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Government

Hoop house issue advances to Elmhurst City Council

Laura Calvert, executive director at Advocates for Urban Agriculture, provides expert testimony on hoop houses for the city of Elmhurst's Development, Planning and Zoning Committee at its June 25 meeting at Elmhurst City Hall. The committee decided later in the meeting to advance the issue to the Elmhurst City Council.
Laura Calvert, executive director at Advocates for Urban Agriculture, provides expert testimony on hoop houses for the city of Elmhurst's Development, Planning and Zoning Committee at its June 25 meeting at Elmhurst City Hall. The committee decided later in the meeting to advance the issue to the Elmhurst City Council.

ELMHURST – The city of Elmhurst's Development, Planning and Zoning Committee has advanced the hoop house issue to the Elmhurst City Council following its June 25 meeting.

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, 2017.

At the committee's previous meeting June 11, aldermen had decided a hoop house should be the area required for residents' personal use, with a maximum height of 6 feet. Aldermen changed that height restriction June 25 to a maximum of 8 feet. The area of the ground included in the hoop house would be a maximum of 500 square feet. A hoop house would be a temporary structure under city ordinances.

When the City Council reviews the committee report recommending the matter pass to the Zoning and Planning Commission, the council could decide not to allow hoop houses and reject the report, amend the restrictions outlined in the report or simply pass the report with the outlined restrictions to the commission, committee Chairman Michael Honquest said after the meeting.

The commission would have its own deliberations and a public hearing during which residents could speak their views for longer than the three minutes allowed at the committee and council levels, Honquest said. The public would receive 15 days' advance notice before a public hearing at the commission level.

After this process, the commission would create a report for the committee, which could amend, reject or accept the report. Regardless of the committee's stance on the commission's report, the City Council would have the last say on the issue. The public has a chance to express support for or opposition to hoop houses at each part of the process.

"That's how a bill becomes a law," Honquest said in a phone interview June 28.

Prior to the committee's decision June 25 to send the matter to the council, aldermen heard from more than a dozen residents in more than 45 minutes of public comment.

"Personal preference inevitably seeps into the legislative process, but good government calls for elected representatives to set aside personal preferences and make decisions based on the needs and wants of the community," said Ben Silver, an attorney for the Citizen Advocacy Center.

Only one person, Bryan Doan, spoke against hoop houses during that time, though there are others in Elmhurst who have stated their opposition on social media. Alderman Mark Mulliner, who serves on the committee, said the city also has received calls from residents who are opposed to hoop houses.

"This is a very motivated group," Honquest said about the hoop house supporters after the meeting.

He anticipates the supporters may face a group who opposes hoop houses as the issue proceeds through the city's governing bodies.

The aldermen also heard expert testimony from Laura Calvert, executive director at Advocates for Urban Agriculture, on what restrictions would be reasonable for the city to have if it were to allow hoop houses.

Calvert said determining a minimum size for hoop houses would be "tricky," and she recommended looking at USDA-approved manufacturers' minimum sizes for the structures. The shortest Calvert said she has seen for a round hoop house is 7.5 feet, and the shortest she has seen for a Gothic style, or more triangular style, is 9 feet.

Nicole Virgil said in a phone interview June 27 she was grateful the aldermen reached out to Calvert, calling it "very industrious" of them to do so.

She noted the aldermen engaged with Calvert in an "honest" and "receptive" manner.

"That was very encouraging," Virgil said.

The next Elmhurst City Council meeting is July 2.

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Know more

To learn about the hoop house issue from supporters' perspective, visit elmhursthooplah.com. To learn about the city of Elmhurst's sustainability practices, visit elmhurst.org/783/Green-Living.

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