Mr. K’s Should Not Get A Special-K Deal


For years various developers reportedly have sought to acquire the Mr. K’s Garden and Material Center at 1440 Higgins for commercial development. And for years the owner apparently has said “no.” Or his asking price was too high to make development feasible.

But suddenly a developer wants to stick 34 townhouses on that 2.19-acre parcel and the owner sounds willing to say “yes” – even though the site is zoned “B-2 Commercial” and the City of Park Ridge’s “Higgins Road Corridor Plan” (the”Plan”) identifies that site as one of the City’s last prime office/commercial properties.

At least a couple of the members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) appear to be taking the site’s B-2 zoning and Plan status seriously. According to a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Developer shares plan for townhouses on site of Park Ridge landscaping business,” May 14), Commissioners John Bennett and Jim Argionis criticized the idea of multi-family residential on that site – with Bennett suggesting a low-rise hotel might be a worthwhile goal and Argionis saying that the space “screams commercial.”

Indeed it does.

And two of Park Ridge’s unofficial zoning and land-use mavens, Pat Livensparger and Missy Langan, warned of the effect of more multi-family residential on Park Ridge schools, a concern echoed by new 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening.

Back in our 09.12.13 post about the Trammel Crow development just east of Whole Foods, we pointed out how almost every multi-family residential project in Park Ridge is an overall money-loser for Park Ridge taxpayers IF they house children who will be attending our public schools. Just one public school student per residence eats up double or even triple that portion of the average RE tax bill paid to either Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 or Maine Twp. High School District 207.

Trammel Crow persuaded the City to permit that 116-unit rental project on the basis that it was designed for individuals and younger couples, not people with school-aged children. And if we recall correctly, Trammel Crow’s project was a “planned development” that did not require re-zoning, just some density relief which it obtained by offering not only to retain all of its own run-off water but, also, to double the size of the City’s adjacent water detention basin.

We have not heard whether the actual demographics of that project have matched the no-schoolkids sales pitch, although we would expect that somebody at D-64 or D-207 would have said something by now if they didn’t.

But for the past 20 years or so, residential development has been the lowest-hanging fruit in Park Ridge. In part, that’s because the risk to developers of residential is minimal and short-term – as opposed to the greater, more long-term risk of commercial development.

And the cash-strapped City has too often been lured by the Sirens’ song of more property tax revenue coming from residential developers, and also from the City’s real estate brokerage community that understands how there will be far more profit-making opportunities from 34 townhouses – that may flip owners every 5-10 years – than in 1 or 2 commercial/office structures that may flip every 10-20 years, if that.

In addition to the re-zoning needed for the Mr. K’s townhouses, the H-A reports that the project would require a 3-townhouse variance from the City’s density requirement, a height variance, and variances for front and rear yard setbacks. In other words, the developer wants to create a sardine-can subdivision and needs a lot of City help to pack the can.

The main reason for shoehorning that many townhouses onto that site? “The cost of the site is very high,” said the project’s architect, Guido Neri.

Bingo! Mr. K’s owners want to cash out at a top-shelf price, and the developers want to maximize their profits.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

But the City, a/k/a the taxpayers, don’t owe Mr. K’s owner(s) or any developer a zoning change, a basket of variances, or windfall profits – especially if it means losing one of the last significant commercial parcels in Park Ridge. That neighborhood has accommodated Mr. K’s for decades, and it can continue to do so while the owner decides whether a lower sales price might entice some commercial development instead of simply pandering to the low-hanging residential fruit pickers.

After all, a lower sales price usually beats no sale at all. And once that commercial site is lost to residential development, it’s gone for good.

Meanwhile, we have yet to hear a persuasive, or even rational, elevator-pitch for adding to Park Ridge’s population, especially if it includes more public school students and further exacerbates the already-onerous tax burdens from D-64 and D-207.

To read or post comments, click on title.

12 comments so far

Well said. Let’s put aside for a moment the sheer absurdity of this proposal from a “not even close to meeting the ordinance” plan. How about we look at the standards in the the ordinance (which is obviously just a suggestion and not the law) that “shall” be applied when considering a zoning change aka Map Amendment.Of the 12 a few stand out.

The relative gain to the public, as to the hardship upon the applicant.

The length of time the property in question has been vacant as presently zone, considered in the context of development in the area where the property is located.

The evidence or lack of evidence, of community need for the use proposed by the applicant.

The consistency of the proposed with the comprehensive plan.

The consistency of proposed amendment the intent and general regulations of this ordinance.

That the proposed amendment will benefit the residents of the city as a whole, and not just the applicant, property owners, neighbors of any property under consideration, or other special interest groups, and the extent to which the proposed use would be in the public interest and would not serve solely the interest of the applicant.

Whether adequate public facilities are available including but not limited to, schools parks, police, fire, roads, sewers, and water lines, or are reasonably capable of being provided prior to the development of uses, which would be permitted on the subject property if the amendment were adopted.

Those are just a few of my favorites and as far as I can see they don’t really meet the basic standards. Now all P&Z needs to do is actually apply them and deny the map amendment. Then the ridiculous plans are of no matter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: How much easier life would be if people looked at the Zoning Code as more than a bunch of suggestions.

Which gets back to our point about not hearing even an elevator pitch for why this is a good idea for anybody but the developer and the owner of Mr. K’s.

The Chamber of Commerce always complains about not enough retail, not enough commercial. Why aren’t we hearing from the Chamber about this?

The City should not even be considering residential for Mr. Ks. If we do that, we are shooting ourselves in the foot economically.

More residents mean more customers for our local retail. That’s a good thing, not a bad one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s assume each of those 34 townhouses has one kid in D-64 schools and that each townhouse will pay $5,000 in RE taxes to D-64 each year. That’s a $10,000 deficit that the rest of the taxpayers need to pick up.

For that same household to cover that $10,000 deficit through City sales taxes, its members would have to buy $100,000 worth of retail goods in Park Ridge each year. And even then, that sales tax revenue would go to the City, not to D-64.

No bueno.

Why can’t the Park District buy it and build an indoor recreation center with soccer/baseball/lacrosse field, golf dome, etc.? My kids would love something like that during the winter months.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Using what for money?

How about paddle tennis courts??? We were promised those.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You fell for that?

Not sure if the paper picked up the tid-pit mentioned at the P&Z meeting by Pat L but thought it would be worth a mention here, just in the past 2 years over 300 new multi family units have been approved. Some are completed some not even under construction yet. Which sparked the comment that we haven even begun to realize the impact they may have on the community, in particular the schools, parks, and City Services. I wonder if the developer is aware that another multi family condo building is going in right accross the street by the Marriott. Seems to me the mr k site would be a sweet spot for business then Park Ridge could draw revenue from Chicago residents and hotel guests.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Agreed as to the Chicago-side-of-Higgins benefits to the right business(es) on the Mr. K site. However, business people – not gov’t bureaucrats or elected officials – determine what is/could be “a sweet spot for business” with their (and their investors’) money. And apparently they haven’t done that with Mr. K’s.

But remember: Had the proposed Norwood Builders 168-unit condo project gone up on the Touhy-Washington site back in 2008, that site never would have been available for Whole Foods. And while the “Howard Frimark and His Alderpuppets” Council approved that condo project, the Recession delayed it long enough for Whole Foods to show an interest.

Chalk one up for the Recession.

Concerning the tax rates in the reply to 6:13AM:

Most of the sales tax that we pay is for the state and county. Park Ridge sales tax is 1%. See here:

I’m not sure where the Special tax goes. Assuming that it doesn’t go to the city, the $100,000 of retail goods purchased results in incremental revenue to the city of only $1000. And it still doesn’t go to the schools.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for the correction – we got carried away with the staggering deficit. We also are correcting the error.

Maybe the mayoral challenger who “cared so much” about making sure park ridge leverages its commercial spaces for the betterment of the city will help keep this property commercial. Funny how he told us he cared so much but now has disappeared into the mist.

You make a great point about the “elevator pitch” for more residents. What is in it for the taxpayers and every special interest?

The City Council needs to figure out whether Park Ridge needs more multi-family residential.

Anon 659am – You are so right. A multi-use, indoor facility would be great. Park Ridge is extremely short on indoor faciliites….and parents drive all over for them. Great spot right off the expressway as well.

Maybe the Park District can get this facility right after completely wasting Prospect Park.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Having used its non-referendum borrowing power on the Centennial Water Park we don’t believe the Park District can float such a product without a referendum. And the last time it went to referendum on an indoor facility – over a decade ago – it lost, badly.

I am not sure that I am looking at this correctly so bear with me. Isn’t obtaining property tax revenue on new residential construction better then no property tax revenue?

I could be wrong, but doesn’t increasing the number of students actually decrease the cost per kid in the district?

Here is my example: if the new residential properties ends up with 20 kids going to D64, does D64 increase the budget / expenditure by $400,000 for the year (ie. $20,000 per kid)? Or, does the 20 kids get absorbed into the district and perhaps the cost for absorbing those 20 kids is an incremental increase of $100,000; therefore the total costs for the whole district would go down on a per student basis?!?

EDITOR’S NOTE: For over a decade D-64 and D-207 have continually raised their taxation – and their cost-per-pupil – for a what by all objective measures is declining student performance. So basic math may not apply to public education, at least not in Park Ridge.

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