Friday, August 04, 2006

Scheiss structure: How high thou art

The village board drew a line in the air above which architect John Scheiss was forbidden to rise.  But he did it, and now he pays:

Learning that the Opera Club mixed-use building at the southeast corner of South Boulevard and Marion Street was built 5½ feet higher than it was supposed to be drove the Oak Park Village Board last night to levy a hefty fine--$188,223 . . .

The Opera Club developer also has to make a parking lot on land a block away that is to be cleared.

Scheiss has apparently been making changes that depart from a 2004 agreement with the village.  The board just found out about them, such as using bricks that displease the eye on one wall.  But news of the 5 1/2–foot overbuild is what tore it for the trustees.

Trustee Ray Johnson, the most developer-friendly of the seven, called it "a serious issue," even though he had earlier said the discrepancies might have been the village's fault. 

"This takes us to another level," Johnson said. "That's a major problem for me."

A key village staffer, head of its Building & Property Standards Department, admitted that village procedure, even in measuring height, "leaves something to be desired.”  But it’s up to the developer to stay within guidelines, said village president David Pope.

The height issue had top priority at the start.  Schiess wanted seven stories, neighbors wanted five at most.  But he went with five to reap good will for the developer, he said, who has other Oak Park projects planned.

But the five-foot discrepancy was clear from the start, Scheiss said at the 8/3 meeting at which the fine was imposed, not only to him but also to village staff — who apparently did not inform the trustees — because an extra foot per floor of “unusable” space had been prescribed by the structural engineer.

[Scheiss] said he met with [Village Planner Craig] Failor and another staff member to review the plans and they talked about the height difference. Staff had the opportunity to not approve the plans, but they approved them, Schiess said.

Meanwhile, Scheiss got the OK from someone else — the above-mentioned Building & Property Standards people — for the sensible-shoes no-style brick but didn’t tell the planner.  These bricks were what had trustees’ shorts in a bunch until they heard about the five or five and a half feet — measurements differ, alas — and that’s what made the roof fall in on Scheiss and the Opera Club.

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