Wedding venue receives approvals at zoning meeting despite opposition

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The yellow barn at Hidden Creek Estates

After four hours of public discussion Wednesday night, mostly in opposition, Roscoe's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) recommended 4-0 that the Village Board approve - with restrictions - three special use permits for Hidden Creek Estates, a proposed wedding venue on 13276 White School Road owned by Dude and Kerry Frank of Roscoe. A public hearing on the annexation request will be held on Tuesday, April 20, at 6:00 p.m., followed half an hour later by a meeting of the Village Board, who must make the final decision on both the annexation and the special use requests. Obviously, if the property is not annexed into the Village of Roscoe, the Village's zoning regulations would not apply to it.

If the Village Board approves the request for annexation next week, and also approves the special use requests, the Frank family would be allowed to bring in catered food, to build an unpaved parking lot, and if they choose, to use the property's single-family residence as a single family residence. Right now they are renting it out through Airbnb. While three requests were approved 4-0, an additional special use request for the operation of a "bar/tavern" received only three votes after George Wagaman voted no. Since the vote fell short of a majority of the ZBA's six members, the ZBA ended up sending no official recommendation about the alcohol request to the Village Board. Though Jay Durstock,  Ryan Swanson, Melissa Smith, and George Wagaman were present, Michael Prosser was absent, and Laura Baluch abstained on the four agenda items. The final wording of the recommendations was not decided at the meeting.

More than one hundred residents attended the meeting via Google Meet, many of whom added "Opposed" to their name when they joined the web conference. Some had lived in nearby subdivisions for nearly 50 years, in homes typically selling for over $400,000.  Common sentiments included, "200 potential strangers are going to come into our neighborhood on multiple nights of the week." "I'm talking about 75 additional cars for people who don't live here." "My husband and I have lived here for 18 years. This was supposed to be our forever home." "I will be moving out if this is the new look of Roscoe."

Village Administrator Scott Sanders and ZBA chairman Jay Durstock led the meeting, with village attorney Josef Kurlinkus mostly off-camera. At the start, Sanders stressed, "Nothing is official tonight. These are not final actions, these are recommendations that would allow the board to take final action" if the Village Board approves the annexation request. Asked by a community member if petition signatures could sway the decision, Sanders replied, "You are welcome to sign a petition. It does not alter the process moving forward," since zoning requests in Roscoe are decided by the Village Board, not by popular vote. Sanders later noted, "Contrary to popular opinion, this will not be a revenue generator for the Village of Roscoe." Asked for examples of similar businesses, he admitted, "This is a unique venture in the Village of Roscoe."

Attorney Chris Logli, representing  Hidden Creek Estates, stated that the Frank family wanted to develop the venue in a way "reflective of, and harmonious with, the pastoral nature of the property." He said, despite the special use request for a restaurant, the family did not intend to open a full restaurant, but only a wine bar and tasting room, in addition to catering services for the weddings and special events held there.

Kerry Frank, the owner of the property, testified that they want to use the property for a wedding venue, a bed and breakfast, and a wine bar.  She stressed they only intend to host one wedding a weekend. The wine bar would be open afternoons or early evenings. She also intends to make their two miles of trails available to their Hidden Creek and Promontory neighbors.

A major worry of community members at the meeting was that a wedding venue would change the quiet, natural character of the neighborhood. "We have been very thoughtful in the way we tried to go about this," Kerry Frank replied. She plans to hire a security company to help manage the wedding receptions, local experts to test and minimize noise for neighbors, and attendants to arrange parking at night so "headlights will shine on our property and not on others." They plan to continue to lease 5 acres of agricultural land in the middle of the property to a local farmer.  She talked about how they "absolutely love the woods, nature, wildlife" and described the "gorgeous pond with fish, turtles, ducks" and the "romantic rustic barn to sit out at night to look at the stars."

 Though some neighbors have reported hearing fireworks coming from the property, Kerry Frank denies ever setting off fireworks at any time.  Several community members at the hearing accused her of booking 20 weddings before asking for official permission. She replied, "I can have a website up and I can have marketing material up... My contracts are not relevant to this format tonight." But  she said so far they have only hosted two weddings, one of them for her sister after her venue had canceled the reservation.  Chicago Event added a listing for Hidden Creek Estates, but she says they did it without permission and she insisted they remove the listing.  

Though noise was not the only concern of the neighbors at the meeting, it was a significant concern.  According to Village ordinance, noise levels at the property line before 10:00 p.m. must be limited to 60 decibels - about as loud as an air conditioner -  and 55 decibels - about as loud as a humming refrigerator - after 10:00 p.m. Scott Sanders reported that the proposed annexation agreement says any live or amplified music must end at 10:00 p.m. and that "the position of the village of Roscoe is to limit attendance to 200." (The Frank's attorney Chris Logli pointed out that annexation agreement is not final.) 

Neighbors gave differing noise reports, often depending on which side of the property they live on. One resident on Promontory Trail said, "With the amount of trees that buffer, the people in Promontory cannot hear anything that happens." A neighbor on Promontory Ridge said, "I am one of the closest homes. The noise has not been a problem." But a resident on Mark Drive testified, "I'm east of the property and there are no trees to diffuse the sound. I am definitely opposed." A resident on Raccoon Run said, "We heard the noise last summer, we heard the party." Another neighbor said, "I am hugely opposed to having a wedding venue across the street. I heard the noise last year."

Several community members lamented that approving the wedding venue would increase drunk driving in the area.  One said, "The roads and the safety and the drinking and driving: it's not something to take lightly or jokingly." A close neighbor said, "My daughter gets off her school bus at the bottom of their driveway at 3:00"where guests would be exiting the property.

When the neighbor asked if there was a law on the Village books about alcohol off the property, Kerry Frank replied, "Liquor is not allowed off premises." She continued, "Just to really transparent, my husband's mother was killed by a drunk driver.... We are very, very conscious about drunk driving and it can happen anywhere....  So we take responsibility to a whole other level."  Village Administrator Scott Sanders agreed that guests would not be permitted to take liquor off the property, and package liquor sales  would not be allowed either.

The Raccoon Run neighbor added, "I'm not just concerned about drink drivers. [People] are not familiar with the roads. [They're] getting lost, driving too fast. They don't have to be drunk for this issue to occur."

The discussion on traffic turned to the topic of food trucks. Several residents were suspicious that, like nearby wineries, Hidden Creek Estates planned to bring in food trucks that could attract hundreds of additional visitors throughout the week. But a Village staff member pointed out, "Food trucks are not allowed without 1000 feet of a residential location. That's already Village code, that's already in the ordinance."

Residents speaking in favor of the wedding venue said they were glad its semi-natural state was being preserved, and that a subdivision was not replacing it. One said, approvingly, "The Franks are not developing all the property that they own." Another said, "It's nice to see something to come in other than a fast food place or a gas station. It's nice that they were able to buy a lot of the land to keep developers [out]."

Four hours after the meeting began, ZBA chairman Jay Durstock closed public discussion at 9:42 so the ZBA could come to a decision. More than 80 residents remained on the call, mostly muted, though the text chat remained active.  Asked to give her closing comments, Kerry Frank, after what must have been four hours of exasperation for her, said, " I appreciate everyone's comments tonight... It's really easy for people to show up to tell me what to do with my property... They didn't purchase it and I did."

In response to a question from board member Ryan Swanson about enforcement of the special use permits, village attorney Kerlinkas assured the group, "Special use could be pulled if something were violated." Scott Sanders confirmed, "Any deviation from the special use permit or annexation agreement... that could only be done by board action."

The zoning board discussed requiring additional screening and trees, ensuring that a full restaurant and a full bar couldn't be established, and requiring that the lighting wouldn't disturb the neighbors.  Scott Sanders summarized the discussion, proposing that only a catering kitchen be allowed, with no preparation or cooking of food on premise. The Frank's attorney Chris Logli asked that wood-fired pizzas be allowed, since the Franks were considering offering them to their guests. 

In regards to lighting, Kerry Frank volunteered, "We proposed wireless lighting so we can accommodate the neighborhood and make it appropriate to the size." Sanders confirmed that "no new permanent lighting is proposed for this. My understanding is that all lighting is set up as temporary lighting... We can require a zero foot/candle footprint at the property line." 

Kerry Frank said trees already screened the venue on all sides except for one neighbor (who had removed his trees to put in a septic tank). Scott Sanders said a row of evergreens could be required on that side, thought understory trees might be more effective. Kerry Frank  proposed a different strategy, which would screen that neighbor more effectively and with fewer trees.  Another neighbor who had left herself unmuted then said, "It's not just this [one] property. I can see the workers [too, from my property]." So Scott Sanders proposed that trees be planted on two sides of the venue.

While the zoning staff firms up their recommendations, final decisions on the annexation and the special use requests must wait until the meeting of the Village Board on Tuesday, April 20. That will be the first hybrid meeting of the Village of Roscoe Board, open to all via web conferencing while a limited number of people will be able to attend in person. 

This article was edited to add details about the screening discussion and to clarify that the ZBA did not decide at the meeting on the final wording for their recommendations.

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Jim Hursh, an attorney in consulation with opponents of the venue, says, "This is where democracy is at and it's a good example of democracy. But the people making the final decision... the board menbers... their constituency is not the neighbors who are affected by annexation, it's the people who are already in the Village."  He has a point - any neighbors east of White School Road or north of Hidden Creek Lane are in the Township of Roscoe and don't elect Village of Roscoe officials.

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