Zoning debate draws huge crowd in North Hills trustees meeting

Zoning debate draws huge crowd in North Hills trustees meeting
On Wednesday night, Ritz-Carlton residents crowded North Hill's Village Hall. They discussed proposed zoning changes in the condominium complex. (Photo by Steven Keehner)

Ritz-Carlton residents packed North Hills’ Village Hall for a public hearing on proposed zoning changes within the condominium complex.

The Ritz-Carlton Residences is a private, gated community in North Hills. The hearing focused on an application from the complex to establish a residential business center.

Per Village Code 16-1, the trustees have jurisdiction over this application, as explained in a notice sent out by the village on May 31.

“This application has not yet been classified pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, and no determination of significance has been made,” the statement read.

The board had reached no resolution by the end of the discussions on Wednesday night. However, that didn’t stop trustees, residents and complex officials from having passionate debates on the matter before then.

The hearing drew a large crowd. Many attendees had to stand or sit in the lobby outside the meeting room.

Ritz-Carlton representatives discussed and presented to the board prior to public remarks. The trustees exchanged questions with the speakers, attorney Michael Sahn and Joe Graziose, executive vice president of residential development at RXR Realty.

“Many of the residents have found over the past few years, and especially during COVID, that it’s beneficial to have a place for them to conduct some of their professional business or other business as aside from in the unit itself,” Sahn said. “And this is an ideal location for that to be done because, again, it is an amenity for them. Just like the theater is, the fitness center or any of the other facilities in the clubhouse area.”

Much of the night’s debate revolved around the phrase “amenities,” and whether the proposed business area was a commercial venture for the complex. North Hills Mayor Marvin Natiss raised concerns about this possibility. 

These assertions were rejected by Graziose. He stated any charges imposed would only offset operational costs.

“We’re not in business to make a profit. And if there was extra money, it’s the residents’ money,” he said. “It’s not sponsors’ money or the board’s money, right? So they’re paying dues every month for the ongoing maintenance and operation of what I refer to as a business — the business of ​​maintaining a $9 million a year budget.”

Natiss questioned the business center’s logistics compared to other amenities. Graziose asked whether he was advocating that residents pay even if the area is vacant.

“I’m not saying that,” Natiss said. “You might be able to use this for other amenities other than a business center with people paying for the privilege of running a business in a residential district.”

The audience, which had nearly all stood to support the application when prompted by Graziose earlier, in an identical scene to last month’s meeting, began expressing their disapproval of the situation.

Shortly after, the board made the podium available for attendees. Most of the speakers supported the application and business space.

“I don’t consider this, Mr. Mayor, any different than any of the other amenities that we use. If I want to rent the movie theater, I call up and make a reservation,” said Barry Manson. “If I want to clean it up myself, there’s no fee. If I want housekeeping to clean it up, I get a charge on the HOA charge.”

Others stated they wanted to protect the economic value of their investment in the property. Some said that leaving the space unused would be detrimental.

“I have no interest in using this, but other people in the world of COVID need a space to work,” said another resident. “They want to use it for a week, two weeks? That’s fine with me.”

Although the crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of the application, a few people, such as Pierino Perciballi, spoke against it.

“It’s really only for a handful of residents, not an amenity space for everybody in the community,” he said. “And quite frankly, I heard multiple times that it was a revenue generator to help with the budget itself.”

He questioned what the decision could mean in the future “with commercial use space in our community” and the possibility of strangers roaming around.

A rumored leaflet sent out to residents advertising a monthly price to rent the area, which Natiss presented earlier, was brought back up by Perciballi, who claimed he had gotten it. Graziose, as well as several other audience members, later denied receiving or knowing about it.

“I want to say that I’m not here for the popularity contest,” said Perciballi. “I’m here to protect my investment. I’m here to look out for the community and I’m here to look out for all of the residents, not just my own family.”

During his remarks, the crowd’s jeers became so loud that Natiss had to address the audience.

“Those people who are not experts, please don’t yell or call out that it’s not a zoning change,” he said. “I appreciate your opinion. But this gentleman has an opinion as well and the board is going to have to make a decision based on our code and what the law is.”

Following the public comments, Ritz-Carlton representatives and the board launched a fresh round of discussion.

“We have no intention of [people running a business in a residential area],” said Graziose. “This is to be used solely for the benefit of people getting out of the house and into the space.”

The board announced that the discussion would continue at the next meeting, much to the dismay of many in attendance. Almost everyone in the audience left before the trustees could move on to the next topic, leaving only three people in the audience.

Following the completion of the rest of the agenda, the board called an executive session to receive legal advice on the Ritz-Carlton matter.

The next Board of Trustees meeting for North Hills will be held on July 20 at 7:30 p.m. It will take place at the Village Hall.

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