- Nov 23, 2015
After months of deliberation and conflicting votes from the commissions that reviewed the project, a majority of Village Trustees have indicated they intend to vote in favor of the proposed Life Time Fitness project at 1000 Skokie Boulevard. The development includes a 93,000 square foot fitness facility, 43,000 square foot Children’s Learning Adventure child care facility and a five-story 338-unit multi-family apartment building by The Finger Companies.
After numerous Plan Commission public hearings where concerns were expressed about parking, density and set-backs, developers amended the original project. Changes included: reducing the residential building footprint and increasing the structure’s height to five stories, so to no longer require setback variations, increasing the amount of surface parking for both the residential and commercial components, changes to the design of the Children’s Learning Adventure building, and adding landscaping and buffering elements along the west property line.
Citing a lack of synergy between the land uses, the multiple special permits required and duplication of businesses that are already in the Village, the Plan Commission ultimately voted 4 – 3 against the project. The Architectural Control Commission, however, unanimously recommended approval of the design of the development.
Village Attorney Steve Elrod announced at the October Village Board meeting that to address concerns about the loss of potential sales tax on the property, the developers offered to pay $40,000 a year in-lieu of taxes for the next 12 years.
Trustees generally commented that the project fits with the Comprehensive Plan and that too many other projects have been considered and failed over the last decade. Often referred to as the ComEd property, the site has been the subject of a number of proposals, including a Wal-Mart and a Costco, which were withdrawn.
“Does this meet my vision for this property? No it doesn’t,” commented Trustee Todd Heller who indicated he will still vote for it. “I think Northbrook’s vision is something that generates a lot of sales tax, but nobody comes, and there is no traffic.” He added that trying to find a project that would generate sales tax was completely unrealistic. “I don’t want this property to lie fallow for another ten years.”
Trustee Michael Scolaro echoed the sentiment. “The choice here is between more of the same – which is nothing – or an evolvement such as this.” Citing developers for Walmart and others who walked away, he said the development will have a relatively low impact on the area and that “it suits my eye.” He added that the additional payment in lieu of taxes over the next 20 years offered a very compelling argument.
Trustee Katherine Ciesla commented that there will never be an office on the site, and that the support of the area homeowners association was a significant factor in her decision to support it.
“Commercial is dead on this site,” commented Village President Sandy Frum. “It was shot down. The bigger question is ‘Is this a good mix and is it beneficial?’” She commented that it’s important to weigh all of the factors, and that some of the $40,000 could be used to address some of the resident concerns, such as improving the bike paths.
Both Trustees Bob Israel and Jim Karagianis expressed clear opposition. While Israel said he appreciated the fact that the developers addressed set-back issues and green space, “This is not a facility that I’d likely ever go into.” Commenting that he intended to abide by the Plan Commission vote, he said he didn’t think the land uses all fit together.
Trustee Karagianis expressed even stronger opposition. “I don’t think we should settle,” he commented. “This is the last significant piece of property in Northbrook to be developed, and it doesn’t provide anything for the Village.” He expressed numerous concerns including the density, the number of variations requested, and traffic. “Why are we rushing to approve this?” He added that he isn’t a big fan of big apartment buildings which are already being built farther north as part of the 770 NorthShore project. He also noted the duplication of services, as there are already numerous child care and other fitness facilities. In addition, he pointed out that the property includes a Cook County Class C tax break which was intended for remedial repair of the site so that retail could go in. “It’s just too big a piece of property to not generate any sales tax,” he said.