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Elmhurst Zoning and Planning Commission holds public hearing on hoop house case

ELMHURST – Supporters and opponents of the city of Elmhurst allowing hoop houses received another chance to opine about the issues involved during a public hearing Sept. 18 at Elmhurst City Hall.

The Virgil family of Elmhurst 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.

The city has asked the Zoning and Planning Commission, which held the public hearing, to consider text changes to the zoning ordinance regarding different ways of extending the growing season beyond greenhouses, which are structures the city already allows.

The commission has been asked to come back to the Development, Planning and Zoning Committee with recommendations on restrictions such as allowing a maximum height of 8 feet and size of between 50 and 500 square feet and permitting a hoop house to be erected during specific months for no longer than six months. The commission also will consider permit, lot coverage and fence requirements.

After city planner Eileen Franz provided the overview of the case, commission Chairwoman Susan Rose requested city staff provide the commission with maps of how hoop houses could look on various Elmhurst residential lots compared to the respective lot sizes.

About 13 proponents and seven opponents of hoop houses in residential Elmhurst testified at the hearing.

Proponents voiced concerns of "overregulation" of private property if hoop houses were not allowed and said hoop houses supported values of sustainabiilty, self-reliance and gardening.

"The city of Elmhurst has documented its commitment to environmental stewardship. The community is depending on you as decision makers to create solutions that fulfill this commitment," Elmhurst resident Lisa Gerhold-Dirks said.

Opponents were concerned their property values might decrease if one of their neighbors installed a hoop house and said hoop houses were not aesthetically pleasing, would include too much lot coverage and would increase fire hazards in the neighborhood.

"Our construction standards and codes should apply uniformly and consistently, free from value judgments over the activity that is concealed within. Because who is to say that gardening is a more noble purpose over any other purpose? If you allow plastic membrane structures for gardening, then why not for any other purpose?" Elmhurst resident Bill Sanders said.

The commission's deliberation on the case could occur Oct. 16 at the earliest, and the community will be given advance notice of the scheduled date. No further public testimony will be permitted at that time, Rose said.

After this process, the commission will 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 Elmhurst City Council will have the last say on the issue.

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