‘It’s just too many units’: Zoning board opposes another plan to redevelop 1300 block of Wilmette Avenue
Proposal heads to Village trustees with negative recommendation
Perseverance can be charming, but when it relates to development of a stretch of land along Wilmette Avenue, Village of Wilmette zoning commissioners still aren’t charmed.
During its Wednesday, May 3 meeting, Wilmette’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted to recommend denial of a proposal to build a 14-unit townhome development in the 1300 block of Wilmette Avenue. The commission’s negative recommendation came via a 6-1 vote, with board chairman Reinhard Schneider casting the lone mark in support.
Project plans called for the development to stretch across three separate parcels,1306-1318 Wilmette Ave., which were proposed to be consolidated into one lot. The lots at 1306 and 1310 Wilmette Ave. currently feature homes while the lot at 1314-1318 Wilmette Ave. is vacant, according to village records.
The developer’s proposal includes demolishing the two dwellings to make way for three new structures, per village records detailing the proposal. Two of the structures would be perpendicular to Wilmette Avenue and each include four units, while the third would be located toward the back of the consolidated lot, face Wilmette Avenue and include six units.
It is the fourth time since 2006 that plans to redevelop a portion of the 1300 block of Wilmette Avenue and build townhomes have appeared in front of the zoning board, village records show.
Despite negative recommendations from the zoning commissioners for two of the previous projects, Wilmette’s Village Board, in both 2006 and 2015, granted special-use permits for townhome developments at 1314-1318 Wilmette Ave. Neither came to fruition.
The latest attempt to reimagine the properties just west of downtown Wilmette came from the Gambacorta family, a local applicant with longstanding ties to the village. Sam Gambacorta, speaking on behalf of the formal partnership group behind the proposal, told the zoning board that his family has lived in Wilmette for more than 90 years.
The family reportedly acquired the three parcels on Wilmette Avenue over the course of 60-plus years, starting with a purchase of the lot at 1310 Wilmette Ave. in 1960. The Gambacortas purchased 1314 and 1318 Wilmette Ave. in 2015 and followed that up in 2017 by acquiring 1306 Wilmette Ave.
“Our vision for this development is to provide a quality product for the neighborhood and for the entire Village that will serve the needs of new young families looking to get started in Wilmette and also to serve those who have been in the community for several years looking to downsize but have a desire to stay in Wilmette without the the burden of maintaining a single-family home,” Gambacorta said in a letter addressed to the board.
Members of the development team argued during the meeting that the project is consistent with Wilmette’s comprehensive plan while also stating that it adds beneficial residential density near the village’s downtown.
Attorney Dan Shapiro told the board that the site was in part selected because it allows for “continuous townhouses starting from the existing townhome development at Park and Wilmette avenues,” noting that the project team does not consider it a mid-block development because of this.
“This project, in the way that it’s been designed and the properties that it would consume, becomes an actual continuous transitional area between the (Village Center) zoning district east of Park Avenue and single-family detached housing to the west of the proposed site,” Shapiro said.
While the project’s density was a source of significant concern from the board, officials also expressed additional hesitations with the development, including proximity to neighboring properties, street frontage design, the need for multiple zoning variations, increased traffic impact, snow removal and more.
“I’m a proponent of putting townhouses there,” board member Bob Surman said. “I think it’s worth it, but I think the thing is, just like in the past, there’s just too many.”
Board members Christine Norrick and Didier Glattard both shared thoughts on the project’s design not being consistent with the existing streetscape.
“We’d love to see something that is consistent with the rest of the streetscape and this is not that,” Norrick said. “It’s very dense. … It’s just too many units for this property.”
Ryrie Pellaton adamantly highlighted his hesitations that the development will only heighten traffic problems in the immediate area, specifically along Wilmette Avenue during drop-off and pick-up at nearby McKenzie Elementary School.
“There’s just too much (here),” Peloton said. “And if there’s already a traffic problem, which there is, then adding a little bit more to the existing traffic problem, is not a good idea.”
Schneider stated that he had a “difficult time with the proposal because maybe there are too many units,” but his support was rooted in the proposal’s consistency with the master plan of the village, he said.
“It is appropriately designed … and it is a component of the kind of housing that we’re all asking for,” he said. “We want a range of housing types in this village to accommodate a diverse group of citizens. … Of all the alternatives, this is probably the best solution.”
Fifteen members of the public addressed the board at the meeting, with the majority detailing opposition to the project.
James Schmidt, a resident of the 1300 block of Wilmette Avenue, said he “strongly hopes” the proposal is voted down.
“I think that what they’re building there is the elephant in the neighborhood. It is not to the character of the neighborhood,” he said.
Margaret Smith, a 37-year resident of Wilmette whose home is just west of the proposed development, said she was “very discouraged by the proposal,” adding that she would likely move if plans were approved.
“People who live (in this neighborhood) are almost unanimously against this,” she said. “I think we could do much better. I think we could get a better proposal.”
Comments were not all in opposition, however, as several residents applauded the project’s design and shared beliefs that it could address a specific housing need in the village.
Shelley Shelly, a 25-year resident of Wilmette, former park district commissioner and local real estate agent, said she supported the project because “there is definitely a need in our community.”
“I think that right now I could probably think of 20 clients that I’m trying to help find either a place to downsize or young professionals to come into the neighborhood,” she said. “And there just isn’t the opportunity, so we’re going into (neighboring towns.)
“I know that change is hard, and I do understand that but I think in the long run this is the way these small communities are going and we are a community and we need to welcome people into the community.”
The proposal, along with the zoning board’s negative recommendation, will now head to Wilmette’s Village Board for final consideration. Trustees are slated to review the development during their Tuesday, May 23 meeting, officials said.
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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.