Almost a year after it came to the attention of Riverside officials, a small wall serving as the address sign for a home on Nuttall Road will have to be removed.
On Oct. 1, village trustees voted 4-2 to deny retroactively granting a building permit for the roughly 3-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide stone structure in front of 122 Nuttall Road because it not only violates the village’s sign code but is located on public property.
After a resident complained about it in November 2014, officials looked into the matter and discovered that the sign — although located on the house side of the sidewalk was actually within the public right of way.
Like many residential lots in Riverside, the front property line at 122 Nuttall Road does not extend all the way to the public sidewalk. As a result, the village could find itself liable if anything happened involving the sign.
In May, the village board voted 4-3, with President Ben Sells casting the deciding vote, to deny a building permit for the structure. But the board almost immediately decided to reconsider the matter and charged village staff to work on amending the sign code to recommend possible changes to the sign code.
The reason for that request was because there are numerous instances in Riverside where there are structures and other items, from large planting urns to retaining walls, located in the public right of way.
The fear was that in enforcing the Nuttall Road violation, officials would then be tasked with righting all of the other past wrongs committed by other homeowners.
Allowing those items, known in the village code general as “hardscape,” was also a subject of discussion on Oct. 1, and trustees remained sharply divided on how to handle them.
Staff and the village’s attorney suggested amending the village’s zoning code to allow homeowners to obtain a permit for non-permanent hardscape, such as planting urns, in the public right of way (specifically the area between a residence and the sidewalk) as long as they are at least 3 feet from the sidewalk.
The homeowner would also need to sign a document accepting liability for anything that happens with that hardscape, from a child riding a bicycle into it to having it destroyed.
They also recommended requiring removal of those structures if a house is sold. Some structures in the public right of way (ones built prior to the village being named a National Historic Landmark in 1972) are already allowed and would continue to be allowed.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine said he thought the proposed changes would “open a can of worms,” forcing the village to police every hardscape addition in the public right of way since 1972.
“We can spend the rest of our lives walking around telling people to move stuff,” Ballerine said. “Where do you draw the line?”
Trustee Scott Lumsden, on the other hand, said that the revisions would help the village put the lid on hardscape in the public right of way. His only problem with the recommendation was the 3-foot rule. Citing a need to preserve Frederick Law Olmsted’s plan of open vistas — a necessary element of the village historic landmark designation — he preferred to prohibit hardscape in the public right of way completely.
“If we say 3 feet and everyone starts putting rock walls up at 3 feet, we’re going to lose that,” Lumsden said.
Trustees Doug Pollock and Michael Sedivy agreed with Lumsden on the importance of maintaining control of the public right of way.
“I can’t see being that permissive with the public right of way,” Sedivy said. “You can’t let it be the wild, wild west.”
Trustee Ellen Hamilton said she didn’t approve of the proposed code amendment, while Trustee Patricia Collins was on the fence.
But Collins sided with Sedivy, Lumsden and Pollock in voting to deny the permit for the address sign at 122 Nuttall Road. Ballerine and Hamilton voted to approve it.
Village Manager Jessica Frances said the homeowner would be notified of the board’s decision and given “an appropriate amount of time” to remove the structure.
Because the board appeared split on the issue of amending the code related to hardscape, the matter may or may not end up coming back to trustees for a vote. Frances said she would again poll trustees to determine whether to have the village’s attorney move forward with a draft ordinance.