City of Highland Park Notebook: Car lot and service center denied; Temporary memorial delayed; Affordable-housing fee may be amended
October was a busy month for the City of Highland Park Council. Here is an update on three ongoing topics:
• Per a September request, Highland Park council members received more information on a proposed car lot, just not the information they hoped for.
The City Council in October unanimously rejected a proposal for a 22,700-square-foot facility near the northwest corner of Route 41 and Park Avenue West.
Mark Muller, of Muller Subaru near the location, hoped to build a car storage lot and auto center on the long-vacant site formerly occupied by Sam and Sonia Greenberg Radiation Center. Neighbors, however, were quick to assail the proposal.
After the September meeting, Muller’s team returned Oct. 11 to respond to a list of inquiries from the council. The applicant, though, chose not to take action on many of the requests, including to obtain a traffic study, reduce lighting volume and height, and increase the height of a proposed berm.
While the council members lauded Muller and company for the time and effort in the multi-month public process, they were all in sync in their feelings that the project caused more harm than good in the neighborhood.
Council chambers were packed with residents from that neighborhood united in their opposition for the project. Many took turns at the microphone, arguing that the facility would be a safety and qualify-of-life concern.
Muller tried to plead his case, saying he believes his project is an improvement to the area.
“We want to beautify the neighborhood,” he said. ” … I’m almost offended by this. This is not a gamble. We make decisions to grow our business … but this is silly. It has gotten way too out of hand at this point.”
Council members voted for city staff to develop a resolution denying the special-use permit, which they placed on the Oct. 25 consent agenda and approved.
Muller and his team can still submit a site plan that is within city code and does not need a special use. Muller did not say if or when that may happen, but did tell the council that if he was to fill out a building permit he would include many of the council’s suggested recommendations.
• City officials last week postponed the opening of the temporary July 4 memorial at the rose garden near City Hall, 1707 St. Johns Ave. According to an email from the City, the production and delivery of materials are delayed, and thus, the first day of the memorial is pushed a week to Saturday, Nov. 11.
In the wake of the July 4 attack, the memorials grew at multiple locations along Central Avenue and were eventually consolidated on the west side of St. Johns and Central Avenues. In late September, the City Council decided to remove memorial and tribute items away from the intersection. City officials announced in mid October that a separate temporary memorial — in remembrance of the seven victims of July 4 — would be erected at the rose garden.
The memorial will consist of seven plaques, one dedicated to each victim — Katherine Goldstein, 64, of Highland Park; Irina McCarthy, 35, of Highland Park; Kevin McCarthy, 37, of Highland Park; Stephen Straus, 88, of Highland Park; Jacki Sundheim, 63, of Highland Park; Nicolas Toledo-Zaragoza, 78, of Morelos, Mexico; and Eduardo Uvaldo, 69, of Waukegan — and displayed in alphabetical order.
The memorial will be accessible from the sidewalk via an “all-season” walkway and will include seating.
Pieces from the original temporary memorials reportedly were reviewed by victims’ family members and cataloged by an archivist at the Highland Park Public Library. The art installation — the orange ribbons, tags and messages — that accompanied the memorial was separated and may appear at another location not affiliated with the City of Highland Park.
No event is scheduled for Nov. 11, officials said. The City plans to place flowers at St. Johns and Central avenues that morning if residents wish to transport the flowers from the old site to the new one, which is about 400 feet to the south.
• During a committee of the whole meeting on Oct. 24, a majority of City Council members signaled their support for an update in the city’s affordable-housing strategy.
The City of Highland Park has in place a “payment in lieu” model that requires developers to pay a fee if per unit if they do meet affordable-housing requirements in their projects. On a recommendation from city staff, the council is considering increasing that fee from $125,000 to $185,400, a 48 percent hike.
According to a City memo the proposed new total reflects “the average government subsidy” for a unit and is not based on the “entire cost of attaining an affordable unit.”
Through the city’s Scattered Site program, officials identify and purchase single-family residences across Highland Park and turn them into affordable housing. In the memo, staff estimated that, paired with government aid, the city spends $156,000 to acquire an appropriate single-family home and $185,000 to prepare it for occupancy.
Council members unanimously supported raising the payment in-lieu but not how much. Michelle Holleman was concerned if the fee rose too much too quickly it may sour the city’s relationships with certain developers. Annette Lidawer thought the increase was too much and she feared the council may have to revisit the number if the housing market changes — as did the 2013 council when it pushed the fee from $200,000 to its current position at $125,000.
But the remaining trustees were confident in the increase and its value to the City of Highland Park.
The payment in lieu mechanism was adopted in 2013 and set at $100,000. Council members doubled it to $200,000 in 2008 before bringing it back down in 2013.
The revenue from the fees fund affordable-housing investments, and Community Development Director Joel Fontane said past fees recently turned eight townhomes into affordable housing.
The City Council will officially vote on the measure at a future council meeting.
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319