When A “Code” Is Merely A Suggestion


This past Tuesday night developer Trammell Crow made its initial presentation to the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission for a 126-unit apartment building proposed for the site of the current Advocate Health office building at 205 West Touhy.

Regular readers of this blog know that we have no love for new multi-family residential structures in Park Ridge.  Not only do we believe the density that comes with such buildings is problematic for a mature community such as ours, with it’s dated infrastructure, but the cost of educating every child that might live in multi-family units tends to be even more disproportionate to the property taxes generated by those units than it is for single-family residential property.

The 126 units Trammell Crow wants are a full 40 units more than the current zoning permits.  That normally would be a non-starter for the Commission, if past decisions (albeit by a different cast of characters than presently comprise the Commission) are any guide.  That’s not to say, however, that at least some members of the Commission wouldn’t accept a number of units between 86/87 and 126.

And THAT’s what Trammell Crow might be betting on.

The economics of almost any multi-family structure are a “loser” for Park Ridge taxpayers, unless those units are occupied by childless couples who will be contributing 33% of their units’ real estate taxes to Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 and another 30%-plus to Maine Township High School District 207, while at the same time using no D-64 or D-207 services.   That’s because just one child in D-64 costs approximately $13,000 a year to educate, while a large single-family home paying $20,000 in annual RE taxes doesn’t cover even one-half the annual educational cost of that student.

But according to the developer, this project will contain smaller units (1 and 2 bedroom) instead of the 3 and 4-bedroom units such projects typically include.  And if the developer is to be believed, those smaller units will still rent for between $1,800 and $3,000 per month, primarily to people without children – whom we are being told are now called “power couples.”

In a previous incarnation they were known as “DINKS”: double incomes, no kids.

Why such couples would choose to spend $1,800 to $3,000 a month on rent for a 1 or 2-bedroom apartment in Park Ridge is, frankly, beyond our comprehension.  And from their reactions Tuesday night, several commissioners seemed equally uncomprehending, if not outright skeptical.  As they should be.

Instead of “power couples,” we’re betting the 2-bedroom units are far more likely to draw single parents who want their kids in Park Ridge schools but can’t afford (or don’t want to pay) the down payment and/or monthly mortgage debt service for a condo or single family home.  So either Trammell Crow has a way better sense of what it can sell in the Park Ridge market than we do, or it’s trying to blow a lot of smoke up a number of people’s kilts.

We’ve seen this movie before, so we know how it ends.  And we’re taking the latter.

Judging from comments by several P&Z commissioners and the heads of other commissioners nodding in agreement, 40 units over the Zoning Code’s 86-unit maximum isn’t going to happen – notwithstanding a nifty argument from the developer’s representatives that the exact same size structure on the exact same footprint could conform to the Code’s density requirements by substituting 3 and 4-bedroom units for the 1 and 2-bedroom ones.  In other words, the 40 extra units would be of no practical consequence to the number of people actually living on the site.

Park Ridge’s Zoning Code was re-written approximately 7 years ago.  The current Code, therefore, represents a relatively contemporary community view – a/k/a, its “public policy” – of how property in Park Ridge should be developed, including the density of dwelling units.

We assume the folks who served on the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee (Kirke Machon, Rich DiPietro, Ann Tennes, attorney Gary Zimmerman, Atul Karkhanis, attorney Ellen Upton, Brian Kidd,  Philip Mitchell, attorney Cynthia Funkhouser, Timothy Metropolus, Rob Lohens, Judy Barclay, attorney Joseph Cwik, attorney Terry McConville, Tom Provencher, Anita Rifkind and attorney Aurora Abella-Austriaco, with the assistance of professional zoning consultants) properly considered how the number and size of dwelling units – be they apartments, condominiums, townhouses, or single family homes – would impact the areas in which they are located.

So when any developer comes along and asks for close to a 50% variance in the amount of dwelling units, we have to wonder whether the City has acquired a reputation for being such a pushover that developers actually believe they can get such variances; or, alternatively, that it has acquired a reputation of split-the-baby compromise, thereby emboldening developers to ask for 40 extra units with the expectation that they’ll get 20.

Either way, if true, tends to make a mockery out of the City’s Zoning Code.  And it turns the Code into mere suggestions that Groucho Marx could have been describing when he announced:

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.”

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16 comments so far

Come on there’s gotta be some tenant that can use those offices.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Call Advocate and tell them.

If the NIMBYs were upset about Whole Foods, I’m guessing they’re steaming about this. Wonder when we’ll start seeing them?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some were at Tuesday night’s P&Z meeting, and they raised issues that deserved to be raised, especially about traffic and parking when we have yet to see what effect Whole Foods will have on traffic in that area.

Fellow residents, don’t let yoursel be deluded that any new business or residential development will bring in new taxpayers who will alleviate your share of the burden. Uptown didn’t reduce taxes; it increased them. The only ways to reduce your tax bill are (a) reduce spending by the city, schools and parks, or (b) appeal your assessment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We pretty much agree, FWT.

However, new businesses that redevelop and improve an existing site (like Whole Foods) DO alleviate the tax burden by: (a) paying a higher % of RE taxes than residential property; (b) generating sales tax revenue; and (c) NOT placing added burdens on the schools and parks.

FWT… while largely in agreement, the Uptown development is a special case. A (hopefully) once in a lifetime FUBAR. It would have been one thing had the development gone up with all of the risk, upside / downside, resting in the developers shoulders. But noooooooooooooooo… the then geniuses at City Hall, Staff, Mayor and Aldermen, had to get in on the fun by partnering in the project and offering the City’s general obligation financial backing to the thing. We all know how that’s gone.

If the City, meaning anyone in any official capacity, starts talking about doing that again get the torches and pitchforks ready.

Otherwise, if this developer somehow gets approval for a project (presumably in a reduced scope) buys the property and determines to start to build… what do you suggest? That the City disallow that? If that’s the case you better start to make the case with the City to buy the property now, bulldoze it and make it a parking lot. Otherwise, within the limits of the City’s ordinances and the like, property owners have rights.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Much as we might like to see retail or office space on the Advocate property rather than multi-family residential, you are right. But we will be watching with interest to see whether, and how far, P&Z will roll over for this developer and its 40-units-over-Code plan.

So far, the only thing we’ve heard in the nature of a “public benefit” offered by this project that actually means anything is the on-site stormwater retention vault: all the other “public benefit” stuff sounds like just a lot of fluff. But we’re betting some P&Z commissioners can be easily seduced by the fluff.

Keep in mind, this property is not even zoned residential. That is the problem they ran into on Greenwood/NWH with the 60 apartments, they rezoned it R4 and a developer came within the code and they could not refuse them. First and foremost this must not be rezoned.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t necessarily disagree, but what are the arguments – with reference to the Zoning Code provisions concerning MAP amendments – against it?

Even the max of 86 units is too much for that particular site. Have you looked closely now that Whole Foods has taken shape? There’s not much parking and to cram in even an allowable amount of apartments right on top of them is going really add to the congestion. I think another parking lot, in this case, isn’t a bad idea.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t believe that another parking lot is a realistic possibility for a site that currently holds an office building and on which a well-known developer wants to build an apartment building.

Plus, reducing it to a parking lot would – as we understand property tax law – substantially reduce the property taxes it generates.

Yes, Whole Foods will shoulder a higher tax burden and that helps homeowners. Yes, Uptown is FUBAR. And, yes – everyone’s taxes are going up. The only sure way to reduce taxes is to reduce spending. Hello, local elected officials?

I recently located to PR from LA, it’s nice to escape the ever increasing congestion that is caused by poor zoning and planning. Do you think there is room in the budget for the P & Z commissioners to visit my old neighborhood to see what not to do? I would be able to point out many examples multiple families living in one bedroom apartments that were once shiny and new. They might be gone awhile, it’ll take at least a week to navigate the traffic of the 5 block radius.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve yet to see or hear how the taxpayers have ever profited one penny by our local officials – elected, appointed and staff personnel – going to these various conferences, conventions, seminars, workshops, etc.

If the P&Z commissioners and the City Council can’t figure this out without a field trip to LA (or anywhere else), they shouldn’t be holding their positions.

Isn’t there still a piece of land in the middle of this whole area that Whole Foods didn’t take and that can only be accessed from Touhy? If parking’s a problem, couldn’t that be used?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t assume “parking’s a problem” just because somebody says it is. There reportedly are parking issues in that area, but none that can be attributed to Whole Foods, seeing as it hasn’t even opened yet.

Until it does, traffic and parking problems in that area remain nothing but idle speculation.

@Barb, 3:41. That piece of land in the middle that I believe you are referring to is the future site of 35 townhomes! See recent new coverage for more details. Between those and the proposed apartments and the new WF that area (not to mention the schools) is looking more congested by the minute. I for one am not sure if the added tax revenue is worth it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we’ve written before, there very well may be no NET “added tax revenue” for those residential properties when you figure in the cost of educating the school-aged kids that end up living there.

No matter what it’s like in L.A. while I like PR and have loved here most of my life, I can’t for the life of me see leaving a nice warm weather climate such as L.A. for a colder place like the Chicago area, unless you lived here previously.

Traffic problems are everywhere.

Moving a piece that is zoned commercial to zoned residential almost acts as corporate welfare to the owner of the property. That piece is an attractive piece of COMMERCIAL property. If the owners can’t get the money they think they should for it…..then lower the price. The taxpayers shouldn’t bail out the owners.

P&Z should absolutely stop re-zoning things from commercial to residential in these key areas.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That sounds about right to us.

It is wonderfully utopian to say we should not rezone the space because we want it to remain office space. But has anyone checked our local office space inventory lately? We have a glut.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Aren’t zoning codes “utopian” by their very nature?

As best we can tell, any “glut” is of Grade B and/or C office space – like the space that was demolished to make way for Whole Foods. Anybody think we’d be better off with multi-family residential intead of Whole Foods?

I have nothing against the multi family housing. I know a lot of people are against it but lets be realistic: this is a residential town, and despite a small downtown area, it’s not attracting a ton of new commercial or industrial tenants. and quite frankly I like it that way. so what if there are high end apartments in the downtown area. they’re going to be expensive and attract all types of tenants who will unlikely to burden the school system. this is much ado about nothing, typical NIMBY nonsense from a bunch of Middle Ages folks who are afraid of change. Edison park just a short walk down nw highway has lots of apartments and the schools and still great and the housing is arguably even more expensive on a Psf basis than park ridge. I can see 126 apartments being too many but I see nothing wrong with more than 100

EDITOR’S NOTE: “they’re going to be expensive and attract all types of tenants who will unlikely to burden the school system”?

Why would somebody without kids – and no intention of having kids – move to a $3,000/month apartment?

“Edison park just a short walk down nw highway has lots of apartments and the schools and still great and the housing is arguably even more expensive on a Psf basis than park ridge.”

Where are the $3,000/month apartments in Edison Park?

Why did the City wait until the last quarter, when most retail businesses do half or more of their annual sales, to tear up the access to these stores? A retailer told me yesterday that the street will be torn up “until sometime in November.” Holy crap! Just one more manifestation of our ongoing lack of belief in the value of supporting Park Ridge retail? I hope residents will redouble their consideration of the Shop Locally idea this season and go to the even-more-embattled-than-usual retailers and fast food restaurants along the Prospect strip; or come Christmas week, you’ll have no choice but to drive to the mall.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we understand it, the scheduling of the work was determined by when the State issued the grant money available.

$13,000 to educate 1 child for 1 year? Mary Seat of Wisdom and St. Paul do it for under $5,000. I think you may have found the root of Park Ridge’s fiscal problems.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t know about that MSW/SPC number, but we understand their per-student cost is several thousand dollars less than D-64s. And some of that is the result of many more highly-paid administrators and teachers.

On the other hand, MSW/SPC don’t have to provide the special ed. that D-64 does, and that’s not cheap.

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