Bad Government 101: Case Study No. 1


If you were in the City Council chambers this past Monday you witnessed a textbook case of bad government when Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark gave local attorney and Frimark campaign contributor, Jack Owens, a liberal opportunity to mesmerize the Council into recommending – without an actual Council vote – that City staff should look the other way to help Owens’ clients open orthopedic and physical therapy offices in an area not currently zoned for them.

Even more amazingly, Frimark and Owens were able to do this on a matter that wasn’t even on the Council’s agenda!

This all started when Chipman Adams Ltd., the architects for Owens’ clients, were advised by City staff that their plans for the Renaissance Office Plaza could not be approved because that area was not zoned for medical offices.  As explained by Acting Community Preservation and Development Director Carrie Davis, a text amendment to the zoning code is needed to change the zoning to permit medical offices there.

The normal text amendment process can take several months to get approval from both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council, which would not accommodate Owens’ clients’ plans for a September 1 occupancy date.  As a result, it was suggested that while the text amendment process is pursued the building owners could submit plans showing only generic – rather than medical – offices and thereby get the City approval necessary to move forward. 

That suggestion was accepted by consensus of the City Council. So if that plan is followed, Owens’ clients will be submitting false plans which the City will approve knowing them to be false…presumably with the appropriate Chicago-style wink and nod.

Is that any way to run City government? 

But this isn’t only about public officials behaving badly.  This is also about what looks like incompetence by one of the City’s outside consultants – in this case, Camiros, Ltd., a zoning rewrite consultant that was paid good money to guide the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee through the year-long task of revising our zoning code. 

Davis claims that she spoke with Camiros about this matter, but the only explanation she could come up with is that this “medical office” anomaly may have simply been overlooked during the year-long rewrite process.  Maybe she just doesn’t want to say anything to offend Camiros – after all, the City recently hired them for around $50,000 to consult on the proposed Higgins Road Corridor.

Within months of the Council adopting the Camiros-approved, Committee-recommended zoning ordinance rewrite, however, Frimark and his Alderpuppets were approving an 8-unit variance for the Executive Office Plaza (“EOP”) development of Frimark campaign contributors Norwood Builders and Norwood’s Bruce Adreani.  Jack Owens also reportedly represented the EOP developers early on, and former 4th Ward alderman and principal of Chipman Adams, John Chipman, is an EOP investor.

Frankly, we’d expect that a local architect and former alderman like Chipman would understand our zoning code well enough that he wouldn’t put himself and his clients in need of favored treatment to keep a project on schedule.  But apparently getting favored treatment is becoming standard operating procedure in Park Ridge, along with cozying up to public officials.  Call it  “The Chicago Way Comes To Park Ridge.”

Let’s see if we’ve got this straight: A prominent local architect’s ignorance of our zoning code reveals mistakes in that code’s rewrite by a favored consultant for the City which, in turn, causes a prominent local attorney and mayoral campaign contributor to ask for, and get, special treatment from the City Council that involves letting City staff process falsified construction plans.  That may not be the “perfect storm” of bad government, but it’s got to be close. 

At least one alderman voiced reservations about the Council’s conduct Monday night, even though he now admits that he didn’t do enough to stop it while it was going on.  Consequently, Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward), in a Wednesday morning memo to Frimark, the other aldermen, and Acting City Manager Julianna Maller, asked for a “special meeting” to actually vote on whether to formally direct Carrie Davis and her staff to treat as legitimate any falsified plans that Owens’ clients might submit.  Schmidt noted that, Monday night, he and his fellow Council members had “lied to ourselves and our constituents, and we have told staff it is all right to lie to us and to the people.”

But at least one of Schmidt’s colleagues seemed to have no problem with that kind of chicanery.  Alderpuppet Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), an attorney no less, called for “common sense” and argued against strict enforcement of the current zoning and text amendment procedures: “We shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand and say procedure, procedure, procedure.”

From comments like that and from what we’ve seen of Allegretti’s performance on the Council so far, perhaps buried in sand would be an improvement over where his head seems to be. 

9 comments so far

The purpose of not allowing a medical office in an office district without a special use permit was to give Planning and Zoning the ability to review the impact traffic and parking would have on the area the medical office wished to locate. As per the discussion at the zoning rewrite, the committee felt that a medical office could possibly produce more people looking to park as opposed to an office that did not have the volume of clients a medical office can produce. Mr. Owens and Mr. Chipman claimed this requirement for a special use was a mistake but they weren’t at the rewrite meetings. Why Carrie Davis remained silent or didn’t check the minutes makes me wonder if the fix was already in. When you have the foxes telling you how to take care of your chickens, I would say your chickens are in trouble.

So 1 alderman didn’t do enough to stop the way Frimark and others on their evil ways.

Wonder why?

Another part of this week’s and last week’s meeting is the lady who owns 3 lots on Courtland and whoever is was claims the 120 some odd mistake in zoning.

I’m very confused. By Renaissance you do mean the buildings out on Northwest Hwy. west of Potter Road? If yes, there are medical offices in the complex and pulmonary therapy offices. So what’s the problem?

Yes indeed. Seven is way better than fourteen.

The “Renaissance” is the three building complex on Northwest Hwy. near the border of Park Ridge and Des Plaines.  There appears to be several “medical” offices in the complex, which may have been “grandfathered” in or which may have qualified for a Special Use. 

Anon @ 940…The problem is that the zoning rewrite commission apparently deliberately decided not to allow more medical offices in general office districts, including that particular district, unless the applicant first goes through the Planning and Zoning Commission which would consider the effect of the new office on traffic, parking, etc., because that type of office generally causes more of both. I am getting this information from someone who sat on that commission. Other commission members may have a different take on it, but we as a Council did not hear from them. The only thing we did hear was a lawyer saying it was obviously a mistake in drafting the new zoning ordinance, something which may be patently untrue. Nonetheless, the Council bought that explanation and then gave a green light to the lawyer to evade the clear language of the new zoning ordinance by suggesting he have his client lie on an application for a building permit. THAT is the problem.

Alderman Dave… thank you for that expanation. And now that you have explained the matter it should be clear the course of action.
Please see to it.

Yep, lying on the application would indeed be a problem. Thanks for the explanation.

I was there and couldn’t believe that the city attorney just sat there while this was going on, like a deer caught in the headlights.

And that ALlegretti is a real piece of work.

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