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Cary zoning board gives thumbs-up to school height rules

Cary zoning board sends height change to trustees

Published: Sunday, June 29, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

CARY – New height rules for schools in Cary are closer to becoming a reality.

The village’s Board of Zoning, Planning and Appeals on Thursday recommended approval of a text amendment to the zoning code that would allow schools to have buildings up to 50 feet tall, as long as the space above 30 feet is not for occupancy.

The Village Board is scheduled to consider the proposed text amendment on July 15.

The village began looking at this change when it started working with District 155 in a “mutual planning” process of the planned Cary-Grove High School auditorium project.

As part of the $8.5 million project, District 155 plans to demolish the existing auditorium and build a new auditorium in the same location. It would be 46.5 feet tall at its highest point, which exceeds current code by 16.5 feet.

The height is needed to accommodate a “fly loft” for aerial displays and to lift scenery as part of productions.

During discussions between Cary and District 155, the district said it did not want to go through a variance process.

The variance however most likely would have been approved, Cary zoning board members said.

So village officials opted to propose a text amendment that, if ultimately approved, would give District 155 the village’s blessing while not formally asking for it.

It is a way to avoid litigation similar to the Crystal Lake South High School bleacher controversy.

A judge has ruled that District 155 had to follow the city of Crystal Lake’s zoning regulations when it built a $1.18 million set of bleachers at Crystal Lake South. That decision is under appeal.

Cary’s proposed text amendment change would apply to all schools in the village, however, including private schools.

To minimize the effect on surrounding properties, every foot of height above 30 feet would require an additional two feet of setback. Cary-Grove High School’s auditorium will have a setback greater than 395 feet from the required front yard, and more than 500 feet from the nearest yard, according to village documents.

Chris Stilling, director of community and economic development, said that the village’s current zoning ordinance doesn’t take into consideration the needs of schools today. A typical gymnasium may now be 35 to 40 feet high to accommodate certain activities.

Joseph Tournier, chairman of the Board of Zoning, Planning and Appeals, said the uses of schools have changed over the years, as have design standards.

“Building codes change, uses have changed,” Tournier said. “Who knows what may come. Giving school districts that flexibility certainly makes a lot of common sense.”

Patty Meyers-Kita, who lives behind Cary-Grove High School, said she has no problem to the auditorium project, but doesn’t think District 155 should receive special accommodations. She is happy the proposed change is being made to allow all schools to have buildings taller than 30 feet.

“That’s how it should be,” Meyers-Kita said. “We shouldn’t be changing because one entity wants something different. That’s not fair.”

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