East Hills hearing on code changes takes tumultuous turn

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An East Hills public hearing about potential amendments to the village's building, lighting and zoning codes devolved Tuesday into screaming matches between residents. (Photo by Amelia Camurati)

A second East Hills public hearing on potential amendments to the village code devolved Tuesday into screaming matches between residents.

Michael Russo, an associate architect at Hawkins Webb and Jaeger, said he began analyzing the village’s building construction, lighting and zoning codes four years ago at the behest of trustees and other village boards.

Russo said throughout the meeting that the changes would not affect allowable floor-area ratios already set in the code but remove loopholes that residents and architects have wiggled through in the past.

Hawkins Webb and Jaeger associate architect Michael Russo has worked with the village for four years to help remove loop holes from the East Hills building construction, lighting and zoning codes. (Photo by Amelia Camurati)

“There were complaints of ‘the buildings are too big,’ and I’m going to say that as a very general term. If you’re allowed to build a 6,200-square-foot home, it should look like 6,200 square feet, not 8,000 square feet,” Russo said. “A lot of this was cleaning up the loopholes to cut the fat. They could have a two-story home with a three-car garage with a second-floor addition above the garage that is ‘storage,’ and when you walk into it, it’s as big as a great room. What that does is from a community planning standpoint, that 6,200-square-foot house looks too big.”

Russo presented 14 amendments to the original proposed changes, based on residents’ comments made at the first public hearing and written to the village after Mayor Michael Koblenz extended the deadline, and said many of the amendments were for clarification.

All proposed changes, which have not been approved by a board vote, will likely be approved at the next public hearing and will take effect Jan. 1, Koblenz said. Written comments about the proposed amendments are still being accepted at Village Hall.

All changes will only be applied to new construction or homes that are “substantially renovated,” or a renovation where the cost of improvement equals 50 percent or more of the home’s pre-construction market value.

A section used to calculate the maximum impervious yard coverage was modified to “the linear measurement along the rear lot line of the property multiplied by the actual distance to the closest part of the dwelling.”

Impervious items, Russo said, are anything that does not grow, including concrete and gravel. Koblenz said the village is trying to cut down on run-off that sometimes floods roads during heavy rains.

Basements have also been an issue in East Hills, Russo said, when some residents built basements that extended beyond the footprint of the first floor. In the proposed changes, any part of a basement extending beyond the width and length of the home will be included in the floor-area ratio.

One of the most discussed proposed changes is when, where and why a second-floor setback could be required. In the R-2 district, one of the four residential zoning districts in East Hills, the additional side-yard setback for a second story was amended from six feet to five feet from the first floor wall.

If the amendments are approved, satellite dish antennas will not be allowed on the ground or a front-facing roof, and house numbers will be forced into compliance with the state’s International Fire Code regulations.

After more than half a dozen people spoke about specific situations, including architects with plans for homes as well as residents looking to possibly renovate, the crowd grew unruly after East Hills resident Ramin Emouna asked trustees why no letters were sent to residents about the public hearing.

Village Attorney Bill Burton said the village did everything legally required to advertise the public hearing, including publishing advertisements in multiple newspapers, as well as listing the meeting and all related documents on the village website. Burton said mailings to all village residents cost $2,000 and also said the four-year project cost about $100,000.

As residents began screaming at each other during the hearing, mainly about whether they had been properly informed about the hearing, Koblenz initially tried to close the session.

Architectural review board chairman Spencer Kanis said the proposed changes are a reaction to the comments during the review board’s 10 years in operation. (Photo by Amelia Camurati)

“It’s baffling listening to this. Things are not changing that will disturb a person living here or moving here,” Koblenz said. “What is disturbing is we’re trying to close some loopholes, and one of those loopholes was this attic crap where people and architects tried to put rooms up there claiming it was an attic and expanded the house hundreds of square feet. We’re closing the abuses. That’s all we’re doing.

“If you can’t submit your plans that meet the criteria, then you’re going to be rejected. You’ve got to put the right square footage in, you’ve got to add it properly. It’s simple stuff. It’s a joke listening to this.”

Architectural Review Board Chairman Spencer Kanis, an East Hills resident of 35 years, saved his comments for last and said the proposed changes are the result of thousands of comments over a decade.

“We went over a lot of things tonight about what brought on these changes, but the one thing that didn’t come out is this is all the village boards’ reaction to 10 years of having an Architectural Review Board,” Kanis said. “On average, there’s 40 people a month that come before the board — those are the applicants and those are the neighbors. That’s about 4,800 people from this community. What you’re hearing tonight is a reaction to 4,800 people.

“This has nothing to do with a one-foot reduction on second-story setbacks. That is the smallest part of all the changes. This is about clarifying a code that is quite thick, and there have been problems with the residents and professionals both understanding and interpreting what’s in the code. This is the Board of Trustees doing what we vote them in to do, to react to our needs so the community can move forward and property values can continue to be enjoyed by every one of us in this room.”

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