41st Ward zoning panel considers streamlining decision process for some proposals
by BRIAN NADIG
At its July 14 meeting, the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee discussed taking votes on some proposals after only one meeting when a zoning change would only be needed for a business to obtain a license, with the original zoning later being reinstated.
Typically the committee holds at least two meetings on proposals, as members are expected after the first meeting to go back to the community groups or neighborhoods they represent and get feedback prior to voting on any project. The committee’s votes serve as a recommendation to Alderman Anthony Napolitano.
However, committee member Frank Icuss suggested that the process could be streamlined when no new construction is planned for a site and the property would be downzoned after the business receives its license. He added that in these instances there is no need to keep businesses in limbo about whether they would be able to obtain a license.
Committee members appeared in agreement with Icuss’ suggestion as long as the planned business use fits with character of the block.
Committee chairman Mike Emerson said that “in the event when the net impact is no change to the zoning,” a shortened decision-making process may make sense. However, he said, additional meetings may still be needed if a license for a zoning applicant, such as a liquor establishment, were to raise special concerns.
The committee plans to draw up some written guidelines for taking votes after only holding one meeting on a proposal.
Two residents who later contacted Nadig Newspapers expressed concern that streamlining the process would reduce opportunities for residents to have input in the ward’s zoning decisions.
The committee’s discussion was sparked in part by a recent proposal to rezone an industrial site at 5850 N. Northwest Hwy. to accommodate a heating and air conditioning company, Besco Air Inc., which cannot obtain a license unless the property is rezoned from M1-1 to M2-1.
Project attorney Paul Kolpak said that there are no plans to alter the existing buildings on the site, where a car wash previously operated.
The committee at its July 14 meeting took a straw poll, and no objections to the proposal were raised. The committee plans to take a final vote via e-mail after some additional details about the proposal are submitted in writing from Kolpak and to then have the outcome of the vote published.
The committee had recommended that only the buildings on the site be rezoned to M2-1, but it was later learned that the entire property, including the parking area, would have to be rezoned to M2-1 to allow for the license, according to Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio.
The committee has asked that the zoning revert back to M1-1 after the license is issued. “Ultimately at the end of the day, there is no change in zoning,” Emerson said of the proposal.
M1-1 is the predominant zoning classification on that side of the block.
Meanwhile, the ward’s zoning advisory committee at its June 2 meeting approved a proposal for a cleaning business to open at 6538 N. Milwaukee Ave.
For more than 20 years a clothing company operated inside a one-story commercial building on the Milwaukee parcel as a legally nonconforming use under the site’s RT-4 residential zoning, but the cleaning company cannot receive a city business license unless the property is rezoned to C1-1 to allow for storage, according to Kolpak, the project’s attorney.
“It’s basically a contractor’s warehouse,” Kolpak said of the proposed use. Cleaning equipment and supplies for the company’s drivers would be stored in the building, and a small number of employees would be working inside during regular business hours, mostly making phone calls and completing paperwork, Kolpak said.
“I don’t see how this use or change in use is going to impact anyone (in the neighborhood),” Emerson said.
Committee member Marc Pelini said that the C1-1 zoning could lead to uses, such as a boarding kennel, which the community may have concerns about if the cleaning business were to close.
The committee approved the rezoning with the stipulation that the property be rezoned to RT-4 after the cleaning businesses is issued its license.
It is not clear why the property has been zoned for residential uses for decades despite its commercial nature. The site is next to a five-story, multi-family living complex at 6520 N. Milwaukee Ave.