When a young Oak Lawn father decided to replace an old cyclone fence around his home and a neighboring lot he purchased, he did what few others in Oak Lawn do; he obtained a permit from the village after supplying a survey that cost him hundreds of dollars.
Instead of finding village officials who were willing to work with him, Mauricio Medina was greeted by a stop work order last summer when the village maintained that the fence could not be built in the same place as the previous fence because it extended beyond the front setback of his lot running up to the sidewalk.
His home, in the 10000 block of Moody Avenue in District Three, was only one of over 20 homes that have fences that extend beyond the front of the house and are built along the sidewalk. That character of the District Three neighborhood has been considered charming. None of his neighbors, who were all contacted by the village had any complaint with the fence being built.
The Trustee in the District, Robert Streit, said that he saw no reason to oppose the construction after reviewing Medina’s request and finding the neighbors in agreement with the request. Streit said he was troubled by the fact that Village Manager Larry Deetjen inserted himself into the issue at an early stage taking a confrontational stand against Medina. That confrontational stand continued when Deetjen insisted that in order to appeal the village’s zoning decision, Medina would have to pay $500 to file an appeal. Streit interceded pointing out that the village code required a $25 fee rather than a $500 fee.
After resolving the fee issue, Medina proceeded to file an appeal and was given a hearing at the Appeals Board. That board found by a 5-1 vote that the fence could not be rebuilt. So, Medina appealed to the Village Board of Trustees in accordance with the village’s ordinance.
That ordinance states that the appeals board may grant a variation and allow a fence to be built under three circumstances: (1) the plight is caused by unique circumstances, (2) the variation, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the immediate surrounding area, and (3) strict adherence to the fence location would cause particular hardship upon the petitioner.
Streit said that Medina qualified on all three points and was “shocked” that the board moved to deny the variance before they even heard the evidence. “I don’t understand why we have an administration that wishes to antagonize residents rather than working with them to find solutions”, said Streit.
He said that he couldn’t find anyone in the neighborhood who thought the fence would detract from the property. Medina said that he has two young children and a dog and wanted to provide safety for them while preventing fly dumping on his property.
At first, Mayor Sandra Bury refused to hear from Medina even though he was in the audience and wanted to discuss his appeal with the board. Bury insisted that she only wanted to hear new information and engaged in a heated discussion with Streit who asked that Medina be recognized, which has always been the procedure in appeals before the board.
Audience members reacted along with Streit when Bury denied Medina the right to speak yet recognized her political appointee, longtime political gadfly Andy Skoundrianos to speak. Skoundrianos, who sits as one of Bury’s appointees on the board despite having to be removed from a meeting by police officers, engaged in a heated discussion with audience members insisting that the appeals board was correct. A gentleman in the audience yelled out to voice his displeasure with the Mayor, saying, “you’re going to let your political crony talk?”
Mauricio Medina, 37, said he bought the vacant side yard beside his house when he and his wife moved into the house three years ago. With nearby railroad tracks, a history of fly dumping, two babies, a dog and a burglary, he said that he wanted to protect his family. When Bury eventually let him speak while admonishing him to only talk about new information, Medina said that he thought that there may be some miscommunication with the village staff and his wife.
It was his understanding that the permit he received allowed him to replace the old fence and when his wife picked up the permit they didn’t see anything that prevented the reconstruction since that is what they applied for originally.
Streit said that the village’s actions were “confrontational”. He said, “we should be trying to help residents not get into a big argument over a fence”. He told his fellow board members that he was shocked that Village Manager Larry Deetjen was involved in something so small with all the problems facing Oak Lawn. Later, he told reporters, “we have major problems with transparency issues, crime issues and labor disputes and Larry (Deetjen) is micromanaging the fence variation process”.
Despite Streit’s impassioned plea, only newly seated Trustee William “Bud” Stalker agreed noting that the Trustee in that district was in the best position to determine what is best for the area. Stalker tried to delay the vote asking for more information but Mayor Bury insisted that the Trustees had the information to make the decision.
Terry Vorderer made the motion before even hearing anything on appeal from the petitioner, Medina. Vorderer claimed that the other 20 fences in the area were all “grandfathered in” when the subdivision was annexed to the village in the early 1960’s. Streit said that he has represented the area for 24 years and Vorderer’s claim is “untrue”. The two tussled in Streit’s reelection with Vorderer falsely claiming that Streit was not being truthful about the number of burglaries causing Streit to release documents proving Vorderer wrong.
Streit said he was unsure why the board reacted so negatively toward a resident. “I deal with this type of behavior every day and yet I’m always shocked when they do it to residents. I should know better”, he said. Streit said that in other communities the administration works with residents to resolve problems and doesn’t become the problem.
Some of Medina’s fellow residents and friends were not shy about voicing their displeasure with the decision or about the perceived reasons for the denial. Several said it was clear that Medina was being treated differently because he’s Hispanic since there are 20 other homes in the blocks around his house with the same fence. Skoundrianos had charged that Streit was “playing the race card” although Streit never linked Medina’s ethnicity to the decision.
Medina has the right to sue the village but he said he was unsure about his next steps although he said he does have an attorney. He said he pays $11,000 a year in property tax and was disappointed in the way he was treated.
You can view the entire exchange on the video below: