It’s rare to hear the words of quippy baseball legend Yogi Berra in Winnetka council chambers, but when it works, it works. And attorney Calvin Bernstein couldn’t help but share one of Berra’s signature lines with trustees Tuesday evening.
“It’s deja vu all over again,” Bernstein said as he walked trustees through updated plans to redevelop the land at 564 Green Bay Road — a project Winnetka officials greenlighted last summer that allows for the construction of a three-story mixed-use building at the former site of the French Institute of the North Shore.
But it was not all deja vu, as project planners returned with a significant change: the inclusion of a fourth story to allow for additional residential living space. The new height will match the neighboring building directly to the south at 560 Green Bay Road, according to project renderings.
Winnetka trustees ultimately showed support for the updated proposal during their Tuesday, May 16 meeting, voting 5-1 to introduce an ordinance granting a special-use permit and several variations for the new mixed-use building.
Trustee Bob Dearborn, who along with other board members shared concerns about the limited parking scope of the project, was the dissenting vote.
Updated plans include the four-story building with one commercial unit — which reportedly will be real estate firm Engel and Völkers — occupying the ground floor and lower level, officials said. The company plans to relocate from the second-floor office space in the nearby Laundry Mall building on Chestnut Street.
The development includes three single-level, two-bedroom units of approximately 1,700 square feet, David Schoon, Winnetka’s community development director, told trustees at the meeting. The new building will have two enclosed parking spaces for the residential units at the rear of the building, he added, and the units will rent for an anticipated monthly rate between $4,200-4,800.
Plans submitted and approved in 2022 were similar to the current proposal but instead included only two residential apartment units and featured a rooftop deck.
Representatives from the development team told trustees that the addition of a third unit was largely driven by market changes since their original approval, including a sharp uptick in interest rates. But representatives maintained belief that the project brings value to the village.
“As proposed, this is the only way this property can be redeveloped consistent with the master plan,” Bernstein said. “The alternatives that we considered would be more intense because you can actually reactivate the commercial space with more intense uses than what is being proposed right now and that use does not require any additional parking.
“We’re trying to create a product that is unique for Winnetka, for young professionals, for empty-nesters and we believe that this could be a template for maybe future buildings, but this is a good place to start on a small building like this.”
While trustees all signaled support for the new use, the project’s limited parking dominated their discussion, and the council considered granting approval with a condition to require the building’s ownership to lease three spaces in one of the village’s nearby municipal parking lots.
Winnetka zoning code requires a minimum of 1.5 parking spaces per two-bedroom unit, meaning this development would need five parking spaces to be compliant. With plans for just two spaces, the proposal was seeking a zoning ordinance variation.
Several trustees showed interest in moving forward with the parking purchase condition but the board ultimately determined to not include the provision, noting that future tenants will still have an option to purchase a permit from the village if it’s needed.
Trustees’ opinions began to shift as the group discussed that adding the parking condition could have unintended future consequences and may lead to future developments requesting to lease a larger number of spaces from the village. But the council came to the conclusion that it was ready for the project, which several council members called an experiment.
“I’m in favor of this project. I also don’t mind putting something else on it,” Trustee Bridget Orsic said. “This is a very unique property. … It’s very small and you can’t dig down. It’s not like these bigger developments that all meet the 1.5 criteria. If it’s going to be developed and improved and beautified and not sit vacant, it’s probably going to need some kind of allowance.
“It’s a nice, tight little experiment to see if this kind of housing can work in our village,” Orsic later added.
Dearborn remained firm in his opposition because of concerns with the parking and the already elevated need for spaces in the area.
“There is currently, whether we want to admit it or not, a parking issue in this town and it comes up all the time,” Dearborn said, also noting that modifying existing standards to accommodate changes in economics is a “slippery slope.”
After the board’s support, Village President Chris Rintz shared a subtle warning with the development team.
“I hope you guys understand what we’re worried about,” he said. “You’re going to have to be able to navigate this for your customers and tenants and get them over to Village Hall buying parking passes when the time comes. Because the second we hear a complaint from a merchant, and this is a hot-button (topic) for our merchants in town, that a resident of that building is using up valuable shopping parking spaces, they’re getting yanked. We have to pick a hard line on that because we all hear from the merchants (about parking).”
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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.