Heated debates arise over zoning proposal

Northfield residents contest proposal for building of townhouses

Claudia Levens

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Controversy over a recent multi-family residential development proposal for 1725 Winnetka Ave. came to a head on Nov. 6 as members of the Northfield community debated whether this was the best decision for area at a meeting of the Plan & Zoning Commission meeting.

From 1959 until 2016, Illinois Bell/ATT used the single-story building, parking lot, and storage shed to store and service the phone company’s local service fleet, equipment, and materials.

Edward R. James Partners, LLC, a local privately owned company that develops, invests, and builds homes —acquired the property in Jan. 2016. By July 14 they had proposed a zoning map outlining plans to develop a residential community of 34 townhouses on the property.

“He’s a quality builder who knows what he’s doing,” said local Real Estate Broker Joan Conlisk. She also noted that he has managed similar projects in the area that have been successful.

Despite this, the proposal was met with instant opposition. Dissenters created a petition that garnered over 130 supporters, a Facebook, and a website urging the community to take action against the development plans with the slogan “Too dense, too tall, too much.”

They urged supporters to sign the petition, contact village officials and trustees, and attend the Northfield Plan and Zoning Commission meeting that took place on Nov. 6th at 7:00 p.m. at Northfield Village Hall.

Also on Sept. 11, the petitioners gave a presentation to the community, and answered questions from the commission.

The Nov. 6 meeting consisted primarily of speeches given by the community in response to the original presentation from the Sept. meeting, but also comments on a recent addendum the petitioners had made.

The changes to the initial application were released Oct. 31, and included a decrease in unit count from 34-32, an increase in guest parking spaces from 12-16, a greater road width, additional space for snow plowing, and an additional sidewalk.

While this addendum addressed many of the resident’s concerns about the high density and height, the changes were too slight to entirely address their qualms and change their views on the plan.

In fact, the addendum proved to be a subject of considerable concern for both the commissioners and attendees at the Nov. 6 town meeting some of whom did not believe the development should receive a zoning. Even some who did not see a problem with the rezoning said they needed more time to fully process and compare the changes, and were frustrated with the quickness of the recent changes.

Steve Gutierrez, who represented the petitioners, expressed frustration with the stubbornness of the residents who seemed unwilling to hear the new plan that the company had spent valuable time and money creating.

“In my years of experience doing this job, I’ve never experienced procedural issues like this before. We simply wanted to take into consideration what the residents had put forth,” said Gutierrez to the commission at the meeting.

Attendees spent the first hour of the meeting fiercely debating what the course of action for the meeting should be —vote on a plan not knowing the minor changes made, listen to a representative from the company explain the new developments, or open the floor completely to the public for speeches.

The committee decided on hearing a brief summary of the changes and then hearing speeches from the residents.

Of the approximate 60-70 people who attended the meeting, the majority appeared to be opposed to the development.

A pivotal issue brought up by the opposition was that whether it be 34 or 32 units, this is simply too much. Residents worry that since the site is just down the street from New Trier’s Northfield campus, the already difficult traffic situation would be significantly worsened. They also worry that this could potentially prove to be a safety risk, putting student lives in danger.

The Avoca school district superintendent also noted that the possible increase in families and children would require that subsequent compensation be provided for the school district to accommodate them.

Opponents also claim that the housing plan goes against the character, culture, and values of a small village such as Northfield —“the comfortable corner of the North Shore” according to the town’s motto.

Additionally, opponents are skeptical of the unsteady nature of rental units such as those proposed for the site.

Town houses tend to be steadier in terms of the ebb and flow of people, though the fact that the units are rental is unappealing to many in the area.

A future vote will determine whether or not the application is passed on to the architectural committee for an additional vote, after which it would head to the Northfield Village Board.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, a similar vote took place in Northbrook recently which resulted in the rejection of a dense development plan, and follows a trend that seems to be occurring among suburban residents pushing back against perceived threats to their small town character.

Regardless of the results of the vote, the importance of the situation did not go unnoticed by the attendees at the town meeting. This vote will set a precedent for similar proposals being made at other sites in both Northfield and throughout the North Shore.

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