A Code For This, No Code For That…


What if you owned a home and your next-door “neighbor” raised the grade of his property between one and two feet above yours…before covering most of it with a McMansion and assorted paving to create a major rainwater run-off onto your property and into your basement?

Our informal, unscientific poll of about a dozen Park Ridge residents revealed the unanimous view that they’d be pretty darn unhappy.  The poll also indicated those same residents assumed that something in our City Code would prevent that from happening in the first place; or, at the very least, that the Code would require some structural features designed to ensure that the property captured its own water and did not become a nuisance to its neighbors. 

From the report in last week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Residents Claim New Home Causes Flooding,” September 30), that’s what residents Cliff Kowalski and Jeff Getz thought, too.  But, to their chagrin, they apparently were wrong – as they found out when they appeared before the City Council on September 21 to complain about how (according to them) City staff did nothing in response to months of their complaints about the new home at 322 S. Vine.

According to Carrie Davis, the City’s Director of Preservation and Community Development, there are no elevation standards in the City’s building code.  If that’s true, could some creative (and/or twisted) property owner build a mini-mountain for his new dwelling, limited only by the Code’s overall height limits for single-family residences?

Davis also noted that, prior to the new construction, the 322 S. Vine site was lower than its neighbors and accepted the run-off from the adjoining parcels.  So “[t]he new homeowners are taking care of their own drainage.” 

By diverting it onto their neighbors’ property?  That doesn’t sound like the best solution to us, nor does it sound like a shining example of how government is supposed to function.

Make no mistake about it: the new residence is a grand structure, certain to generate more property taxes from that parcel.  And it may enhance the overall attractiveness of that area, as well, depending on whether your taste in architecture runs toward stately stone manors.

But as Kowalski told the Council, he had no water problems before the new residence was built on its man-made mound.  That’s a comment we’ve heard with increasing frequency over the past several years, as newer, bigger homes and multi-family structures cover even more green space, creating additional demands on our infrastructure.

First Ward Ald. Joe Sweeney suggested withdrawing the temporary occupancy permit for the new structure while the problem is being analyzed and resolved.  That might put some pressure on the owner to become a little more invested in the semi-lost art of neighborliness.

And we have to give a Watchdog bark-out to Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward), one of our regular whipping boys, for pointing out that the City’s building code “appears to lack proper standards regarding elevations of new homes close to existing homes.”  As most 12-step programs make clear, admitting the existence of a problem is a crucial step in remedying it.  Now let’s see what Ald. Ryan does to help the City get to the next step on this problem.

In that regard, the Journal article reports that the City hired an “independent” engineering consultant who determined that there was nothing illegal or improper about the new structure.  Although the Journal does not identify that consultant, we understand that it was Bernie Bono of Bono Consulting. 

Ironically, that firm’s website has the following Q & A on its “Single Family Residential” page:

I have the lowest lot in the block, why do I have to accept my neighbor’s storm water runoff? Why can’t I just block it and let him deal with his own water?

Illinois drainage law states “Landowners, including highway authorities, have a right to drain water away as it would in a state of nature. Lower landowners, including highway authorities, have a responsibility to accept water flowing naturally onto or through their lands and have no right to interfere with such natural drainage.”


And we also understand that Bono was the consultant to the property’s owner and/or contractor.

Double Hmmmmm. 

30 comments so far

Ah, we’ve experienced the same problem. The city doesn’t seem to care much about long time residents, rather they’re pandering to the builders. The city inspector who came when I complained about the grading change next door assured me that we’d have less water in the yard than before. Not true, we now get twice as much water as we used to get.

What exactly are Bono’s qualifications to make judgments about grading? Doesn’t the city have anyone on staff qualified to make such determinations? Why does the city have to hire yet another consultant?

Bono claims (on its website) that it has “prepared engineering drainage and grading plans for over 1500 single family residences, for additions, new homes and rear yard flooding problems.”

Should the City have someone on its Staff competent in this area? We think so.

But what appears to be more problematic is: Why did the City spend money to hire the same consultant as the owner/contractor? Did City Staff expect Bono to say that, on review, his original advice to the owner/contractor was wrong?

No elevation standards?

That can’t be right.

The following link to the Site Grading Ordinance of the City of Lake Forest is interesting reading, especially part “g. Penalties”.

There doesn’t need to be an elevation standard because according to the Municipal Code, the builder cannot elevate above the neighbors AT ALL. Apparently Carrie Davis is not capable of understanding the City codes, yet alone enforce them. If you watch the video of the City council meeting you see that the Journal article while accurate on many points, left out a few key details.

It has not been since June that these homeowners have been asking for the City to intervene and enforce the codes, it has been since June of ’08. Apparently there are many flaws and omissions in Bono’s report that the City has refused to address despite the neighbors’ pleas. Could it be that the City used our tax dollars to have Bono issue a bogus report to cover their own negligence? There also appears to be a post construction survey that the City has in its possession that confirms the elevations are to high but the City will not address it.

Regardless of whatever subversive activity the City may be involved in, Carrie Davis admits that the property in question has been raised well above the neighbors and as a result they are now flooding. So why did the City refuse to help these people and instead has come back and told them that they just need to suck it up and fix the problem themselves? What is the purpose of having codes to protect us if the City just chooses to ignore them? Why again has the City chosen to support the builder and dump on the homeowners?

So many questions, so few answers… from the City.

Section 15 of the City’s municipal code…

Building Regulations
15-8-1 first paragraph begins….
It shal be unlwaful to alter the grade on any parcel of land…..

The owners are trusts for Phillip and Bridget Spagnolo. The prior owner was Timothy M. Metropulos, the owner of TMM Development Corporation.

Is there anything fishy about any of these people that would explain city staff looking the other way on this situation?

Three letters HPF

Spagnolo bought the vacant lot from Metropulos, acted as the general contractor for the house and now lives there. Spagnolo has not endeared himself to any of the residents of the neighborhood after subjecting them to two years of hell while he built the house. He has also had several altercations with homeowners up and down Vine and apparently was arrested as the result of one of them. One would guess that his pleasant disposition may have something to do with the City looking the other way.

I have to laugh. This clearly points out the complexity of the flooding issue. I sympathize with the neighbors but I am not clear on what this ultimately means. How is it that they flood?? Is it overland, seepage, sewer line backup? If I own a home that has a lake in the backyard everytime it rains does this mean that I just have to live with it. If I resolve the problem, the water has to go somewhere. As an example, even if I build a drainage system that connects to the sewer lines (not sure this is even legal), during the big storms that will mean an even greater tax on the antiquated system and, in all likelyhood, more flooding for the neighborhood.

Anon at 9:34 on 10-13-09-they flood because the homeowner builder of 322 Vine built his house too tall for the neighbborhood then raised the lot around it 18 to 24 inches to cover up for his mistake and the city signed off on it. Now there is a hill where there was not one before and the water flows to the surrounding properties when it did not do this before construction of the stone castle at 322 Vine. The fix is to require the 322 Vine homeowner to drop the level of his yard to the height it was before construction started which is what the city code requires but the city is not enforcing.

Additionally, the homeowner at 322 has his sump pumps connected directly to a pipe that drains into the rain water sewer on Vine, another code violation the city is ignoring. So instead of the sump pump discharge seeping into 322 Vine’s front lawn, it flows to the overtaxed sewers. A down spout on the back of the house is connected in a similar manner-another violation being ignored.

So this is no laughing matter and the fact the city is not enforcing its own codes and the homeowner of 322 could give two sh!ts about his neighbors has caused damage and major headaches to the neighbors.

Does anyone remember Monty Python? The scene from the Holy Grail? Let me refresh your memory:

CROWD: [variously] A witch! A witch! A witch! We’ve got a witch! A witch! Burn her! A witch!
VILLAGER #1: [To BEDEVERE, who must hold up his visor to see well28] We have found a witch. May we burn her?
CROWD: Burn her! Burn her!
BEDEVERE: [To the CROWD] How do you know she is a witch?
VILLAGER #2: She looks like one!
CROWD: Yeah! She looks like one! Yeah! Yeah!
BEDEVERE: Bring her forward.
WITCH: [To BEDEVERE] I’m not a witch. I’m not a witch.
BEDEVERE: [To the WITCH] But you are dressed as one.
WITCH: They dressed me up like this.
CROWD: [To each other] No, we didn’t. Nooo.
WITCH: And this isn’t my nose. It’s a false one.
[BEDEVERE moves the carrot to see her real nose]
BEDEVERE: [to the CROWD] Well?
VILLAGER #1: [To BEDEVERE] Well, we did do the nose.
BEDEVERE: The nose?
VILLAGER #1: And the hat… But she is a witch!
CROWD: Burn her! Witch! Witch! Burn her!
BEDEVERE: Did you dress her up like this?
CROWD: No, no… no… yes. Yes, yes, a bit, a bit.
VILLAGER #1: [pointing] She has got a wart.

FYI: ALL of Park Ridge floods. Put away your hoes, shovels, rakes and torches.

I don’t believe 10:40 has the code correct. I understand that the city requires new construction homeowners to manage their own storm water on their property and drain it into the city’s sewer system through catch basins on their own property. Not sheet drain onto neighbor’s property as was common before. This might require that the property be higher in some places so that the surface drainage would be directed internally rather than to a neighbor’s yard.

The neighbors to 322 were likely draining onto the 322 property prior to the construction and no longer can do that since the improvements were made. Therefore, they are now finding they have runoff with no place to go.

I agree that the city’s code regarding residential stormwater management should be crystal clear which it is not. It is unfortunate when neighbors find themselves at odds because of unclear regulations or inconsistent enforcement. It is also distasteful to disparage a homeowner through an anonymous blog when the comments are likely from one of the neighbors who certainly has a personal and biased opinion.


Smells like a witch hunt-yes there is a witch at 322 Vine-one who thinks he does not need to follow the codes the city has adopted for the construction of new homes. It is the city’s job to hunt the witch and enforce the codes they approved. Let the hunt continue.

These are very nice folks, with beautiful small children. Their neighbor, to the south of them, from the get go, (check city complaint records) had her knickers in a knot over the construction. If she didn’t want construction next door, why didn’t she purchase the lot when TMM was selling it. Did she think the purchaser was going to make it a park? Who hasn’t lived through “construction hell” when the neighbors are building. Its loud, its disruptive and it happens. Get over it. She is whipping the neighbors into a frenzy and blaming all but the bird shit falling from the sky on the folks at 322. As said in Monty Python, “[s]he does have a wart.” But the rest is conjoured up by the neighbor.

Who cares whether they are nice folks or whether they have beautiful small children? Last I checked the law applied to nice people with beautiful chidren the same way it applies to the rest of us.

Did they or their builder (or the prior owner’s builder) raise the property’s grade 1-2″ above the neighboring lots’ grade or not? And does that violate the City Code or not?

Do what every other resident in Park Ridge is doing. Purchase and install your own flood control system. Stop blaming your neighbors.

Do nice folks threaten physical harm to their new neighbors with a 2 by 4? And then get arrested for this and plead quilty? I don’t think so. The lot at 322 Vine per surveys was raised anywhere from 18 to 24 inches from its original grades. The homeowner builder of 322 has consistently gone out of his way to ignore and violate the city codesl. One has to ask why has the city allowed this? Why isn’t the homeowner builder of 322 required to build his home in accordance with the rules? It is time Mr. Hock answered these question.

Bono Consulting gave $250 to Frimark’s political fund, if that means anything.

Even nice folks have their breaking point. This harrassment has gone on for the Spagnolo’s from the moment they bought the lot. At some point, anyone is going to lose their cool and snap. This neighbor of theirs is certifiable and the harrssment has been constant and unrelenting. Who calls the cops when they crash their own car into their own house because the neighbor puts up a fence on the lot line? Even the cops are getting sick of the unsubstantiated claims. When they show’d up at the scene they incredulously asked the neighbor if they wanted the cops to give HIM a ticket for driving his own car into his own house! This flooding issue is nothing more than an escalated level of harrassment driven by the psycho neighbor. How sad to have nothing better to do with your life and energy than to target and harrass another family.

Nice try covering for yourself 322.

You people have lost sight of the real issue here. The city has admitted that 322 has been elevated and does in fact cause the neighboring 3 properties to flood. The city claims to have no codes to address this when clearly they do and now they are telling the neighbors that they must pay money to improve their own properties when they had nothing to do with causing the problem in the first place. How would you feel if this happened to you?

It is the city who has pitted neighbor against neighbor.

I’m not the owner of 322, just a PR resident who happens to like them and their family very much and doesn’t like seeing them publicly misaligned. The city may have mishandled this from the start, no disagreement there. But the flooding wasn’t the start of it. As I mentioned this started a long time ago.

Fly on the wall-you have a very distorted view of the facts. It is 322 who has and continues to be an arrogant ahole who thinks he is above the rules and codes the city has adopted for contruction. The city is letting this ahole get away with doing whatever the hell he wants with no regard for others. It is time the city stopped being bullied by the 322 owner and enforce the rules and codes that exist. Period.

It seems pretty clear that everyone is in agreement that the City appears to have botched this, with Carrie Davis apparently not even aware that there is a de facto restriction on elevation and grading by virtue of Section 15-8-1 of the City Code  – which prohibits changes in grade or drainage “without a permit issued by the Building Official” (a qualification conveniently left out of a previous commentator’s reference to this section).

So instead of continuing this unproductive name-calling and contretemps about whether the residents of 322 are nice people and have beautiful kids, or whether they are insufferable, can somebody please speak to the issue of whether the City issued a permit for the current elevation?  And, if so, how the City justified raising the elevation ABOVE the surrounding elevations – assuming that allegation is true?

They are currently living at 322 on a temporary occupancy permit which expires Nov. 1 or there abouts. Bono issued two reports on this property. One in October 2008 found on inspection that the property failed on the issue of grading etc and required a number of issues be fixed before a final inspection could be issued showing the property in compliance with city codes. No work was done over the winter and spring on the property from the standpoint of grading, etc to get the property back to its original grade and elevation (before construction of the new home) as required by the Oct 2008 Bono report. Then in early July, Bono issued another report based on an inspection which magically found the property now in compliance with the grading and elevation codes-despite the fact no work had been done on the property after the Oct. 2008 Bono report was issued. The property owner was given a temporary occupancy permit at the close of business before the long July 4th holiday weekend. Now this temporary permit is nearly up and this item will be on the agenda for next Monday’s city council meeting. One ald. has suggested that occupancy be denied until all the work has been done to get the property in compliance with the current city codes. It will be interesting to see how the city proceeds. Will Mr. Hock protect Ms. Davis who has clearly made some mistakes regarding this property? Will the city finally require the 322 property owner to comply and fix the most egregious of the issues not in compliance with the city codes? Let’s hope its the latter. Because precedent is being set here and if 322 can get away with ignoring the codes then others will surely follow and even more Park Ridge taxpayers will get screwed by builders and the city.

The city did not issue a special permit for the current elevation and it does not comply with the approved building plans. As you may recall from Carrie Davis’ comments, she admits that the property has been raised considerably above the surrounding properties, but as she stated, the city has no standard as to how high is to high. Of course, that statement is absurd if you take the time to read the codes which perhaps Carrie Davis should do. As for justification as to why the city allowed it, I think anonymous at 3:07 may be on to something.

carrie davis seems to be involved in many of the city’s screw ups. i wonder if she is way in over her head on this stuff?

Don’t steal. The government hates competition.

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