Winnetka, News

Developer goes ‘way beyond the call of duty’ to amend Winnetka housing proposal and gets go-ahead from plan commission

A developer is taking another swing at a residential housing project on Green Bay Road in Winnetka months after receiving a negative recommendation from the village’s Planned Development Commission. 

An amended, scaled-down proposal to construct a five-unit multifamily residential building at 688-694 Green Bay Road returned to the commission Wednesday, Feb. 3 — this time earning a favorable result from officials. 

Commissioners unanimously OK’d plans for the development commonly known as the Walden Project, reversing their near-united opposition to the original application in mid-October 2020. 

The fate of the development now lies with Winnetka’s Village Council. An exact date when the council will hear the application is not clear as of publication time. 

The subject property of the development is approximately 15,000 square feet in size and is located on the west side of Green Bay Road between Pine Street and Westmoor Road, according to village documents. A vacant single-family residence is located at 688 Green Bay Road while 694 Green Bay Road is vacant. 

This rendering of the initial application first reviewed in 2020 shows an aerial view of the project’s location.

Officials signaled support for the project, submitted by Walden Winnetka, because of the “significant improvements” and “creative solutions” to previously identified issues.

Commission Chair Matthew Bradley stated he was “fairly vocally against” the project as presented in October because it “seemed like an overask.” He reaffirmed the commission’s October denial while saying it led to a “more scaled-back application” that proves reductions are possible. 

“Creativity was able to come together and present something that mitigates the issues,” he said. “We didn’t simply let it go such that we could have this dead-zone site developed on and I stand by that today.”

When plans were first proposed, commissioners opposed the building’s size and mass and the significance of the impermeable lot coverage. 

Several changes to the project are included in the new plans.

Community Development Director David Schoon presented alterations during the Feb. 3 meeting, highlighting what commissioners called a “remarkable” job of addressing concerns. 

While the building’s footprint remains the same, it is now moved to the south and rotated 180 degrees, according to project plans. Pedestrian access to the structure is now proposed along the north side and access for vehicles is provided via one driveway that is planned to run directly to the included lower-level garage at the front of the building on Green Bay Road, documents show. 

Additionally, the building is now proposed as a three-story structure, rather than the original plans for four stories. The west side of the building that faces residential homes on Walden Road is now proposed as two stories, officials said.

The amended plans reduced the units from six to five, all of which are slated to be between 2,200-2,400 square-feet and have 10-foot high ceilings.  

The rendering on the left shows the new proposed design, while the right shows the original design.

A decrease in the number of parking spaces and changed locations for an outdoor roof deck, garden and storage spaces are also included in the new application.

Concerns surrounding the project’s stormwater management and landscaping are also addressed in plans.

“I was rather critical of the plan the first time that we saw it … but I actually think (the developer) has done a remarkable job addressing many and most of the concerns that I had with the plan,” Commissioner John Golan said.

The development has meant strong opposition from nearby residents throughout its proceedings. 

More than a dozen residents either submitted public comments prior to the meeting or spoke at the meeting opposing the project. A petition opposing the development signed by 40 households was also submitted. 

Neighbor concerns include the building’s size, potential stormwater impact on nearby properties, the impact of construction, noise and light, and a perceived property value impact.

In a public comment submitted to the village, Max and Liz Winemiller, residents of Walden Road, argued the new plan “was almost more detrimental than the first,” and that it would “change the charm of the area for those already living there.”

One resident, Brandy Siavelis, spoke in favor of the project at the Feb. 3 meeting, stating a belief that Winnetka needs housing projects like this and that the developer went “above and beyond” to address concerns. 

Rick Swanson, president of the development group behind the project, said his team has gone “way beyond the call of duty.” He added that he believes drainage concerns are addressed in the new plan and that privacy concerns were taken into consideration. 

“I think that we’ve put a pretty good foot forward and I think we have something that is meaningful for the community and I’m prepared to move forward or not,” he said. 

Included in the approved application as part of the “public benefit” of the project is $18,000 to install an electric car charging station in the business district, officials said.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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