WILMETTE – The Wilmette Village Board addressed two major zoning cases concerning the local Catholic schools St. Francis Xavier and Loyola Academy at a lengthy meeting held on October 24.
While the bulk of the evening was focused on Loyola’s case, St. Francis’s proposal to remove the existing gymnasium and construct a new two-story addition to the school was approved by consent in a 6-0 vote.
The school’s original request for a two-story addition to its 1956 building that would require a 7,652- square-foot variation, several setbacks, and a 2,280-square-foot impervious surface variation was rejected in July by the Zoning Board of Appeals in a 5-1 vote. The Zoning Board found that the project would injure the adjacent residential properties to the east and alter the essential character of the neighborhood.
But when St. Francis returned to the Zoning Board a second time, a revised proposal that involved tearing down the gymnasium attached to the 1956 building and replacing it with a two-story addition that would include a larger gymnasium, create a dedicated lunchroom and cafeteria, central offices with a secure entry and create four new classrooms, met with unanimous approval.
The Zoning Board found that the revised proposal did not negatively effect the neighbors, since the bulk of the addition would sit at the center of the building, away from the bulk of neighbors to the east of the school. They also found the revised proposal wouldn’t alter the appearance of the neighborhood, and that it minimized the increase in impervious surfaces as much as possible.
Loyola’s expansion plan, “Loyola Forward 2025,” also moved ahead, with the village board approving the first phase of the project, which includes a new pool, newly relocated tennis courts, additional parking on campus and new traffic patterns intended to minimize traffic in the adjacent residential neighborhood and improve pedestrian safety.
Loyola’s original plan to convert two small green fields across from the school into parking lots was abandoned, after the plan spurred protest from neighbors and the discovery that for 20 years the school had been violating an enrollment capped imposed in 1993 when it went co-ed. Neighbors maintained that increases in the school’s enrollment have caused the current traffic problems.
Loyola admitted in a May 2016 letter to the village that the 2,000 student enrollment cap had been violated repeatedly since 1994 on average by 2.28%.
The controversial enrollment cap was a focus of the meeting, with the board approving an increase to Loyola’s enrollment cap to 2,125 students, despite objections from some neighbors. Loyola sought an increase to 2,200 students.
Each year Loyola will be required to report to the village its enrollment numbers — as it already does to the State Board of Education — and curb enrollment to 2,125 by the beginning of the following school year. According to Village Attorney Jeffrey Stein, the village could impose daily fines if Loyola continues to violate the enrollment cap.
The board also required that Loyola pay for a traffic study after the first phase of work is complete, to determine whether or not the new traffic patterns improved the problematic traffic situation.