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Government

Elmhurst committee begins tackling hoop house issue

City forced Elmhurst couple to dismantle gardening structure

ELMHURST – Longtime Elmhurst resident Kim Messina doesn't see the problem with letting an Elmhurst family have a temporary gardening structure in its backyard.

"This hoop house is not visible from the road," Messina said, in addressing aldermen May 14 during an Elmhurst Development, Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. "It does not create a flooding issue, as Nicole [Virgil] has devised a rainwater retention system to use in watering her plants. I have lived in Elmhurst long enough to see how our cityscape and our neighborhoods have changed, with many variances granted to different developers and builders. Variances have been granted to over-build homes in our neighborhoods, which I feel have contributed to more flooding issues in our community. All Elmhurst citizens have paid a price for such variances."

Messina was just one of several supporters who spoke in favor of the hoop house. Nicole Virgil and her husband, Dan, were ordered by the city in early 2017 to take down the hoop house in their backyard in the 500 block of Fairview Avenue or face fines. The structure, which is a temporary gardening structure used to extend the growing season into winter, was found to be in violation of city code at a hearing Jan. 24, 2017, in front of an administrative judge.

The hoop house was taken down in February 2017. In December 2017, DuPage County Judge Paul Fullerton dismissed a lawsuit the Virgil family had filed against the city.

At its May 14 meeting, the committee began reviewing the municipal code regarding membrane structures. The code currently does not include hoop houses.

The committee delayed hoop house discussions in August 2017 until the conclusion of the Virgil family's lawsuit. Since that time, supporters had attended additional meetings to ask the city to address the hoop house issue.

To show their support for the hoop house, those in the audience May 14 wore buttons with the word "hooplah," a reference to the documentary "Hooplah!," which focuses on Nicole Virgil’s fight for a new city ordinance that would allow residents to have a hoop house. The film was screened May 5 at the Elmhurst Park District’s The Abbey building.

Elmhurst resident Lisa Gerhold-Dirks, chairwoman of the Elmhurst Cool Cities Coalition, also spoke in favor of the hoop house, which she had visited before it had to be taken down. The coalition strives to promote sustainable solutions in the Elmhurst community.

"I'm very pleased to see the hoop house topic on the committee agenda tonight," she said. "And I want to encourage open-mindedness and collaboration with community members as these discussions proceed from this point forward. I realize that change isn't always easy. It takes time and effort to get up to speed on new ideas and work out the details. But in the end, the community will become stronger for it. I look forward to an equitable result."

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