Park Ridge apartment plan rejected by Planning and Zoning
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:03AM
PARK RIDGE — A controversial effort to develop properties at the southeast corner of Northwest Highway and Greenwood Avenue in Park Ridge was dealt a severe setback this week after the Park Ridge Planning and Zoning Commission voted against recommending it for approval to the City Council.
The brainchild of Lincoln Park-based Orchard Development Group, the project’s latest proposal called for a four-story, 66-unit apartment building to replace the five vacant houses currently on the site.
The commission voted 4-2 against recommending the development plan, with commissioners Jim Arrigoni and John Bennett casting the “yes” votes.
It now falls to the Park Ridge City Council to decide whether to follow the commission’s recommendation or ignore it and approve the plan. The council may take up the matter in early April.
The property is no stranger to development controversy. In 2008 the City Council approved a 58-unit condominium project after three years of debate, only to see the developer pull out. And when Orchard Development Group unveiled its initial plan for an 80-unit apartment building at a Nov. 27, 2012 presentation, the backlash was immediate.
The proposal had called for a building that was taller and 34 units larger than what the site’s residential zoning allowed. All of its parking was on the surface and uncovered, but under the city’s zoning law at least 50 percent of the building’s parking spaces must be underground or otherwise fully enclosed,
In response to feedback from the commission and Park Ridge residents, the developer altered the plans. The latest revision, which was presented at the March 12 hearing, called for a 66-unit building with 30 parking garages in the back and 30 parking spaces under overhanging balconies. The main entrance was moved to the Northwest Highway side and patios were added to the first floor units.
From the beginning the Planning and Zoning Commission expressed a willingness to give the developer a zoning exception for the height and the number of units — provided the project incorporated features that would benefit the community. At the March 12 hearing, Orchard Development Group President Jay Case offered to complete the piece of public space from the aborted condominium project, as well as provide a $50,000 “donation” that the city could use as it saw fit.
”I am not comfortable with the cash contribution,” said Acting Chairman Joe Baldi. “How do we monitor it to make sure it would be used appropriately?”
The revised plan also did little to ease opponents’ concerns. Residents who attended the hearing expressed reservations about the project density and height. They argued that the project would strain public school resources and make the traffic issues worse. Many expressed concerns about what sort of tenants the building would attract.
Jim Finn, who lives near the project site, worried about the impact of the project on the local sewers and the resulting impact on the quality of life
“I know I already get (sewer) back-ups in my house,” he said. “I don’t want (the issue) to fall by the wayside.”
The project did have at least one supporter. Third Ward Alderman Jim Smith spoke at the hearing, arguing that leaving the lots as-is was hurting Park Ridge’s image and finances.
“We have seven vacant houses,” he said, though the property consists of just five. “We lost tremendous amount in property taxes. How much longer are we going to put up with vacant housing, vacant space?”
This prompted George Korovilas, a candidate for 2nd Ward alderman, to retort that any new development needs to benefit the town in the long run. Renters, he argued, can move whenever they want, so they aren’t as committed to the community as home owners. He also complained that the project did not fit the neighborhood’s aesthetics
“We’d rather have the empty homes than an ugly apartment complex,” said Korovilas.
Case tried to assure residents that the project wouldn’t have adverse impact on Park Ridge, making a particular point to address their concerns about tenants.
“This is not going to attract riff-raff,” he said. “It’s going to be a high-quality project. I pledge myself to that. You’re going to like what we build.”
After some discussion, the commission decided that the changes the developer made did not go far enough to address the concerns and that any further attempts to modify the project would not change that.
“I think it’s not our job to create a proposal,” Baldi said. “It’s accept it or reject it.”