A Brookfield resident, who describes himself as apolitical but outraged over the approval of a condominium development for the 3600 block of Forest Avenue, has begun a petition drive to try to force the village to reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, the VIP Party looks to be trying to use the issue as a wedge between voters and the PEP Party in the spring 2007 elections. The PEP party currently holds a majority on the village’s Board of Trustees.
Within the past two weeks, Michael Fressola, who owns and lives in an apartment building to the north of a planned 18-unit condo development, has passed out scores of petition fliers asking for an “investigation into Brookfield politics.”
“Is this Brookfield village board participating in a democracy or running a totalitarian village practicing in arrogance and corruption?” asks the flier, which has been delivered to residents near the development site at 3627-31 Forest Ave.
Fressola said he began handing out the fliers to his neighbors after trustees overturned a Zoning Board of Appeals recommendation to deny a variance to allow one parking spot per unit for the new condo development. Neighbors, including Fressola, complained at the village’s July 24 board meeting that the development’s inadequate parking would congest streets and cause unsafe conditions for residents.
As of late last week, Fressola said he received some 40 signatures from residents, from the neighborhood and elsewhere in the village protesting the development and that he expected more to come. In addition, Fressola said he and other neighbors were trying to reach out to other groups that have already or are in the process of protesting development elsewhere in the village, including residents near the former Buresh Lobster House property, now being converted into townhomes and single-family homes, and neighbors near a planned development at Eberly and Congress Park avenues.
Further, Fressola said he had contacted U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski’s office, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Illinois Department of Health to alert them to the issue on Forest Avenue.
“At some point [Brookfield trustees] are supposed to represent residents,” Fressola said. “I don’t have any proof, but impropriety is highly suggested.”
Fressola was specifically critical of the placement of the proposed driveway for the condo project, which will border his property to the south. The exhaust fumes will adversely affect his tenant and the proximity of the driveway to his property would present a hazard to pedestrians.
“This is my business, and they’re putting people in harm’s way,” Fressola said. “The village has granted them everything short of a Ferris wheel and a llama.”
Village President Michael Garvey, who did not vote on the variance issue but said he supported the project, dismissed the allegation of impropriety and chalked up the growing tempest to politics. He pointed to an unsigned flier sent to residents prior to the July 24 meeting as proof that the issue was being turned into a political one.
The flier implied that the variance request was already agreed to and specifically called out the PEP Party-dominated board as responsible.
“To turn this into a political issue is totally wrong,” said Garvey, who ran into a political brouhaha over the approval of the six-story condominium building just a block away back in 2001 when Garvey was both acting village president and a village trustee.
Weeks after the vote that approved the condo project, the VIP Party was voted into power and Garvey was voted out of office.
As for the charge that a fix was in on the project, Garvey stated flatly that there was none. He also noted that although the Zoning Board of Appeals denied the parking variance, the vote was actually 3-2 in favor of recommending the variance. One of those voting in favor of the variance was Leanne Digan, a VIP Party supporter and past contributor. She was reappointed to the zoning board by former VIP Village President Bill Russ in 2005.
“I know for a fact that no trustee has a personal stake or interest in this,” said Garvey. “We’ll do whatever it takes to protect the residents on the block. I understand they’re upset, but to resort to allegations of corruption? Anyone who wants to accuse me of corruption better have pretty good proof of that.”
The VIP Party has already begun to adopt the issue. The VIP Party Web site, updated last month, states that it “looks like it was a done deal on Forest Ave. … but President Garvey and the PEP majority passed it anyway! Going against the people.”
Evidence for VIP’s growing interest in Forest Avenue as a political issue is also indicated by the fact that former VIP trustee Jane Harps last week served as a go-between for Fressola in placing an advertisement, a copy of Fressola’s petition flier, in the Landmark. The ad was paid for by Fressola.
Harps in recent months has been critical of Garvey’s leadership in several letters to the editor. In another letter sent last week, she called the townhome project a “slam-dunk deal” that will leave “a lasting imprint for the voters of the community.”
Fressola said he approached Harps, because it was the Harps Realty company that sold his apartment building to Fressola’s father and because he knew Jane Harps was involved in village government as a trustee, not because of any connection to the VIP Party.
“I’m not a political person whatsoever,” Fressola said. “However, I guarantee that everyone in this neighborhood is going to get highly political.”
Despite the call to rethink the development, Garvey said that the board followed the legal process for approving the variances and that wouldn’t change unless the board voted to reconsider it.
“These difficult decisions can’t be judged by the number of people that come to a meeting and make the most noise,” Garvey said. “We went through and followed the legal standards and guidelines. It was a close issue and the votes reflected that.”