Highland Park, News

Council loosens regulations in hopes of attracting tenants to Ravinia Crossing

Highland Park’s Happy Sushi is rolling to a new location a few doors down Roger Williams Avenue to fill one of the multiple vacancies on the ground level of the Ravinia Crossing building, and a series of approvals from Highland Park’s City Council could soon help another business join the local restaurant. 

City councilmembers approved two items during their March 11 meeting related to the four-story mixed-used building at 555 Roger Williams Ave. in the city’s Ravinia District. The property’s ownership hopes the green-lighted measures will “untie their hands” as they attempt to fill the remaining vacancies.

In materials submitted to the city, representatives for applicant Klairmont Investments say they’ve struggled to lease the open space, which was originally slated for retail use when the project was first introduced to Highland Park officials nearly a decade ago. 

Ravinia Crossing, first approved in 2015 and located directly across from the Ravinia Metra station, broke ground in 2019. The project included 30 residential units as well as approximately 4,800 square feet of commercial space. 

Uncommon Fitness, a personal training studio, is currently the only business occupying the ground floor. 

The property’s ownership has received interest from potential occupants since the project was completed in 2020 but has faced challenges due to what is describes as “onerous parking requirements” in the city’s zoning code that are associated with the property, according to city documents. 

Highland Park’s code sets more substantial parking requirements for uses that fall under the food and beverage category. Those requirements apply only to new construction, meaning that the restaurants that currently operate in the immediate neighborhood are not required to comply with those standards. 

Representatives of the property ownership group argued they faced an uphill climb and a “competitive imbalance” marketing the spaces to potential tenants because of these requirements. 

“By modifying the existing (agreement), the City would allow additional uses that are in demand but under the current code cannot comply with the parking requirements,” representatives of the building’s ownership said in their proposal to the city. 

“Making it easier for such uses in the Ravinia Commercial District would result in various economic and public benefits within the City of Highland Park, thereby promoting vibrancy within the Ravina Commercial so that people can work, shop, dine and entertain within the district.” 

The relief sought by the applicant hoped to modify the existing development agreement between it and the city to authorize that the 21 already-in-place parking spaces dedicated for the commercial use related to the building are acceptable for any potential future permitted use, including a possible restaurant.

“We’re trying to be at a level playing field with our competitors, which is our neighbors because they don’t have to do what we’re doing,” said Cal Bernstein, the applicant’s attorney. “They don’t have to keep coming to council and (asking) for relief.” 

Bernstein said that since the application was first filed earlier this year, ownership had entered into an agreement with Happy Sushi to lease the corner space that is at the east portion of the property. 

Earlier in the meeting, Bernstein called the applicant’s request for relief a preemptive maneuver. Although property ownership does not have a tenant locked in to join Happy Sushi, Bernstein noted that receiving approval from the council will allow ownership to negotiate without having to return in front of the board again with a separate request.

Going through the potential months-long process again, should the interested business not meet the parking requirement, could risk losing the prospective tenant, Bernstein added. 

“We’re asking the council to be business friendly, and to be free-thinking,” he said.  

Support among the City Council was robust as it reached a consensus early in its discussion. 

“I drive by the building pretty much every day … and it makes me depressed as a resident to see that corner empty for four years,” Councilmember Andrés Tapia said. “And so while there is all this zoning stuff, which we want to be respectful of and there’s a reason for it, some things just don’t fit the situation. And if we keep dragging this situation out, we run the risk of that corner remaining empty for even longer.”

Although Highland Park councilmembers approved the request via a unanimous vote, there was some hesitation in their decision based on two factors: the public benefit provided by the applicant and a potential requirement regarding requiring the purchase of parking passes for employees in a nearby lot. 

The council ultimately settled on the applicant providing a $10,000 public benefit that will help fund the Ravinia TIF District Streetscape Improvement Plan within the Ravinia Commercial District. Board members opted to not move forward with the parking-permit requirement for employees.

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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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