livestreamed on YouTube on March 17.

Initially discussed in 2019, the school’s proposed $5 million expansion plans drew ire at its first public hearing in January 2020, with residents from the neighboring Acorn Ponds condominiums complex and nearby streets Bonny Lynn Court and Fox Ridge voicing criticism of the project and calling Buckley “a bad neighbor” for its behavior and treatment of the neighborhood in the past.

The project includes a parking lot renovation, dining hall expansion, addition to the headmaster’s house, six new classrooms for the performing arts and language departments, a garage and equipment storage building.

Buckley’s project had been in development for two years, headmaster Jean-Marc Juhel said at a February 2019 village Board of Trustees meeting. 

“We created a master plan for what we needed to do to enhance the quality of the programs here, the quality of the experience of the students and to enhance traffic,” Juhel said at that meeting.

The intention behind the parking lot renovation, the headmaster said last year, is to beautify the campus and make it safer for pedestrians.

“Our youngest children are 2 1/2 and our oldest are 14,” Juhel said. “I really want them to be able to enjoy this beautiful location that we’re in without having to worry about cars.”

The school’s support for the project will come from alumni and parents, the headmaster said, and the school’s endowment will receive part of the $5 million, according to the campaign’s webpage.

Plans obtained from the Village of North Hills through a Freedom of Information Law request say that while the number of parking spaces would be increased from 120 to 317, proposed enrollment would remain the same.

During the public comment period at the January 2020 hearing, more than 10 residents from surrounding areas took issue with the plans, claiming that Buckley failed to address issues including loud noise during the summer and that drainage from the school often resulted in flooding damage to the condominiums, among other complaints.

Maureen Rothschild DiTata, an attorney and resident of Acorn Ponds, presented photographs of a clearing in a trail on Buckley property where POD storage containers, go-karts and gasoline containers were present. A series of extension cords were also pictured, leading to and ending at a post near a sports field at Buckley.

“We have no idea what is being powered by that power cord at the end of Buckley’s property, but the mere presence of the cord fuels Acorn Ponders’ complaints,” DiTata said. “Buckley is a bad neighbor. Buckley is either unconcerned or totally oblivious to the hazard of running a series of electrical cords over brush and debris a distance of 30 yards, or the risk attendant to leaving go-karts, oil containers and gasoline cans together in an open and unsupervised area on a school ground.”

Once the public comment session had ended, Buckley attorney Bruce Migatz rose to speak again, and referred to DiTata’s photographs.

“I saw those pictures for the first time; shame on Buckley,” Migatz said. “I’m flabbergasted myself at what is back there, and by all means they have to clean it up and you should give violations if they have violations there. But that is no basis for denying a project going forward.”

Near the end of the hearing, Mayor Marvin Natiss asked Migatz if the surveys had recommended 265 additional parking spaces.

“Of course not,” Migatz responded.

A further hearing on the project was originally set for the village board’s March 25 meeting, only to be postponed due to the coronavirus concerns, and an April 15 meeting was postponed for the same reason. It has been postponed a further five times since then.

The public hearing, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17, will be livestreamed on the Village of North Hills’ YouTube channel.

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Rose Weldon

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