By Bob Balgemann


Residential and commercial variance requests from what was allowed in the village zoning code have brought differing responses from Machesney Park staff, the planning and zoning commission (P&Z) and planning and economic development committee (PED) . 

One of the multi-faceted requests came from Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers for signs at its first-ever restaurant in the Rockford area, at 9901 Orlando Ave. in the village. 

There were three ordinances in this package of variances presented at the Oct. 4 PED meeting: 

* Ordinance 50-21, an omnibus variance from freestanding sign base, height and area regulations.

The request was to install a 30-foot-tall pole sign, which would be three times taller than the code allowed.

In the staff report it was stated the taller pole sign was unnecessary at that location. The restaurant was not so unusually isolated that such a sign was required to be seen, the report added. 

However, a representative of the applicant said at the P&Z September meeting that existing, taller signs in that area had been constructed prior to the updated sign regulations. He also pointed out that trees at the Mobil gas station property somewhat blocked the restaurant’s location for the freestanding sign, which is why they asked for the pole to be taller. 

PED at its Oct. 4 meeting voted 5-1 against approval of this request. The only support came from member and Village Trustee Joe Seipts. 

* Ordinance 51-21, variance from the total sign area on the property of 338.8 square feet broken down as follows: 205 square feet would be wall mounted on the east, north and south facades; 76 square feet on the west facade; and 133.8 square feet on the freestanding sign. In this case, the maximum amount of allowable wall mounted and freestanding signage would have been 223 square feet.

In its report to the committee, staff stated in part that the restaurant abuts the Lowe’s parking lot as well as a public lot, and only has actual public road frontage along Orlando Avenue. As such, it has limited direct view from travelers on West Lane Road (Illinois 173). 

“It is reasonable to allow additional signage to provide business identification from all directions, whether patrons see the building from Lowe’s, from Alpine Road, from Machesney Crossing (shopping center) or from the private drive used to access businesses on West Lane Road,” staff stated.  

PED voted 6-0 to recommend approval of this variance subject to the following condition: Up to 338.8 square feet of total signage shall be permitted on this property. However, the freestanding sign shall not be larger than 100 square feet, as regulated in Section Z-82(2)(c) of the zoning code.

* Ordinance 52-21, variance from commercial design awning standards. 

Architectural details for this restaurant include awnings that are internally illuminated. That violates commercial design standards adopted by the village board in 2016, which prohibit such awnings. However, the staff report states there already are a number of commercial properties in town that have this feature. One of them is the Steak and Shake restaurant, less than 2,000 feet from Orlando Road location. 

Given that, staff recommended approval of this variance with the following condition: Placement of interal illuminated awnings shall be consistent with the building elevations dated Aug. 18, 2021, and submitted with the variance application. 

PED concurred, in a 6-0 vote, to recommend approval. 

Construction of Freddy’s currently is under way on land previously owned by the village. 

Denial sought

A residential variance request for a fence along Marquette Road, which exceeded the  height allowed by the village, has been recommended for denial. 

Staff report stated the owner of the property in question had a fence installed that was six feet in height, two feet taller than allowed. “Both the property owner and those hired by the property owner to construct the fence were told by village staff more than once that a six-foot fence was not permitted in the front yard,” the report continued. “Regardless, the property owner chose to continue construction of the nonconforming, unpermitted fence.

“After the property owner received a violation notice for the fence, she chose to seek the variance to keep the six-foot fence in her front yard.” 

Staff determined the variance request failed to meet any of the six criteria required for it to be recommended for approval. Those criteria were established to ensure that the requested variance did not have a negative impact on the immediate vicinity of the property, or the nearby area. 

One of the six criteria reads as follows: “The granting of the variation will not be detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to other property or improvements in the neighborhood in which the property is located.” 

The staff response in this case read, “The taller fence in the front yard creates a cluttered and imposing appearance in this residential neighborhood.” 

PED without discussion voted 6-0 to recommend denial of the requested variance. Staff already had opposed the request.  

There was a bit of confusion at the start of this discussion when the PED chairman, Village Trustee James Kidd, asked for a motion to approve the variance. He got one but when he asked for the required second, there was no response. He looked around at the other seated committee members and asked, “Am I doing something wrong?” Again there was no response. 

So he continued, “I am asking for a second so people making the request can be heard.” When there still was no response, he said, “I’ll second the motion.” 

And so the meeting was able to continue, with a staff report on the request and the subsequent action.  

All of those proposed ordinances were scheduled for consideration at the Oct. 18 village board meeting.  

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