St. Charles studying idea of combining Zoning Board, Plan Commission

St. Charles city officials are exploring the possibility of merging the St. Charles Plan Commission with the Board of Zoning Appeals.

St. Charles city officials are exploring the possibility of merging the St. Charles Plan Commission with the Zoning Board of Appeals.

During the St. Charles City Council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting on Monday, St. Charles Community Development Director Russell Colby was seeking direction whether there was interest in shifting the functions of the Zoning Board to the Plan Commission to create a new Planning and Zoning Commission.

The board members are appointed by the mayor and City Council, but there is no interaction with the City Council regarding matters that are heard by the board.

“They are one of the only few remaining in the Chicago region that act as an independent zoning board that make decisions separate from the corporate authorities,” Colby told alderpersons.

As he noted, the city historically has tried to limit the scope and number of zoning variations.

“So that’s kept the number of variance applications down,” Colby said. ‘Some years ago, the board was more active. They regularly met a few times a year. Since the city began updating its codes, really beginning in 2006, the number of variances that we’ve seen has dropped every year. The board now only meets at most one or two times a year.”

This past fiscal year, the Zoning Board did not meet at all, Colby said.

“Which prompted us to raise this discussion of whether it made sense to continue to have an independent board,” he said.

Colby also said it has been hard to find and retain people to serve on the Zoning Board. There are currently two vacancies on the board.

Prior to being elected to the St. Charles City Council, 4th Ward Alderperson Bryan Wirball served on the Zoning Board.

“I served on the Zoning Board for four years and what I liked about it was that it was independent from the Council,” Wirball said. “There were no politics involved.”

Wirball said he would like to reduce the number of Zoning Board members from 7 members to 5 members.

First Ward Alderman Ron Silkaitis agreed.

“I like it being independent,” he said. “Keep the politics out of it. I want to keep it the way it is. If we want to go to 5, that’s fine. But I’m not in favor of combining the two at all. It’s worked well all these years and I see no reason to change.”

City Administrator Heather McGuire said the city by state statute is required to have seven members on the Zoning Board.

“The reduction to five is not appropriate or possible,” she said. “I think the main driving issue here is just ensuring we have adequate people for representation and they understand their role, which is difficult because of the minimal number of times they meet during the year.”

Colby now plans to talk to the chairpersons of the Zoning Board and the Plan Commission to hear their thoughts on merging the two bodies.