'We feel like we have poked the bear': Couple, city fighting over backyard greenhouse

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct amount for the value of the greenhouse and date for a building-code violation case.

A plant-loving West Chicago couple's plans for a $7,000 backyard greenhouse have sprouted into something far more - a public battle with city officials saying the structure has spiraled into a $100,000-plus project that in no way resembles what was spelled out for a permit.

Dan and Jody Bovey took the dispute public weeks ago with lawn signs, an online petition and a crowd of supporters attending city council meetings. The city is fighting back, with officials taking the unusual step of devoting an entire page to the dispute on its website.

"We feel like we have poked the bear," Jody Bovey said.

The dispute

At this point, the two sides agree on little more than the project started three years ago when the city granted the Boveys a building permit for a "noncommercial greenhouse," defined by city code as "a building with transparent walls and roof, usually of glass, for the cultivation of plants under controlled conditions."

The Boveys went for a geodesic dome, about 15 feet tall, with translucent panels on one half and asphalt singles on the other. Their greenhouse has vinyl siding, two levels with a balcony and a 200-square-foot area where plants can be put directly in the ground.

The city contends the greenhouse is more complex than what the Boveys indicated they would build. Officials claim the Boveys underplayed the value of the structure. The city says the building was rotated 180 degrees and has an extra sump pump. It posted pictures of two recliner chairs in the greenhouse.

Deviations from the original plans are listed on the city's website.

But the Boveys say city officials are misrepresenting the facts, including the cost. The Boveys estimate they have spent $15,000 to $20,000 on the project, including $3,500 for the greenhouse kit, lumber and other materials.

"I counted 43 false statements, not including insinuations," Bovey said of the webpage publicized on Nov. 21. "It's a PR move to stave off negative publicity."

City Administrator Michael Guttman said Friday he did not want to go through the dispute point by point.

"That doesn't do any good," he said.

According to the webpage, "After many deviations from the original plan were identified during an inspection, the applicant was required by the city and ultimately ordered by an administrative law judge to have plans produced by a licensed architect to show what has been constructed to date, what work needs to be removed or modified to meet code, and what work remains to be completed."

"With one exception, the city stands behind it," Guttman said Friday. He said the city and the Boveys agree that the footprint is different than initially presented.

Passion project

Dan Bovey owns a lawn mowing and landscaping company. He is also a church pastor.

He and Jody, a schoolteacher, want a greenhouse for starting seedlings, storing temperature-sensitive outdoor potted plants and growing things to eat during the winter, such as lettuces. They want to experiment a bit, too, perhaps seeing if they can grow corn in cold weather or citrus and avocado trees.

"It's just a nice place to be indoors with the plants," Bovey said.

He bought the dome kit - metal hardware into which the wooden framing and translucent panels would be inserted - for $3,500. He estimated he would spend another $3,500 on wood and other supplies.

The labor was free because Bovey would build it himself with help from friends.

Bovey read about geodesic domes and figured it was a way to get more room in a smaller space. He calculated the angle of the sun to determine where to place the panels that let light in. In the winter, the light should hit a back wall that is painted to reflect 93% of the light. It will be heated by a wood-burning stove, plus by hot air collected at the ceiling and sent to a heat sink in the floor. Water in the heat sink will transfer heat.

According to Bovey, the city knew what he was building because aspects of the construction passed a series of inspections between January and July 2021.

Bovey admits to letting the permit lapse but says he paid a fine, and the city issued a new permit in July 2022. Bovey says the greenhouse passed its final plumbing inspection this July.

The city now says he has to supply architectural drawings from a professional architect. Bovey said he reviewed the drawings Monday. He disputes whether they are necessary, saying the city's code doesn't require them for accessory buildings and that he has supplied many other drawings.

He denies rotating the building but acknowledges moving the balcony and wood stove. He denies there is a second sump pump.

And that $100,000-plus figure is because Bovey estimates he has spent about 3,000 hours on it - and he used $30 an hour for the estimate on the July 2022 permit application. He put $105,000 on that application.

The Boveys said that a September 2023 building code violation case brought against them alleged they were constructing the building without a permit and requested demolition of the greenhouse.

Guttman disputes that.

The case is being heard by an administrative law judge, a specially trained lawyer hired by the city to rule on alleged city code violations.

The Boveys say they are facing up to $20,000 in fines if they don't get the building permit before the next hearing on Dec. 20.

"The whole goal (of administrative adjudication) is to get compliance," Guttman said.

If Bovey submits the architectural plans, the city will review them in an "expeditious" manner, Guttman said. "If we would have gotten the architectural plans, we would have moved the needle," he said.

Meanwhile, the Boveys say they are disillusioned with local government after living in the city for 21 years. They say even if they wanted to abandon the project, they would have to get a permit for demolition.

"I wish I could give up on it," Bovey said. "There is no off-ramp for us."

  Dan and Jody Bovey are in a battle with the city of West Chicago over their construction of a large geodesic dome greenhouse in their yard. John Starks/
  Dan and Jody Bovey have boxes of documents tracing their struggle to get approval for a geodesic dome greenhouse in their yard in West Chicago. John Starks/
  Dan Bovey with a plat of survey and other paperwork he has collected during his battle to get city approval for a geodesic dome greenhouse. John Starks/
  Dan Bovey on the main floor of the geodesic dome greenhouse he has built in his yard. John Starks/
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.