The Itasca fire marshal told village officials to postpone a public hearing Wednesday, when roughly 400 residents showed up and the space became a potential safety hazard.
Local residents, as well as people involved with a proposed church, filled the board room in village hall that can safely hold 267 people. Crowds also filled the hallways and spilled down the stairs into the lobby.
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Some offered to leave to keep the meeting going. Others booed when the hearing was rescheduled.
Most residents attended to speak and listen to concerns regarding a proposal to build the Fourth Avenue Gospel Church at 601 Arlington Heights Road.
According to proposal documents, petitioners seek to build the church on a primarily vacant lot owned by the resident of an adjacent home, who is willing to sell the land. The church would need a special-use permit, since the group wants to build in a residential area, documents said.
In addition, Itasca officials said the proposal asks for several variances, since it would not have enough parking under village ordinances, the ratio of its proposed lot to grass is too high, and petitioners seek to build a fence that would enclose the entire church grounds.
Many residents wrote letters opposing the plan, officials said; they would not comment on the content of the letters.
But a four-page document that says it was drafted by "concerned citizens" is circulating among residents. The document says the property variances will change "the future look of Itasca." It details concerns about the private aesthetic, including gates and the absence of signs advertising services, at the church's primary location in Leyden Township, an unincorporated area near Melrose Park.
Bryan Mraz, an attorney representing the church, said it is a "nondenominational Christian fellowship" and would have about 165 members.
Village officials said they did not expect Wednesday's large crowd. Director of Community Development Nicole Aranas said this was the largest public hearing Itasca has seen in at least a decade. Previously, the largest hearing drew roughly 50 people.
An attorney for the village said Itasca leaders could not legally change the venue Wednesday, since public notices with the village hall location had been posted for 30 days. So officials moved the hearing to 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Holiday Inn of Itasca next door to village hall.
"Not only was fire safety a concern, but people can't gain access and may claim their due process rights are being violated," attorney Michael Barsani said. "Since the village strives to ensure everyone has the right to participate and comment … they thought it was a better idea to continue the meeting a bigger venue."