By Bob Uphues
The village of Brookfield has settled a lawsuit filed in 2017 by an Ogden Avenue property owner who felt the village was targeting him unfairly.
Ronald Aguirre, who owns the property at 9441 Ogden Ave., has agreed to pay the village $5,750 in fines related to a slew of property maintenance violations flagged by the village during March 2017.
In all, Aguirre's property was ticketed 84 times in 2016 and 2017, and he faced $11,550 in fines before he filed his lawsuit in the Chancery Division of Cook County Circuit Court.
Aguirre declined to talk on the record about the lawsuit, which he tried to prosecute pro se until hiring a lawyer last May. But, it's not the first time Aguirre and the village have butted heads.
Back in 2005, the village board turned down Aguirre's request for a liquor license for a proposed wine bar/art gallery he proposed to call VNO. The business, which he said at the time would be open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, would have also sported an outdoor garden area on land east of the building now used for parking.
The business never got off the ground, and for years Aguirre used the building for storage while renting out an apartment at the back. But in 2017, he decided to move ahead with the outdoor garden, hiring a paving contractor and having about 50,000 pounds of brick pavers delivered to the site.
That's about the time the property maintenance violation notices started coming. According to village records, Aguirre was hit with five property maintenance violations, including one for illegal brick paver storage, in June and July 2016, followed by seven more violations on Dec. 22, 2016.
Then came an avalanche of 72 property maintenance violations written between March 3 and March 14, 2017.
With all of the pending violations, Aguirre said he couldn't get a permit to complete the brick paving project. Facing more than $11,000 in fines, Aguirre filed suit in July 2017 to try to convince a judge he was being targeted.
In addition to the $5,750 settlement, which he must pay by Nov. 1, according to the settlement agreement, Aguirre said he's expended another $5,000 in attorneys' fees.
The legal bills haven't been cheap for the village, either.
According to Brookfield Finance Director Doug Cooper, between July 2017 and February 2019, the village expended $39,735 to defend itself.
Aguirre has owned the property since 1996, when he purchased it for $84,000 from the Krause family, who had operated a dry goods/fabric store at that location from 1913 to 1995.
He said he'd be willing to sell the property for the right offer or lease the commercial space to a business, but Aguirre has no plans any longer to open a business there himself.
Brookfield Community and Economic Development Director Nicholas Greifer said the property at 9441 Ogden Ave. is one of about a half-dozen properties where the village has aggressively sought to address property maintenance issues through the local adjudication process.
"We are trying to get resolution on a variety of property maintenance cases," said Greifer, who said most of the cases involve residential properties.
In some cases, said Greifer, the village is considering placing liens against non-compliant properties unless they can reach a settlement with the property owner for around half the fines owed.
Greifer called the April 8 settlement a win-win for both the village and property owner, though Aguirre clearly doesn't see it that way.
From the village's point of view, they were able to gain compliance to the property maintenance code while reducing the amount of the fines levied and ending costly litigation.
"We have to preserve the integrity of the enforcement mechanism," Greifer said.