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Article updated: 11/29/2012 2:17 PM

Another proposal for vacant land in Prospect Heights dies

By Deborah Donovan

Anyone who thinks political conflicts end with elections has not spent much time in Prospect Heights.

Mayor Nick Helmer and Dolly Vole, the incumbent he defeated in 2011 after first losing to her in 2009, traded barbs this week over a piece of commercial property at 711 Elmhurst Road that Helmer says has been vacant for a decade.

In recent years three proposals for the land have failed to garner needed city approvals. Helmer blames the neighbors, including Vole, whose house is next door. Vole counters the neighbors would approve any of the more than 100 uses listed in the B-1 commercial zoning for the property.

The latest squabble ended Monday when Helmer announced a potential renter withdrew his request to sell used cars and repair autos on the property. The land, near Palatine Road, is zoned B-1, the most restrictive commercial classification, which allows retail, professional services and restaurants, said Steve Skiber, building and zoning director.

Opponents said the change requested would allow car repair and sales in every B-1 zone in town, although Helmer said the ordinance could have been written to prevent that.

At Monday's meeting, Helmer read a statement calling opponents' testimony before the Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals "character assassination" and he criticized Vole's administration for what he said were several economic development failures. The zoning board voted against the request to allow car sales and repair on the property, but the council could have overturned that.

Several people spoke at Monday's council meeting against allowing car sales and repairs.

Helmer's association with the land started several years ago when he and his business partners bought it to build a strip mall. The partnership withdrew its request for zoning variances after protests by neighbors, he said. Vole said zoning variances would have been approved if the owners had agreed to drop one store to create more parking.

Helmer's group sold the property about four years ago, before he became mayor. They kept a house next door that is zoned residential and is rented, he said.

In 2009, Sarpino's Pizzeria planned to move its regional headquarters and training restaurant there, but wanted to send out pizzas for delivery as late as 3 a.m.

Helmer claims Vole, who was mayor then, informally approved the 3 a.m. request, then pushed an ordinance that required a 1 a.m. closing; Vole says the talk about 3 a.m. came at the last minute.

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