ELMHURST – The owner of the controversial Elmhurst hoop house criticized aldermen at the May 7 City Council meeting for failing to act individually and support her request to have the temporary structure in her backyard.
“There’s too many of you comfortable sitting where you are,” Nicole Virgil told aldermen. “You’re too comfortable right now. I’m speaking individually. There’s individual people up there that I’m talking to. I’m not just talking to a body of people. You’re all individuals. You have the ability to speak as individual people.”
Virgil and her husband, Dan, were accompanied at the meeting by several supporters, many of whom spoke on their behalf.
The Virgil family was ordered by the city in early 2017 to take down the hoop house in its backyard in the 500 block of Fairview Avenue or face fines. The structure, which is a temporary gardening structure used to extend the growing season into winter, was found to be in violation of city code at a hearing Jan. 24, 2017, in front of an administrative judge. The hoop house was taken down Feb. 24.
Ben Silver, an attorney for the Citizen Advocacy Center, said the city has never provided a reason why the Virgil family cannot have the hoop house.
“These residents have put in the time, done the research and presented this council with all the evidence as to why hoop houses should be allowed in Elmhurst,” Silver said.
Elmhurst City Manager Jim Grabowski told Suburban Life in January 2017 the hoop house did violate the city’s code on membrane structures, and the adjudicator of the Jan. 24, 2017, hearing agreed it was in “clear violation.”
“The code is for membrane structures and it doesn’t specifically mention hoop houses, but I felt [the Virgil’s hoop house] was in violation and should be taken down,” he said. “We’ve asked them to remove it. Our goal is compliance, and we don’t want to fine people.”
Dan Virgil said responding to resident concerns is one way to judge the effectiveness of city officials.
“In this way, I would have to say, and I think many others would also agree, the elected officials here in Elmhurst have failed, dramatically,” Virgil said. “There has been no progress made. All we’re asking for is a discussion of this topic. That hasn’t happened. It hasn’t even been placed on the agenda. I don’t know how anybody could take a look at our officials here and say that this is responsiveness to citizens.”
Supporters attended a Jan. 22 Development, Planning and Zoning Committee meeting to ask the committee to address the hoop house issue. The committee had announced in August 2017 it would delay discussing hoop houses until the conclusion of a lawsuit the Virgil family filed against the city. DuPage County Judge Paul Fullerton dismissed the suit in December 2017.
At the meeting, committee Chairman Michael Honquest said there were three other "very public" issues on the committee's plate.
A review of the municipal code regarding membrane structures is now on the May 14 committee agenda.
The committee is expected to explore how other municipalities address membrane structures as part of the review, Grabowski said during a recent phone interview.
Nicole Virgil asked the council why she was forced to take down her hoop house when other membrane structures are permitted in the city. As she spoke, supporters held up large photos of membrane structures that exist in the city.
“We have membrane structures all over Elmhurst, and what it looks like to me is that they’re not illegal,” Virgil said. "They’re just illegal for me. Individually, can you process that that is not legitimate? These objects are all over the city in plain sight."
Michael Childress, president of the DuPage County NAACP, posed several questions to the council.
“What is the ordinance, and how was [Virgil] violating that ordinance? Why is an elected body refusing to speak to a taxpaying citizen? Why is she being singled out when there are clearly other structures on people’s properties?" Childress said.
Virgil said she and her supporters will continue to fight for her right to have the hoop house. She called on council members to reconsider their position on the issue.
“Is this who you want to be? Is this who you are? Is this where I live? Seriously," Virgil said. "It’s time to do better. I’m not going away."