A planned discussion about a possible commercial development near Hawthorn Woods met with public hostility Monday and then was abruptly adjourned because dozens of would-be audience members were unable to enter the meeting room in Lake Zurich.
The Lake County Regional Planning Commission, a group that advises the county board on land matters, was about 30 minutes into its meeting about the site on the southeast corner of Rand and Old McHenry roads when officials decided to end the session.
An attorney representing the nearby village of North Barrington interrupted a speaker in the Ela Area Public Library meeting room and said the overflow crowd's inability to hear the discussion or view a visual presentation constituted a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
That law requires all public meetings to be open to any people who want to observe discussions of governmental business. About 150 people were in the room and many more were outside, unsuccessfully trying to see and listen. The room capacity is 147, officials said, and firefighters and police officers were on hand to monitor the crowd.
Attorney J. William Braithwaite requested the meeting be postponed and rescheduled when a larger venue can be found.
Marvin Raymond, the chairman of the commission, resisted, telling Braithwaite "My response is 'no.'" Hawthorn Woods special counsel Dan Shapiro repeated the objection, and after a discussion the commission members voted to end the session.
The decision was applauded by the audience members, many of whom were concerned about the future of the 108-acre parcel and its possible conversion into commercial property.
As the audience filtered out, Raymond said he suspected the crowd would be too big for the room.
"I wish we had picked a larger venue," he said.
A new meeting date, time and location were not immediately announced.
Members of the Dimucci family own the land and have proposed changing the zoning rules for the site to allow the eventual construction of a shopping area on about 53 acres. The land, which is in unincorporated Lake County, now is zoned for residential use.
Representatives of North Barrington and Hawthorn Woods oppose the plan and say it violates an agreement between the two towns. That agreement was struck after a plan for a regional shopping mall was rejected for the site 16 years ago.
Eric Waggoner, director of the county's planning department, spoke first and said he wanted to quash rumors about the proposal and clear up "any major misconceptions the public may have."
Waggoner said a specific development plan has not been created, and there is no developer for the site.
After the Regional Planning Commission reviews the proposal, county board committees will take up the matter, Waggoner said. The full county board could vote on the proposal in May, he said.
John Dimucci, one of the property owners, next spoke about the land and his family's plans.
"It's a commercial site. I think everybody knows that," he said, but the remark was met with groans from audience members.
His brother, Mike Dimucci, then went on to talk about the possible aesthetic features of the shops that could be located on the site. After a few minutes he was interrupted by Braithwaite, and the rest of the discussion revolved around the legality of the meeting.
Afterward, Mike Dimucci said he was disappointed the meeting was cut short.
"We wanted to let people know our great idea," he said.