By Bob Balgemann

The request for a special use permit to allow creation of an indoor/outdoor event space on 20 acres at 10813 Spring Road in Garden Prairie, unincorporated Spring Township, has been denied in a 9-2 vote of the Boone County Board.

That decision was reached after numerous meetings, including a public hearing before the Boone County Zoning Board of Appeals. On those occasions, according to a memorandum from county Planner Izzy Mandujano, various concerns about the proposal were voiced from the public for such reasons as traffic, noise, crime, drinking, garbage and property values.

But the series of meetings began with the Planning and Zoning Commission, which in a 3-0 vote recommended approval of the request. The ZBA meeting followed and it initially found the findings of fact had not been met, subsequently recommending denial of the special use, 4-0.

While its recommendation was one of denial, ZBA did attach a number of conditions to the request in the event the county board decided to overturn the recommendation and approve the special use. County staff did not support approval of the ZBA-added conditions, but did recommend approval of the request from the applicant, Gustavo Nevarez Jr.

Finally, at the advisory level, the Committee of the Whole and administration, did not support the special use request.

That led to the most recent meeting, April 21 before the county board. After more opposition from the public during the public comments portion, and extensive discussion among board members, the board voted 9-2 with one absent to deny the special use request. The only support for the motion to approve came from board members Cherie Bartelt and Freddy De La Trinidad. Opposition was voiced by board members Dave Wiltse, Chairman Karl Johnson, Vice Chair Sherry Giesecke, and members Ryan Curry, Raymond Larson, Rodney Riley, Bill Robertson, Steve Schabacker and Tom Walberg.

The proposal

The property in question was surrounded by agricultural open space to the north and south, residential (A-1 and R-1 districts) on the east and agricultural/residential to the west.

There is an existing residence and stables at the northeast corner of the property, which is improved.

Nevarez’s proposal called for phasing in the project, the first phase starting with outdoor events such as weddings and birthdays. Creation of an indoor space was expected sometime in the future.

Any remodeling or new structures would require building permits through the county Building and Zoning departments, as well as being reviewed by the county health department.

Rodeo-type events, or animal shows, were not part of this special use permit request. It was repeated more than once during the county board meeting that rodeos were not part of the Nevarez request. Those kinds of shows are a permitted use in the A-1, agricultural preservation district, with a temporary use permit that can be obtained through the county building department.

Further, in her summary of the special use request, and for additional clarification, Mandujano stated, “The special use permit being applied for is different as it would not and could not include rodeo or animal show-type uses.”

A tragedy

However, there was a brief reference to rodeos from Giesecke immediately after the board vote for denial of the special use. “I think there’s a tragedy here, on both sides,” she said. “This special use application has gotten all mixed up with rodeo stuff. It’s really hard for those of us living in the country to come sometimes to separate that, and that’s a tragedy. That makes me sad.”

(There is a current, unrelated controversy over rodeos that is being addressed by a newly appointed ad-hoc committee, consisting solely of county board members, of which Giesecke is the chair. Its first meeting was May 9).

Returning to the planner’s summary of the special use request, it stated further that the special use would incorporate outdoor events as a small, rural business. The indoor events would take place in an assembly hall that has yet to be built. An assembly hall is described as a gathering place of more than 10 people.

The county building department had no objections to the special use request. However, building permits would be required for any future remodeling or new construction, with commercial building codes applying.

The findings …

According to Section 2.7.3 of the county zoning ordinance, a special use permit shall not be granted unless the county board found six findings of fact to be true. As stated earlier, the ZBA determined those findings had not been met.

And at the outset of discussion among county board members on April 21, Wiltse began by saying, “As we discussed last time, when we were in Committee (of the Whole), standards and findings of fact require that the special use meet those standards in all particulars. I don’t think that burden has been met.”

In Section A of the findings, he continued, …”it states the proposed structure or use at the particular location is necessary or desirable to provide a service or facility, which is in the interest of the public, and will contribute to the general welfare of the neighborhood, or community.”

He referred to Spring Road in that location, with three tight L-turns and unmarked pavement, saying he did not believe that was in the interest of the public, nor would it contribute to the general welfare of the neighborhood, or the community.

In Section B of 2.7.3, it states the proposed structure would not have an adverse impact on the adjacent properties, the character of the neighborhood, traffic conditions, utility facilities and other matters affecting the public health, safety, and general welfare.

“I don’t think the application on its face has met the standards at all,” he concluded, adding that the application did not include any details of the proposed use as requested by the various sections.

Some rebuttal

Attorney Jamie Robinson from Chicago opened on behalf of Nevarez, her client, by asking everyone in the meeting room who was there in support of the special use request to stand up. Judging from the showing of those in favor, she said, “We win.”

Before moving on, she referred to opposition to the request by people who lived upwards of 10 miles away as being too far away to have an interest in this proposal, and did not have standing to have an objection.

Continuing on, she offered rebuttal to all of the concerns that had been expressed during earlier meetings and at the ZBA public hearing. She mentioned a few of them, such as a decrease in property values, more traffic and noise. She said while she understood there were concerns, they were based on speculation and were not based on facts.

For example, there had been no studies to prove such use would lead to a decrease in property values of houses that had been built in A-1, agricultural, not R-1, residential, land. In addition, she said no traffic studies had been conducted to show traffic from attendance at outdoor events, such as a wedding or birthday party, would lead to congestion on the roadway.

Finally, she referred to the allowable uses in A-1 and said many of them provided far more noise than would be coming from the outdoor activities as were being proposed.

No going back

After hearing her presentation, Bartelt suggested returning the request to the ZBA for further discussion.

Johnson agreed, saying it would give Nevarez an opportunity to meet with the neighbors to see if there were any solutions to some of their concerns. He asked attorney Robinson if her client would be interested in altering his current facility plans, which would make it reasonable to return the case to ZBA for further discussion. She then went with Nevarez into the adjacent hallway, outside the meeting room, and upon returning a short time later said, yes, he would be willing to consider changes in the plan.

Despite that, and after Wiltse’s comment that such a referral would be “fruitless,” the board followed with a 7-4 vote to deny Bartelt’s motion to send the special use request back to ZBA. Voting “yes” for denial were board members Walberg, Wiltse, Vice Chair Giesecke, Curry, and members Larson, Robertson and Schabacker. “No” votes came from Chairman Johnson and members Bartelt, De La Trinidad and Rodney Riley.

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