Poet Robert Frost said “fences make good neighbors,” but they also make for good arguments at Oak Lawn Village Board meetings if they are not built to exact zoning specifications.
The issue came up at the May 12 meeting, when the board voted 3-2 to uphold the Zoning Board of Appeals’ denial of a front yard variation that would have allowed Mauricio Medina to finish building a 6-ft. wooden fence around a vacant lot beside his home in the 10000 block of South Moody Avenue.
“They vet these things for us,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), explaining why he favored upholding the appeals board’s 5-1 vote, without hearing any testimony from Medina. But Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), whose district includes the property in question, was incensed.
“I’m actually shocked that a trustee would make a decision without hearing from the petitioner, to hear the facts,” said Streit.
“We’ve had two public hearings on this,” said Mayor Sandra Bury.
She and others on the board said that Medina had been given a permit to build a fence, but it became an issue when he began building it too close at the property line, next to the front sidewalk, rather than set back according to the instructions that came with the permit. Building inspector Don McKenna put a stop to the work, although it is nearly completed. According to Oak Lawn ordinance, fences should not extend toward the street any farther than the house.
When newly elected Trustee William “Bud” Stalker (5th) said he would like to defer to Streit, since it was his district, both Streit and Medina were allowed to speak to the board.
“I’m disappointed with your decision,” said Medina. He said he bought the vacant lot next to his home with the intention of enclosing it, saying he had seen coyotes in his yard and he feared for the safety of his two young children, an infant and a toddler. He also said he has also been a victim of “flydumping” on the property.
“I moved from Lincoln Park to Oak Lawn. I’m a good citizen. I’m improving the area,” he said. Claiming there was a “lack of communication,” Medina said he did not realize that he was building the fence against code, and was surprised when Building Inspector Don McKenna stopped the work.
Streit said that the board should consider the safety concerns and other extenuating circumstances, asserting that Medina’s neighbors said they had no objection to the fence, and there are other similar fences in the area so it wouldn’t change the character of the neighborhood. In addition to coyotes being seen, he said the property is also “50 yards away from the Norfolk & Western Railroad.”
However, Vorderer, who said he had patrolled the neighborhood as an Oak Lawn police officer, said the existing fences had been there before the area became part of Oak Lawn. It was also pointed out that the property, located in a secluded corner of the village east of Ridgeland Avenue and north of Stony Creek Golf Course, is separated from the railroad tracks by two other homes and Pacific Avenue, a dead-end street.
Streit also questioned why Village Manager Larry Deetjen got involved in the issue, but Deetjen said he only spoke to Medina and his wife because his office began getting calls about the fence.
Andy Skoundrianos, a member of the appeals board, loudly objected to the contention that the volunteer board acted improperly. “The fence was built illegally. It is a safety issue. There was no quid pro quo. Just follow the rules,” he insisted.
Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) was not at the meeting, and Attorney Patrick Connelly explained that four votes would be needed to overturn the appeals board decision. So with the 3-2 vote against doing so, it failed with only Streit and Stalker voting to overturn the ruling.
“I wish (Medina) well. I hope he builds his fence (within the zoning restrictions),” said Bury.
Deetjen said Medina can take the issue to court, and it sounded at the end of the meeting like he just might do that.
“This ruling will not stand,” said Streit.