A decision by Oak Lawn’s Mayor and Trustees to deny a family the right to build a fence that abuts the sidewalk at the front of the house based on safety reasons is contrary to a decision last February in which the board voted to allow a developer with connections to Village Manager Larry Deetjen to build a commercial building that blocks the view of drivers trying to enter 95th Street.
Mauricio Medina, approached the village requesting the right to replace a fence on his property and the lot next door that he purchased in order to keep coyotes out of the yard and his young children safely protected. The village’s Appeals Board upheld the administration’s decision to stop work on the project and to deny a variance to allow the fence to be placed to the front of the house abutting the sidewalk.
Medina had the support of his neighbors and his Trustee, Robert Streit, who reportedly told the newest addition to the board, William “Bud” Stalker, that he was supporting the resident on the issue. Stalker and Streit were the only two elected officials to support the variance for the fence which would have been one of over 20 similar fences within the subdivision.
The reason for the appeals board denial was “safety” according to the minutes although no witnesses appeared at the hearing to complain about safety issues and neighbors of Medina supported the fence. Medina even told the board that he would angle the fence to eliminate any safety concerns. Despite those issues being in the minutes, the village board denied Medina’s request, leaving him with the option of accepting the decision or filing a lawsuit. According to two sources close to Medina, he has decided to file a lawsuit against the village.
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.
Streit said that he is concerned that Deetjen’s involvement in the case, the board’s failure to follow the ordinance regarding variances and Mayor Sandra Bury’s decision to allow Appeals Board Member Andy Skoundrianos speak at the “hearing” before the board, provide ample reasons for the decision to be overturned. “I don’t understand why this administration prefers litigation over compromise”, said Streit. He also said that the administration should have been working with the residents rather than fighting over a fence.
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.
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.
The fence decision stands in stark contrast to the decision to allow a 62.9% parking variation at a building being constructed at 5851 W. 95th Street that is being built to the sidewalk on 95th Street. In that case, the Mayor and Village Trustees ignored Streit’s opposition to the project which he called “unsafe” for motorists entering 95th Street.
Streit said that he has been monitoring the building construction and is convinced that the construction blocks drivers’ vision and “creates a safety hazard” for hundreds of thousands of motorists. “I can’t believe that this board made either of these decisions because neither one was based on safety”, he said.
The architect of that project reportedly has a long standing friendship with Village Manager Larry Deetjen, who has denied the relationship, which goes back to childhood, played any part in the decision.