Brookfield President Kit Ketchmark attempted Monday night to reassure Hollywood residents that he and the rest of the village board were approaching the proposal for a new parking lot at Riverside-Brookfield High School with an open mind.
But the 35 or so Hollywood residents on hand to demand the village board kill the plan appeared convinced that the village board was just a couple weeks away from approving a special use permit and a zoning variance that would allow for the construction of the parking lot and new tennis courts just north of Hollywood School.
“Nothing’s going to come of this except pain and suffering for the Hollywood community,” said Hollywood resident William Schlesser, one of a dozen neighborhood residents who spoke against the project at Monday night’s meeting of the Brookfield Village Board.
The Brookfield Village Board could vote for or against the plan at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, April 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
Trustees on Monday, apart from Michelle Ryan who questioned the high school’s proof of hardship with respect to zoning, were mum on whether they supported the plan.
Ketchmark characterized Monday night’s meeting as a place where village board members were gathering information in order to make an informed and fair decision.
“We have to look at this in terms of how it affects our community,” Ketchmark said. “We know for certain there are issues of parking and flooding in that area.”
Every resident who spoke Monday night rejected the high school’s contention that the parking lot was necessary, saying it would decrease property values in the neighborhood, cause more flooding and make the area less safe by introducing dozens more teenage drivers into the mix before and after school.
“There are almost 30 kids on a two-block stretch,” said Patrick Webb, who lives on Rockefeller Avenue. “There will be 91 cars driven by 91 impatient teenagers. … There’s going to be an incident.”
Riverside-Brookfield High School, which is landlocked and does not own any of the land it presently uses as parking lots for students and staff, wants to build a new 91-space parking lot in order to create more student parking and parking for visitors who come for special events.
The plan is to locate the parking lot on what is now occupied by six tennis courts. Five tennis courts would be moved directly south of the parking lot. In addition, long-jump and pole vault runs would be placed between the parking lot and Hollywood School.
School officials need a special use permit to build the parking lot on land that is zoned for residential use. The zoning variation is for setback requirements for the tennis courts. The village board is also considering amending the village code to allow a 10-foot fence around the tennis courts.
RBHS Superintendent Kevin Skinkis reiterated Monday that the parking lot is needed for students and visitors. He said all of the parking spaces on Rockefeller Avenue between Golf and Hollywood avenues are leased annually to students and staff at Hollywood School and that there is a waiting list of at least 60 students, who would benefit from the new lot.
But Schlesser and others rejected that reason for the new lot, saying the school simply wanted to accommodate parking for increased special events, such as a 30-team AAU basketball tournament in the summer and semipro football, which has drawn complaints of people tailgating and drinking beer in the Rockefeller Avenue parking lot.
“This is a money grab,” Schlesser said.
While acknowledging complaints from residents concerning the rental of the football stadium to a semipro team in the fall, Skinkis said the stadium is also rented out to youth football programs from Riverside, Westchester and Lyons Township and that local grade schools use the track for meets.
“It is necessary and common for high schools to rent their facilities,” Skinkis said.
Meanwhile, Hollywood resident Sam Levin, an attorney, lectured the village board, two of whom were re-elected as trustees last week, to keep their campaign promises of “put[ting] resident safety and quality of life first.”
“The proposed plan would deprecate and not enhance the community,” Levin said.
Levin also suggested that the parking lot plan was orchestrated by unnamed forces in neighboring Riverside. Those residents of the district want the parking lot for their own convenience, he alleged.
“Hollywood is the red-headed stepchild standing in the way of rich Riverside residents who are inconvenienced,” Levin said. “Hopefully, the village of Brookfield won’t be bamboozled.”
Hollywood residents also called out the high school for creating its own parking crisis in 2006, when it built a field house on land that once served as a faculty parking lot.
“This is dealing with the repercussions of decisions made in the past,” said a Rockefeller Avenue resident, who suggested the school district work with Brookfield Zoo, the Cook County Forest Preserve District and the villages of Brookfield and Riverside to reach a “collective solution that also addresses future growth.”
And despite village officials’ efforts to reassure residents that construction of the parking lot would not make flooding worse in the area residents simply weren’t buying it.
“I have a hard time believing it’s going to be a perfect solution,” said Steve Petris, a resident of Hollywood for 41 years.