Fighting Riverside's $100,000 mistake -and how it affects you

Opinion

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Jerry & Michelle Udelson One View

Take a few moments and put yourself in these shoes:

You buy a property with an outdated garage and receive multiple approvals to build a new one. Some $70,000 into the process, your builder learns from the village's chief building inspector that it is larger than permitted without a variance.

Even so-and unbeknownst to you until months later-the inspector tells your builder that something will be "worked out." So, sure, go ahead and pour the concrete for the garage floor, driveway and sidewalks.

A few months later, at a village board meeting, one of your neighbors raises a concern-which is quickly satisfied-about your garage's size.

Shortly thereafter, at a trustee's direction, the building inspector tells your builder to stop building your garage, which by now is 80 percent done.

A month later, you finally learn there is a problem with the garage and you meet three times with the village manager, attorney, engineer and building inspector. Each time, the building inspector, to his credit, admits that he had approved continuing the building process even after realizing the garage was bigger than ordinance permits.

The "good" news:

The village was willing to kick in $12,000 "as a start" toward the cost of tearing down the garage and starting over. What else could this offer be if not an admission of responsibility?

The really, really bad and unacceptable news:

Starting over, thanks largely to uprooting and re-doing the extensive work that had previously been approved by the building inspector, comes with a $100,000 price tag, on top of the $70,000 you've already spent.

What would you do, if you were in these shoes?

We suspect it would be exactly what we're doing: seeking a variance from the village. To receive such an exception, three criteria must be met:

1. The owner of the property in question will suffer undue hardship in the absence of such variation. (Of course, living with a partially completed garage and no backyard for almost a year, in addition to the $100,000, is an undue hardship.)

2. The plight of the owner is due to unique circumstances. (This certainly is unique. Others seeking garage-size variances have done so when the plans were still on paper-not nearly finished, in reliance on previous village approvals.)

3. The variation, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the locality. (About 30 of our neighbors have publicly supported our request and stated it would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood-after all, you can barely see the garage from the sidewalk.)

On July 9, when three Zoning Board of Appeals members voted against our variance request, we were flabbergasted.

We appreciate that two ZBA members applied common sense, as well as the legal variance standards, to this uncommon situation, and voted in our favor. We also appreciate that the ZBA's vote is only advisory-the village board will vote on the matter at its Aug. 18 meeting. Approving a variance would cost Riverside taxpayers $0.

So there's yet another chance for the village to make a decision that is right in terms of fairness, on legal grounds, and financially.

And make no mistake-this situation affects you, the Riverside taxpayer, in at least two ways.

First, if this is how village officials handle
our situation, what's stopping them from doing it to you, too, the next time they try to duck responsibility for their own error?

Second, the village has already spent untold thousands of dollars on legal, architectural and plan review consultants on this debacle. These special consultants were hired for the sole purpose of testifying against the variance.

How much more money will they spend fighting a battle that, if necessary, will go to an appellate court where they could be liable for all of our legal fees?

To learn more about this saga, visit www.100kmistake.info and express your views to village officials before-and during-that Aug. 18 meeting.

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