Facing concerns and complaints from neighbors over the delayed construction of a home, Northfield’s Zoning Board of Appeals granted an extension that would allow the property owner to get the house built.
With their approval, however, commissioners are also requiring the owner to fulfill several conditions or risk losing a $20,000 cash bond.
The extension and the conditions were both approved at the Northfield ZBA’s meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 7.
The vacant property at 1649 Mount Pleasant St. is owned by Paul and Ana Lazanyi, and in August 2022, they were granted approval for new construction. Per Village code, construction had to be completed within 18 months, with a Feb. 2 deadline.
But Paul Lazanyi told the ZBA Wednesday evening that, because of a number of delays, he has only been able to finish the house’s foundation and stormwater systems.
Lazanyi, who said he initially planned to finance the project himself, cited construction costs as the primary reason for the delay.
“Last year was a very difficult year for financing construction loans,” he told commissioners. “So, I got to the point where now I made the financing through a private lender and I’m able to continue the construction in March.”
He later clarified that he has been pre-approved for a construction loan and is expecting to close on it within two weeks.
Lazanyi also said he has already invested $360,000 into the property and anticipates spending another $300,000 to have it completed.
After Lazanyi made his comments, the board heard from five neighbors who shared their concerns about the project’s progress, and many urged the commissioners not to allow construction to continue.
Most of the speakers expressed similar concerns, primarily with flooding they’ve experienced since construction began.
Jill Sherman was one of those neighbors.
“I have noticed excessive flooding since the construction started,” she said. “I’m not sure whether that’s insufficient flood control, if it’s the removal of the large, beautiful tree that was discussed earlier that had roots that absorbed the water. There’s definitely excessive flooding where it did not flood before.”
Another neighbor, Christin Thomas, questioned whether or not the water management system had even been installed.
“I’ve watched this for a year and a half,” she said. “There’s been nothing for at least six months. I’ve never seen a bulldozer.”
Thomas later added that she “can’t imagine how the flood control system has been put in there.”
Lazanyi said the system has been installed and is working. Steve Gutierrez, Northfield’s community development director, said while he can’t speak to the extent of the installation, “they have done the underground work” for the stormwater management plan.
Gutierrez also confirmed that the plan was submitted to the Village and approved as designed.
He also made an offer to arrange a meeting between the neighbors and the Village’s engineering staff to explain what has been done so far and what will be done to prevent future flooding, which the neighbors acknowledged they would appreciate.
Other neighbors complained that neighboring properties have been damaged by construction equipment, construction vehicles blocking the streets and preventing school buses from picking up students, and excessive noise from construction workers.
Neighbor Kathy Estabrooke said the “disrespect” was her biggest concern, which she said began prior to construction when a neighbor’s flowers that abutted the lot were removed.
“When you start out in a neighborhood and you start out with disrespect, it’s hard to believe that that disrespect won’t continue,” she said. “And that’s really my concern.”
Lazanyi did apologize for some of the issues, saying some of what happened was “out of my control.”
“I’ll make sure that nothing will happen out of the scheduled time,” he said.
Gutierrez added that any damage should be reported to the Village, which will then be in contact with the construction team about repairing or replacing what was damaged.
Some of the neighbors asked the commission to refuse the extension and to order the lot be restored to its original condition, something with which ZBA Chairperson Richard Crotty disagreed.
“If you attempt to do that, all that’s going to happen is this matter will end up in court and it will be several years before anything is done with that piece of property,” he said. “That’s just a fact of life.”
But he also acknowledged that there was no solution that would make everyone happy.
“It’s been a hardship on everybody,” he said. “We are, right now, in a situation that there’s really no perfect answer to it. We’re going to try to come up with something that helps the neighbors out as much as possible and maybe allows the project to move forward.”
During deliberations, Crotty proposed granting Lazany’s request, while also adding conditions, including an increased cash bond ($20,000). Four deadlines would be set, and if Lazany fails to meet any of those deadlines, $5,000 of that bond will be kept by the Village.
If any of that bond remains, it would be returned to Lazanyi if construction is completed by a new deadline of Sept. 2, and pending an inspection by Village staff.
Commissioners unanimously approved Crotty’s suggestion, and Lazanyi said he understood what the new rules were.
Additionally, commissioners tentatively scheduled a follow-up meeting on March 6 to check in and see if Lazanyi was able to secure his construction loan. If he receives the loan prior to that date, the meeting will be canceled, but if it’s not received, that meeting will be held to determine what the next steps will be.
Crotty ended the meeting by offering some advice to Lazanyi:
“I very strongly suggest you do your absolute best to make peace with your neighbors.”
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.