EFFINGHAM — The Effingham Zoning Board of Appeals this week approved a setback variance requested by the developers of Eastland Apartments to be built on the former John Boos production facility site. The variance will allow for adequate parking and green space for the apartment buildings.

Apartment developer Jessica Moreton spoke at the board meeting on Tuesday. She said the multifamily dwelling needed to reduce the side-yard setback requirement from 6 feet to 0 feet along a 31-foot portion of the alleyway near the building site in part because of city utilities on the corner of the alley.

"We are squeezed now with the two parking lots. It's just going to be very tight," Moreton said, if the variance wasn't granted.

Moreton said the setback variance would aid in phase one of the apartment construction, which includes the first of four eight-unit apartment buildings on the lot off the now-vacated Second Street.

The board called on city Public Works Director Jeremy Heuerman to speak on the placement of the city utilities at the proposed site. Heuerman said though the city has several utilities at the vacant lot, there are plans to relocate them.

"We've actually got a lot of utilities on Second Street, but we're doing a project now to actually even bring them further away from the proposed building to kind of clean stuff up. It'll actually be further away than where it's at right now," Heuerman said. "We have no objection to the petition."

Heuerman said the city had permanently closed Second Street for the John Boos facility.

Board Member Gary Welton said he felt the variance was necessary to the construction of the apartments.

"It looks like another variance that's well justified. In order to get that building in, they need all the room they can to be available for the parking. They've got a good reason," Welton said.

Meanwhile, the board approved a variance to reduce a south side yard setback from 10 to 3 feet at 402 S. Third St.

The lot at 402 S. Third St. contains a small light commercial business that prospective buyer Jim Roepke is looking to purchase; there is also a concrete parking lot that reaches 3 feet over the property line to the south. Roepke spoke in favor of the variance.

Roepke said his main concern is with the current setback requirement because he would be trespassing on adjacent property should he choose to landscape around the commercial building. The petition, filed by Midland States Bank, calls for the variance because the change would allow the building to be rebuilt at the same location should the building be damaged more than 60 percent of its reproduction value by fire, explosion or act of nature.

City Attorney Tracy Willenborg said the commercial building is an allowable non-conforming use because it was most likely there prior to the adoption of the regulations. This means the building did not have to conform to the 10-foot setback regulation, and the approved variance allows the building to be rebuilt in the exact location should it be damaged.

Brad Gouchenouer, who also spoke in favor of the variance, said having the security the variance provides will allow the Roepke family to continue to invest in the property.

"As we're investing in this structure, we'd just like to be safe knowing that the 3-foot setback was OK and that they're safe to go ahead and keep investing into this structure," Gouchenouer said.

The slim portion of land separates the Third Street property building, currently owned by James Calhoon, from the property planned for the apartments, which concerned Moreton.

Moreton said because of the closeness between the commercial business facility and the apartments she plans to build nearby, she will have to invest in fire safety structures for her facility.

"With the setback and everything, we are still going to have to build a fire wall, and it also devalues my property having the other building that close. If it was to be rebuilt, it would still devalue my property," said Moreton

Welton inquired about the firewall, asking if the structure would have to be built regardless of the variance; Moreton said a firewall would need to be built no matter what.

The variance was unanimously approved. Board member Kurt Buenerkemper was not present at the meeting.

In other matters, the board:

• Approved a variance to reduce a side-yard setback, rear-yard setback and required distance between an accessory building and a main building at 511 S. Fifth St. at the request of Barbara and Kevin Beals. Kevin Beals said the variance would allow him to construct a garage that fits a modern vehicle.

• Appointed Mike Mumm as the board chairman, replacing David Swingler, and Mark Thies as the board vice chairman, replacing Welton.

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