'You haven't even done the bare minimum': Arlington Hts. board balks at request for gateway property

A decision on Paragon Mechanical's request to keep its heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing shop operating in Arlington Heights was continued to a later date after a tense back-and-forth with the village board this week.

The heated discussion between owner Kevin Polka and members of the elected panel Monday night mirrored a public debate that took place over Zoom at the height of the pandemic in July 2020. That's when the board narrowly agreed to allow Polka's business to continue operating at the former Elk Grove Township headquarters near Arlington Heights Road and the Jane Addams Tollway.

But that approval came with a two-year expiration date, along with a requirement that Polka make landscape improvements and submit fuller redevelopment plans for the property, which village officials regard as a southern gateway to town from the tollway exit.

Polka asked the board this week to grant him a land-use variation in perpetuity, saying his original vision for a new three-story building, patio, gazebo and solar panels would be too costly to implement now. He also argued that the village's landscaping requirements for his property are at a higher standard than for other land owners.

He admits he made a mistake when he purchased the 2.4-acre township property at 2400 S. Arlington Heights Road in a public bid process in 2018, because he later learned there would be zoning issues with his business operation. Arlington Heights code defines Paragon as a contractor shop, which isn't allowed in the B-2 general business district.

"I'm a guy that fixes furnaces. I'm not a real estate tycoon or lawyer by any stretch," Polka said. "I have a great team that works for me and I just want to grow the business."

He promised to do $100,000 worth of landscaping and site improvements if he receives the permanent zoning relief, but his request got a chilly reception from most village trustees.

Trustee John Scaletta said Arlington Heights shouldn't lower its landscaping standards, and that any new land owner who changes the use of a property would be held to the same bar.

"You haven't even done the bare minimum. You put up tall grass," Scaletta told Polka. "You didn't make a good-faith effort. This board - at least five people (in 2020) - thought that you would make a good-faith effort and you would do the right thing. When I look through those minutes and the people that voted 'no' said, 'You know what, we've never done this because it doesn't seem like it's going to work out for us,' and they were right because where are we today?"

Trustee Tom Schwingbeck, who originally put the motion on the floor in 2020 to give Paragon a two-year approval, said that vote was based on Polka's returning with a two-phased beautification plan.

"My whole problem is you've had two years to move forward with something and you haven't," Schwingbeck said.

"What you are asking me to do is spend over $150,000 in vain," Polka interjected.

"It's a ton of money. It's an enormous amount of money, but you agreed to it," Schwingbeck replied. "You were in agreement that you were going to be moving forward, and nothing's been done. ... I'm going to need to see a plan and I'm going to need you to commit to something and say this is what I'm going to do."

Board members directed the village staff to work with Polka on a compromise landscaping plan - amid various versions that have been proposed recently by Polka and the village staff - that would be brought back to the board for review in late February.

Two-year clock starts on contractor's plan for former Elk Grove Township HQ

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