Growing pains: the path to expansion is sometimes lined with zoning-board queries, protests

Growing pains: the path to expansion is sometimes lined with zoning-board queries, protests

The path to expansion is sometimes lined with zoning-board queries, protests
Nov 01, 2009

Spring Valley, Ill. — Practice owners considering expansion may think they already have overcome the biggest obstacle — developing more business. But the road to expansion can be lined with many obstacles.

Just ask Dr. Stephen Dullard of the Ancare Veterinary Clinic in Spring Valley, Ill. His expansion plans ended up before the city's planning commission and resulted in protests from homeowners.

More than 100 residents near Dullard's clinic signed a petition against a rezoning request to expand his practice onto an adjacent residential property. Dullard owns the property and wants to demolish the house to extend the clinic by about 15 feet. The expansion will allow him to add more exam rooms and build a larger surgical suite, plus add some parking.

He now has one associate, three exams rooms and a surgical suite that can't meet the needs of his equipment, says Dullard, who has owned the 40-year-old practice for nine years.

More than a year was spent developing the expansion plan with contractors, who worked with Dullard to explore every possible effect of the project.

"You're going to have opposition," says Dullard, chair of the Illinois Veterinary Medical Association legislative committee and former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. "But they're a lot less likely to say No to something if you're prepared."

In Spring Valley, like most cities, rezoning requests must be heard by a planning commission, which then makes a recommendation to City Council. Ultimately, the council votes to approve or deny the requests. In some cities, rezoning requests must go to the voters. Either way, neighboring property owners usually must be notified about the proposal and given the opportunity to voice their concerns.

"When we got to the planning commission, we had a very solid plan in place. Like any change, people are going to have some concerns," Dullard says. "But we've been a good neighbor. The feedback I've gotten is (that) some people were satisfied and felt their concerns were addressed."

The planning commission ended up recommending the rezoning by a 5-1 vote. The one member who voted against it previously had a parcel of land next to his home rezoned and a tavern was built there, Dullard says.

"He had a bad experience," Dullard adds. "But I'm trying to help the community and invest back into it. The vast majority of the sentiment in the community is for this; we just have a few people against it."

City council also approved the expansion plan by a vote of 6-2, Dullard says, adding one council member told him they got more phone calls about his expansion than any other issue before council.

His biggest advice: Practice owners looking to expand should do their homework and enlist the help of their contractor, who likely has gone through the rezoning process before. He also had clients make calls to council members in support of the project.

"Stay calm and don't get upset. Veterinarians are devoted and take things personal," he says.

"The thing is, just be prepared. If you really think you've done a good plan and it's fair, you just have to get through the storm. When it's all said and done, I think the community will be glad how things came out."