An initial rendering depicts the proposed 171-unit Albion of Highland Park development at 1850 Green Bay Road in the city. (Courtesy of Highland Park)
The developers looking to build a 171-unit apartment building in downtown Highland Park recently passed a crucial test after city council members granted preliminary approval for the proposed Albion at Highland Park.
By a 4-2 vote during a meeting Jan. 28, the city council supported plans to construct a five-story building on the site of the city-owned Karger Center, which will be demolished. In early 2018, the council agreed to sell the property at 1850 Green Bay Road to Albion Jacobs Highland Park LLC for nearly $3.8 million.
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Before the council’s latest vote, residents again made their opinions known about the Albion proposal, which sparked intense reactions from community members during four public hearings recently conducted by the city’s Plan and Design Commission.
Neighbors living on Sheahen Court, a single-family residential street immediately north of the site, said that living in the shadows of a 73-foot-tall building would diminish their quality of life and their ability to sell their homes.
While the city considers the proposed Albion at Highland Park to be a five-story, 63-foot-tall building, the building will reach 73 feet in height on the west side, where it will come within 10 feet of Sunset Woods Park, based on the average grade of the sloped site.
“It is terribly disturbing to see what is unfolding here and the detrimental impact that this mega-development will have on our beautiful village,” said Louise Conway, a Sheahen Court resident who was among the 19 citizens who addressed the city council.
Conway said the area should be redeveloped, but she stressed the importance of zoning ordinances.
“The reason we have zoning ordinances is so the neighborhood community is not destroyed by the redevelopment of underutilized areas in the city,” she said.
Some speakers disputed the city’s method for calculating the required setbacks from property lines, while other speakers said Highland Park desperately needs this type of project to revitalize its downtown.
“We need a wow factor,” Highland Park resident Jeff Silverman said. “We need a sizzle factor to get our community back on the map.”
Amy Corr, managing broker in the Highland Park office of @properties, said the project is an opportunity for the community to catch up with other suburbs, such as Vernon Hills, Wheeling and Lake Forest, which are attracting renters to their downtown areas.
“We need to realize there is a demand for this type of product,” Corr said. “People want newer, turn-key product for purchase or for rental.”
Corr said rental housing is attractive to empty nesters, who are selling their homes but aren’t sure about their next permanent move or perhaps have another residence in Florida. More millennials also are moving from Chicago to the suburbs, she said.
“We want that millennial movement to come to an area like Highland Park,” Corr said.
The council’s preliminary approval Jan. 28 also was tied to a list of conditions, which the developers must meet before submitting a final plan.
Among the stipulations, the developers must acquire the legal right to create an access drive from Central Avenue through property now owned by Sunset Foods. A second driveway will be provided from Green Bay Road.
The developers also must provide a plan for fulfilling the city’s affordable housing requirement.
Mayor Nancy Rotering and council members Michelle Holleman, Alyssa Knobel and Adam Stolberg all voted to grant preliminary approval. Members Kim Stone and Dan Kaufman made the dissenting votes.
Stone expressed concerns about the project’s effect on neighbors in Sheahen Court and granting the developer approval before an affordable housing plan had been provided.
Representatives with Albion have said they plan to fulfill the requirement for 29 affordable housing units through a combination of 17 on-site units and payments to the city’s Housing Trust Fund for 12 of the units.
Kaufman said the city council’s latest vote should not be construed as an approval of that financing plan or a relaxation of the rules contained in the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance.