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City Council audio recordings reveal uncertainty about closed meetings

ELMHURST — Recently released audio recordings show city aldermen grappled with what topics were appropriate to discuss during two closed meetings the Illinois Attorney General's Office said violated the Open Meetings Act.
The non-binding opinion from the attorney general prompted the Elmhurst City Council's vote last week to release the audiotapes and minutes from the closed sessions on Sept. 10 and 17, 2012.
In the recordings, some aldermen were unsure if it was appropriate to discuss two Addison Avenue project proposals offered by developers in closed session because one proposal entwines the developer's possible purchase price of the development — a permissible discussion in closed session — with the necessary zoning variances.
"It seems like if we agree … with the financial numbers we're essentially agreeing upon the number of stories and therefore the zoning variations that we would need here," Alderman Michael Bram said during the second meeting. "So I just want to, for the record, state that I'm against having this discussion in (closed) session."
The first of two project options from the developer is a four-story building. The second option is a six-story building, which would require zoning variances because the downtown district currently only allows buildings of four stories or less.
The height has been an issue for some nearby property owners and aldermen.
"Aren't we getting ahead of ourselves a little bit?" Alderman Diane Gutenkauf said during the first meeting. "We haven't even OK'd the six-story building."
However, some aldermen and city staff said it was appropriate to analyze the possible numbers, despite zoning considerations. Then, if the finances are agreeable, the zoning would be debated in committee.
The six-story variance is still pending before the zoning commission. If the commission recommends the variances, it will head to the full council.
Assistant City Manager Mike Kopp said this week that if the zoning variances aren't approved, the project will go back to the four-story option.
Both options detail between 16,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail space, Kopp said. The taller building would add 30,000 square feet of office space and also increase the number of parking spaces from 450 to more than 600.
Aldermen Steve Morley and Mark Mulliner both said in the first meeting that they'd prefer the six-story option and the added density it would bring to downtown.
"It's a core block; it's far enough from the residential area that we can do that," Mulliner said. "It's protected from the residential."
Aldermen also implored staff to compare the developer's proposals to market rates for retail and office space, and report back before further discussion.
The city currently owns the land. It plans to construct the shell of the building and then sell it to the developer for the build-out.
The attorney general's opinion was issued in response to a complaint filed by Alderman Paula Pezza when she declined to attend the two meetings because she believed they should have been public.

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