Elmhurst garden dispute lands in Springfield.
Byline: Grant Morgan Capitol News Illinois firstname.lastname@example.org
SPRINGFIELD -- A three-year fight between an Elmhurst homeowner and the city's government made its way to the Illinois Senate last week as the local government committee considered a statewide solution to the underlying dispute.
Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park, Senate Bill 1675 would allow Illinoisans, no matter in what municipality they reside, to construct temporary structures for gardening throughout the colder months, often referred to as "hoop houses."
Hoop houses come in many shapes and sizes but are generally foundationless structures enclosed by an opaque plastic membrane to keep in warmth and sunlight.
Nicole Virgil of Elmhurst built such a structure in her backyard in the fall of 2015 to continue gardening throughout the winter.
Less than a week after putting up the original hoop house, which at its apex stood about 9 feet tall in an 11.5-by-32-foot rectangle, Virgil was visited by Elmhurst's code enforcement department to address a neighbor's complaint about the structure's aesthetics.
"We were told then that as long as it's temporary, we could keep it up," Virgil said.
But in testimony Wednesday morning, Elmhurst City Manager James Grabowski disputed that claim and said the city "explained to them our code and why they couldn't have it," but allowed them to keep it up until 2016.
When Virgil and her husband put it back up in the fall of that year, they were again approached by the city's code enforcement department, this time with clear instructions to take it down.
The matter then went to court, where two judges ruled twice in favor of the city. Virgil took the structure down.
But Virgil said because so many other temporary structures were allowed to stand in Elmhurst, she pursued the matter further, working to get the city to change the code used to ban the hoop house.
So starting in 2017, Grabowski said, the city discussed the matter at three city council meetings, five development planning meetings and three zoning and planning commission meetings.
That process ended in late 2018, when the Elmhurst zoning commission recommended that hoop houses be allowed, but with dimensions no greater than 100 square feet and 6 feet tall.
The Elmhurst City Council voted against the recommendation and reaffirmed its ban in February 2019.
That was when Virgil says she was approached by a supporter who owned a garden store in nearby Villa Park, who told her to go to Cullerton for a legislative solution to the issue. SB 1675 was drafted by the Illinois Environmental Council.
Opponents say the bill should not be in the state legislature because it is a local issue.