The Montgomery County Planning Board is likely to send a site plan for Palatine’s proposed new town hall back to the town because of procedural missteps by the town.
The site plan for the estimated $400,000 project — which has dominated the politics in this rural town for the past year — was sent by Town Attorney Robert Subik to the county Planning Board for review after a Nov. 9 meeting of the Town Board, apparently without any formal resolution from the board.
The county Planning Board needs to sign off on the plan before the town can move forward with construction bids.
In August, the Town Board granted itself authority over site plan review for municipal projects, circumventing the town Planning Board. That move now is being challenged by a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Montgomery County.
A letter to the county Planning Board dated Nov. 18 and signed by all four council members, excluding Supervisor Sara Niccoli, claims “the Town Board conducted a site plan review and directed the town attorney to submit a referral to your board.”
The official minutes from the reportedly tumultuous meeting make the opposite clear. After much disagreement and arguing, among both town officials and members of the public, the meeting simply was adjourned.
“Nothing was decided,” the minutes state.
When Niccoli became aware of the referral to the county Planning Board, she sent it the minutes and a video of the meeting, along with a letter requesting that the board rescind the approval it granted at its Nov. 19 meeting.
In the letter, she argues that not only was there no formal decision made at a public meeting to refer the plan to the Planning Board, but the site plan review wasn’t completed by the town’s own guidelines, which it adopted at the Nov. 9 meeting just before attempting to conduct the review.
“Unfortunately, you were presented with false information,” Niccoli wrote.
The county Planning Board has scheduled a meeting for Monday evening to reconsider its approval of the site plan.
“The Town Board has placed the county Planning Board in a very awkward position here,” said Montgomery County Senior Planner Bill Roehr. “It’s a really serious issue, and rescinding is an option that is clearly going to be considered.”
This would be the second time the county Planning Board sent the plan back, and for similar reasons. Roehr said the Planning Board is responsible for assuring both that the site plan is appropriate in various respects and that proper procedure has been followed.
“These guys and women [on the Planning Board] are absolutely objective and fair, and we’ve dealt with the town that way,” Roehr said. “We’ve been patient with them as they’ve made ministerial mistakes along the way, and given them guidance. And then to have something represented that is clearly contradicted by the official meeting minutes is very disconcerting.”
The town hall project often has pitted Niccoli against the board and spurred the creation of the Responsible Government party, headed by Niccoli, which swept the Town Board elections in November.
The party did not explicitly oppose the construction of a new town hall, but denounced the way it had been carried out so far — which has resulted in multiple lawsuits against the town and repeated setbacks — and called for a reconsideration of the project.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, both Niccoli and a few incoming Town Board members who attended asked the current Town Board to recognize the mandate of the voters and table the town hall project until the new year.
Niccoli called the board’s most recent referral to the county Planning Board “astounding” and the Nov. 9 meeting “a farce.”
“They’re trying to move it to a place of no return,” she said. “If they can get the approval from the county Planning Board and then start digging, basically we have a hole. And the new Town Board can either deal with an embarrassing hole, let it sit there, or move forward with a construction project.”
She said she’s also concerned that the board might get the town locked into construction contracts.
Deputy Supervisor Michelle Whiteman, who lost out in November’s election, said she thought the board had “acted properly” in referring the site plan to the county, and accused Niccoli and the Responsible Government candidates of bullying the county Planning Board and obstructing the project at every turn.
Whiteman walked out of the Nov. 9 meeting before it adjourned. She said she could not focus with the constant interruptions from the public.
“Several people from the audience, so to speak, were rudely interrupting us, yelling things out,” she said. “At that point, we had already decided that we were going to submit the paperwork to the county. We had decided that a long time ago, the four council members. It’s been done over and over and over again. This is a formality. The attorney had permission, verbally, to go ahead with it.”
Whiteman said the board did not complete the 17 questions it had established for the site plan review, but left that in the hands of Subik, the town attorney.
“We did the best we could, and we told the attorney to complete them and let us know when they were complete and we would sign the paperwork,” she said.
Subik did not respond to a request for comment for this story Wednesday.
Niccoli contended that, as far as she knows, at least 10 major items, such as a plan for signage and traffic flow, had not been addressed in the town’s site plan review.