North Riverside’s Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, on May 9 for the second time, unanimously recommended two zoning variances to allow the Scottish Home to build a new assisted-living residence on the nursing home’s campus at 2800 Desplaines Ave.
The North Riverside Village Board in March was poised to pass an ordinance granting the variances, but the matter was tabled after some residents on 27th Street, whose properties face the Scottish Home campus, protested that the initial Plan Commission and Zoning Board hearing in February did not follow proper procedures.
“It became apparent that there were protocols in the village code that were not observed,” said Gus Noble, president of the Illinois Saint Andrews Society, which operates the Scottish Home. “That’s why we did it so formally [May 9], so we could absolutely be sure every protocol was followed.”
The two variances sought by the Scottish Home are to allow the new building to be 45 feet tall and to allow more than one building on the lot.
The more formal hearing did nothing to convince members of the Bensfield family, who have lived on 27th Street for more than 50 years, that the plan to build the free-standing, two-story Caledonian House northwest of the present Scottish Home building would harm their property values.
“I feel … my property would be significantly adversely affected by this new structure,” said Tom Bensfield, one of three family members to publicly speak out against the project. “I feel it will affect my property value significantly.”
Bensfield presented a list of demands to the commissions, including moving the building to the east side of the Scottish Home and building a “maximum allowable” berm across the Scottish Home’s north property line.
“The [proposed building] height of 45 feet would be obtrusive to say the least,” Bensfield said.
A good deal of the concern the Bensfields voiced last week appeared to be tied to an addition the Scottish Home built in the 1990s. According to Tom Bensfield; his wife, Karen; and his brother, Kenneth, who also lives on 27th Street, the Scottish Home failed to follow through on all plans related to the previous work. In addition, they have had longstanding problems with noise from air-conditioning units installed at that time.
According to Noble, the Scottish Home has spent $30,000 over the years to address the noise issue. When the Caledonian House is built, he said, that problem will be solved once and for all.
“They have not abided by what they said the last time,” said Kenneth Bensfield. “I’m a little fed up. I see no reason why this board and this village should allow this building to be built.”
Noble, who was not the head of the Illinois Saint Andrews Society when the last addition was built, said he could not find any records indicating that the society had failed to comply with any provisions with respect to that project.
“That’s the type of thing we take very seriously,” said Noble. “I cannot find where we were negligent on any of those things. The village was supposed to do something with a landscaping plan. But everybody can rest assured that we’ll follow what’s required of us to a T.”
The commissions in recommending the variances for Caledonian House, also set forth several conditions for the project, including the construction of a 3-foot-high berm to block headlight glare from vehicles pulling into parking spaces that more or less face 27th Street. In addition, all mechanical equipment must be located south of the new building.
Noble said the society is still in the early stages of fundraising but expressed optimism that Caledonian House will be a key part of keeping the Scottish Home, which has called North Riverside Home since 1910, competitive and attractive to senior citizens who need nursing care and to their adult children.
“I’m not just optimistic, I’m enthusiastic,” said Noble. “I firmly believe we’ll be able to do more and do it better with Caledonian House.”
The village board likely will have the opportunity to review the commissions’ recommendations and vote on an ordinance granting the variances in June.