Public Watchdog.org

Down-Zoning Of R-5 To B-1 A Welcome Development

02.01.12

As readers of this blog know, we view adding more multi-family residential (a/k/a condominiums and townhouses) structures to the Park Ridge landscape along the lines of trying to put 10 lbs of spuds in a 5 lb bag.

For one thing, residential density exponentially increases the demand on our antiquated and overburdened sewer system and other infrastructure. For another, Park Ridge’s identity is substantially tied to its single-family residential character. And if you need a third reason, residential property in Crook County is taxed at a lower rate than retail/commercial.

So we were not unhappy to read in yesterday’s on-line Park Ridge Herald-Advocate that owners of 111 S. Washington Avenue are seeking to down-zone that property from its current R-5, high-density multi-family status back to the B-1 retail and office status it held prior to 2007, when it was rezoned in anticipation of its acquisition and inclusion in a 168-unit condominium complex on what had come to be known as the Executive Office Plaza (“EOP”) site.

That rezoning was the subject of heated debate before both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council, not only because of the change to R-5 but also because the developer – Norwood Builders – asked for and got an additional 8-unit variance over what the site could hold, even at the R-5 level. Those extra units could have put an estimated $600,000 of extra profit in the developer’s pocket without any commensurate benefits to the City treasury.

The tactic the developer used to get this extra bump was promising to make 50 of those 168 units as “senior housing,” although they would require only 1 “senior” (55 years old or older) resident per unit and allow an unlimited number of non-senior residents. Just that promise alone was enough to bring out some support among a particular “senior” faction that seems to embrace anything “for the seniors” in much the same simplistic way that another particular faction embraces anything “for the kids.”

Several years ago a citizen task force rewrote the City’s zoning code. Whether a reflection on the final work product or on the subsequent economic times, however, that re-write does not seem to have made the process that much clearer, or reduced the number of variances being sought.

For the past 10+ years, multi-family residential has been the low-hanging fruit throughout suburbia, with Park Ridge no exception. Meanwhile, retail has lagged – despite some ambitious projects like Uptown Redevelopment, which originally was discussed as retail-centric but almost immediately morphed into the TIF-financed, multi-family residential project that has saddled the City with tens of millions of dollars in bonded debt while sucking around $6 million out of the City’s General Fund to pay the debt service costs.

That’s one big reason why we welcome the idea of a Mariano’s and/or Whole Foods locating in areas that otherwise might prove alluring to yet more multi-family residential developers. Hopefully, the current City administration won’t impede those two retailers the way then-mayor Ron Wietecha and clueless then-city manager Tim Schuenke seemingly did to Walter E. Smithe, which back in 2001-02 was reportedly looking to acquire what was then the “reservoir block” from the City for its triumphal return to Park Ridge after leaving several years earlier when it could not negotiate a satisfactory deal for more space at 25 South Northwest Hwy.

In tough economic times with increasing drains on local government treasuries, there is a strong temptation for those local governmental bodies to embrace anything that provides an opportunity for additional tax revenue. Too often the Sirens’ song of multi-family residential proves irresistible to our public officials. And too often, like those hapless boats in Greek mythology whose sailors fell under that spell, we end up on the rocks with residential projects that don’t provide a net-gain to the community as a whole.

Like, perhaps, Brickton Place? Or The Residences of Uptown?

To read or post comments, click on title.

16 comments so far

At this point I’m not worried as much about the current City administration impeding the Whole Foods deal as I am about the residents who are mobilizing to oppose the down zoning. Not because they don’t want a Whole Foods — they most certainly do — but because they’d prefer it to be located a bit further from their own backyards.

I think the City is poised for some major revitalization if Whole Foods comes to pass. It would be a real shame if a few short-sighted residents (whose property values ironically would likely be enhanced by the move) manages to stop it in its tracks.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s not get carried away here: we have seen and heard nothing that would support an argument that the NIMBYs property values “would likely be enhanced” by a Whole Foods a block or two away v. a half-mile away. By that same logic, folks on Meacham north of NW Hwy. should have had their property values increase when Trader Joe’s opened, but we haven’t seen or heard about that, either.

A Whole Foods would appear to be a signicant “plus” to Park Ridge, but it’s way too early to consider it some kind of magic bullet. Remember, the Uptown project was touted as a golden goose by its fans a decade ago.

I hear you. It may not be a magic bullet but it is a significant step up from vacant office buildings.

I’m frustrated at residents’ seemingly bottomless capacity to find fault with just about any idea/initiative/project. In this case it’s hard for me to imagine that the negatives outweigh the positives.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We hear you back. But the Uptown Redevelopment was considered a significant step up from the old reservoir, too, before it cost us multi-millions in bonded debt and going on $6 million in erosion of the General Fund to service the Uptown debt.

So far, we haven’t heard anything about the developer or Whole Foods wanting City cash, zoning concessions or tax abatements. But we’ve seen bait-and-switch before. So let’s let the process work, and listen to what the NIMBYs say are the problems with putting a Whole Foods at Touhy and Washington.

I would agree 12:13 that it would increase property values. Most of the people moving into houses in Park Ridge are younger couples with one child or expecting a child. A lot of them come here from Chicago and are used to having some amenities within walking distance. Having a Whole Foods replace an antiquated, abandoned property is an improvement to a neighborhood, which improves the value of their homes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We like the idea of a Whole Foods coming to Park Ridge, but not at the expense of made-up “facts.” By your value-to-walking-distance rationale, homes closest to Jewel and Dominick’s would have higher values than comparable homes farther away. Where’s your data on that phenomenon?

I am not meaning this as an insult, but I know who you are and you are a bit older than the demographic I am talking about. Whole Foods is to Jewel as a Lexus is to a Hyundai. Apples and oranges. Take a look at the Whole Foods just south of North Avenue in the city. It has everything the “young urban professional” would want.
Again, I think your age matters here – being north of 50 years old (just a guess) takes you out of the eligibility to be a good judge on this one. Your Jewel line proves my case.
I would call my original statement a fact that is not made up based on the multiple people who cite “walkability” as a major factor in their home purchase. (Zillow lists a “Walk Score”, for example)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We won’t take any offense about your “age matters” analysis if you don’t take offense at our calling your assertion that “walkability,” especially based on something as flimsy as a Zillow “Walk Score,” is proof of property values, “junk evidence.”

Are you really saying that a “young urban professional” who relocates to Park Ridge would pay signficantly more money for a house near a Whole Foods than for the same house near the Jewel or Dominick’s? Or that he/sh would pay significantly more money for a house within 1 block of a Whole Foods at Touhy & Washington than for the same house 6 blocks from it?

“Are you really saying that…he/sh would pay significantly more money for a house within 1 block of a Whole Foods at Touhy & Washington than for the same house 6 blocks from it?”

Commenter 12:13/1:08 chiming in again…I’m not sure I’d go that far but I would say that many young, urban professionals who are considering a move to the suburbs would give a town with a Whole Foods much more consideration than one without. Up until last year I lived among those types in a gentrified neighborhood in Chicago and even in this dismal real estate market people are still paying obscene amounts of money for homes that boast neighborhood amenities like hip retailers within walking distance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ve slipped back into your “young urban professional” mode instead of embracing your new young suburban professional mode. Walkability is huge in the City because driving is a pain, and expensive. But this ain’t the City. In suburbia, including Park Ridge, hardly anybody walks on errands, just for their workout/recreation.

But the issue is property values, and unless you can provide some data we’re sticking with our belief that being a block or two from Whole Foods will not raise your property values. And we’re betting there will be a number of people showing up at City Hall saying just the opposite when the time comes.

I know that people in PR and much of suburbia rarely walk to do their errands. But, come on, since when has the status quo hindered your ability to envision progress? Property value data aside, in this day and age, enhancing the Uptown area with a store like Whole Foods makes sense, especially as city planners recognize what works in cities, such as walkable commercial areas within close proximity to residential areas and apply it to suburbs and small towns.

We have the ideal, elusive “main street” that so many planners and residents envy, and Whole Foods fits right into that vision. I’d guess more people here in town would support it than oppose it.

And, by the way, I was more than happy to leave the city behind as long as our new home was within walking distance of the train and Uptown so that we could remain a single-car family and actually enjoy our new town on foot rather than from behind a windshield. Could we have gotten a comparable home for less money in the South Park area, for example? Yes, but for us the trade off wasn’t worth it.

I’m happy to continue to wear certain aspects of the distasteful “urban professional” mantle and actually do walk, ride my bike and — gasp — even occasionally still rely on public transportation for my errands (and often feel mighty conspicuous doing so). So I won’t apologize for slipping into that mode when it’s just good common sense. And I’ll drop the subject of Whole Foods now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Did you miss the part in the post where it states: “That’s one big reason why we welcome the idea of a Mariano’s and/or Whole Foods locating in areas that otherwise might prove alluring to yet more multi-family residential developers”? Or our Editor’s Note that states: “We like the idea of a Whole Foods coming to Park Ridge”?

But just because we like something doesn’t mean that we’ll embrace any and every anecdote that supports it. That’s why we have government and public hearings.

OMG. I think I have died and gone to heaven. After years and years in public life, sitting and listening to people 20 years my junior tell me that there’s no value in walkable communities, that kids don’t need to be able to walk to any amenities, that it doesn’t matter Park Ridge is pitch black for lack of house lights at night, that we don’t need vigorous enforcement of pedestrian safety laws, that we don’t need or want stores and the library and other life-enhancing attractions within walking distance — ALL of you lovely young’uns are saying it DOES matter — and citing walkability as a researched element in a liveability index or three.
Oh, happy day!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry, Unto, but it looks like “ALL” of those “lovely young’uns” amounts to one (or, at most, two). And the anecdotal “evidence” that “walkability” increases property values (Zillow? Really?) is about as credible as Punxatawney Phil’s prognostication.

Park Ridge, not unlike most suburbs, was not designed for “walkability” like the urban areas developed – with various atores and other goods and services providers pretty much interspersed throughout each neighborhood, often occupying the ground floors of every or every other apt. bldg. While walkability is a good thing, consider how many entire neighborhoods don’t have even a handful of retail/commercial buildings within them.

I don’t understand why you need to argue with every single person who comments on here on every topic, unless their handle is “Mayor Dave”.
In essence, we all are agreeing with you that Whole Foods would be a good thing for Park Ridge.
But, why you choose to spar over walkability is beyond me, when it is obvious from your comments that you are “old school” regarding what young families are looking for.
I never once said the houses near WF would be worth “significantly more money”, just more money. And, while I agree Zillow is a website based in fantasy land concerning home prices, it does reflect an issue that is a factor to 30-somethings and a non-issue to 50-somethings when it comes to purchasing a home in suburbia. If you don’t believe me, ask a realtor in this town, or look at redfin.com, trulia, etc. Houses close to town always include their proximity to shopping, dining, the train, to name a few. The sales data backs this up as well. (You can go to redfin.com and look at completed sales on the map, if you don’t believe me.)
I don’t know why you find it so hard to accept that the younger people actually like to walk places. In the summer, I often don’t get in my car over the weekend at all. That is why I was willing to pay a bit more to live within walking distance of uptown. The line between urban and suburban is blurring more than you are willing to admit. (Downtown Palatine, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines – all reinvented themselves to be mini-urban areas with bars, restaurants, stores to draw young people back to the suburbs.)

Without trying to change the topic, this disagreement is indicative of something that is starting to become quite a rift in this town – the division between the old residents and the new younger residents. As I talk to my friends in town (30 somethings) about the issues that matter to us, it is clear that the priorities between the two groups are growing further apart. You can see it in the issue with the now non-existent bar on Main Street fighting for a later closing time (old people didn’t like it, young people did) as well as the debate over funding a new water park at the Oakton pool site (young people want to fund it, old people didn’t), just to name a couple issues.
While I know this will make you rush to your keyboard to start picking my words apart, I honestly would like to see yours as well as other people’s opinions on this (without all the inflammatory stuff, please!).

EDITOR’S NOTE: We “choose to spar over walkability” when somebody tries to state, as “fact” but without data other than Zillow, that being within walking distance of a Whole Foods will improve the home values. But we’re willing to let the folks who may have an objection to Whole Foods to state their cases about enhanced value.

A later closing time had nothing to do with the “now non-existent bar on Main Street” – it was all an issue of…wait for it…money. As for a new water park at Oakton, it failed in referendum. So “young people” apparently couldn’t muster anywhere near enough votes in support. Fortunately, votes still seem to have more value in our society than mere opinion.

The big issue for the residents closest to the proposed WF site is traffic. Both Northwest Highway and Touhy could have cars turning left into the location, and this could really create some jammed up traffic just east of Uptown. It’s hard to say how much traffic will increase on some of the residential feeder streets, like Washington, Elmore, Wisner and Berry. That’s a real concern, too

But all that being said, a Whole Foods is a pretty nice neighbor to have in a lot of ways– quiet at night, low density, a draw that can bring in people who might then mosey over to other businesses in town. And let’s face it, we need those tax revenues– isn’t Whole Foods a more palatable way to get it than say a Best Buy?

If the building can be set back and east off the corner, if it can be landscaped nicely so that the neighbors across Touhy don’t have to be hit with a big grocery store facade when they walk out to get their Sunday papers, if the access to the store can be managed in a way not to cause traffic snarls and pedestrian risks on the main streets near the store– I say this would be a great addition to PR.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We wholeheartedly agree. But as the saying goes, if wishes were horses all beggars would ride. And we still suspect that the neighbors, and maybe some local zoning activists and even the developer itself, may have some slightly different views of what constitutes a great project of this type. Which is why, as we’ve said before, there’s government and public hearings.

To 8:47, I think Whole Foods is not stranger to traffic concerns and issues. As PW said, let’s let the process work, which includes voicing our concerns but also being willing to listen to their plans and perhaps even being willing to compromise a bit if we don’t want this potential neighbor to move elsewhere.

The traffic issue always facinates me. I know it came up when there was a rumor about a CVS going in at the old car dealership.

I mean let’s be honest. While PR is not officially the city, it is about a pitching wedge away and we have many of the same traffic issues as the city, especially in the Uptown area. In other words this ain’t Iowa and did we not know that when we decided to live here?? Frankly I have become much more frustrated with driving since moving to PR for the reason someone mentioned above – I drive more out here versus when I lived in the city so I am more fristrated by traffic.

But on to my real point. If we assume for a moment that the empty office building that is currently in that space were 100% occupied that would have a negative affect on traffic as well. Virtually any business or group of businesses that have employees and customers visiting them is going to generate traffic.

The only way to avoid increasing traffic is to put the same thing there as is at the old car dealership…..DIRT!! I do not think any of us want that.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Good point. As for the old car dealership, they should be required to grade it and plant grass so that, instead of “dirt,” we could have “green space” for all the “walkability” types to enjoy on their strolls.

The traffic issue is indeed fascinating. Even at its most congested, the Uptown area “jams” are nowhere near city levels. Ever try to drive near Diversey/Elston/Damen on a Saturday?

They’re not even near the levels of areas east of us, like on Touhy, in Skokie, as you get near the Edens. And I’m sorry but a Whole Foods at Touhy and Washington won’t increase it that much more.

Another thing, my parents live on the south end of town off of Devon, near Maine South. People were wringing their hands at the idea of casino traffic jamming up Devon. Well guess what? The snarls have not materialized. A complete non-issue.

Gee I think this guy should of stayed in the city. Mind you I’m not disagreeing with what he feels but boy what a mad person.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anger, properly controlled and channeled, can be a positive force. But “what’s in it for me” probably isn’t the most civic-minded use of that anger.

I’m not sure how supporting a new source of revenue for the city makes it “all about me.” Ironically I probably wouldn’t shop at WF regularly myself because of their high prices but as I’ve mentioned I do think can be a potential magnet for other businesses to move in and help fill the numerous vacancies Uptown.

Also, the only thing I’m “mad” about is the knee-jerk, negaive reactions that many residents (and city officials, as often reported here) seem to have toward change and progress. But if Park Ridge is all about keeping things the same as the rest of the world moves forward then yes maybe I “should of” stayed in the city after all.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Change” and “progress” are not synonyms. Nevertheless, we think the change that a Whole Foods would bring to Park Ridge would also be progress – and a big plus – for the community. But the neighbors deserve their say, and all aspects of the project deserve a full and fair hearing before a decision is made.

hate to bring in facts again but Park Ridge was definitely designed for walkability. That’s because it wasn’t born as a suburb. It was born as a real-live town. It fed Chicago produce and later, office employees, thanks to the fact that the town was built to be bisected by the train tracks. In the olden days, people walked, especially kids. A lot. Long (up to a mile) distances. They also biked. And most neighborhoods in Park Ridge are within a mile (that’s only 8 blocks, remember) of some stores and restaurants. I remember Dad dragging a kid’s flexible flyer sled from what is now the Maine South area to what was Thompson’s grocery store, now the Walgreen’s, on Touhy, to get bread and milk after a big snow when the streets had not been plowed. We thought it was fun. Again, thanks to the young famlies who get it. Long may you wave — now start electing people who agree with you!

You do have a point. Most suburbs along RR tracks probably were but since PR was considerally much smaller back then, it, along with other towns, evolved over the years.

Anon 2.05 is entilted to how he feels and I don’t in any way begrudge him for it. But many don’t and may or may not be wrong about their thought and you gotta consider that when you move to a new place that doesn’t satisfy youre needs or wants, you sometimes have to be rational and accept the way things are as long as you live there no matter what.



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