Wilmette, News

Wilmette commission expresses concerns about Optima’s latest plans for Green Bay Road development

A well-known development team that’s already made its mark on downtown Wilmette is swinging big with plans for another residential project but is along a signature stretch of Green Bay Road in the heart of the village. 

Optima’s latest pitch is to construct a seven-story mixed use building at the former Imperial Motors site on Green Bay, and the project took its first step in the public review process on Tuesday, April 30, for a preliminary assessment from Wilmette’s Appearance Review Commission. 

The firm’s newly proposed project is directly north of Optima’s existing six-story, 100-unit Verdana complex at 1210 Central Ave. that was approved by village officials in February of 2020 and subsequently completed in 2023. 

According to information included in a village memo, Optima’s initial plans for the site were “nearly an exact replica of the Verdana building.” But this year, the project’s design evolved based on public feedback, and village officials received the newest plans in April.

As previously reported by The Record, Optima twice requested and was granted a delay in the Village of Wilmette’s public review of the plans. A representative of the company said the delay in proceedings would allow the development team to respond to the feedback it had received from both community members and Wilmette officials.

The project was originally slated for consideration from the Appearance Review Commission in early January “to make significant changes to the design,” according to project materials submitted by Optima. 

Changes to the project featured in the latest iteration include a decrease to the percentage of glass and window wall system, a new exterior design that now includes the use of terracotta as a building material, the addition of an added break in the facade along Green Bay Road north of the proposed gap between the buildings, and changes to the color of the glass to reduce the amount of transparency. 

A notable alteration is also a proposed decrease in the project’s density. Original plans called for 150 residential units while the project pitched on April 30 now features 128 units. Representatives from Optima say the change in density will also lessen the traffic impact. 

Another key update is the project’s bird strike prevention plan. Optima officials say that reducing the glass to 38 percent on the exterior elevations makes the design more bird-friendly. 

The change comes in the wake of criticism from Wilmette volunteers who tracked bird collisions at Optima Verdana in October 2023, according to reporting from The Record.

The company says the project, coined Optima Lumina, has undergone five revisions since September of last year. 

Optima Lumina will include one-, two- and three-bedroom condominium residences and 5,718 square feet of commercial and retail space, according to project plans submitted to the village. 

Optima is including nearly 9,000 square feet of proposed open space that will feature a plaza with public art and landscaping and a portion dedicated to private outdoor dining for retail and commercial along Green Bay Road, the company says. 

The depth of the public plaza has increased significantly from original plans, Optima’s proposal notes. The first version included 2,277 square feet while the latest update plans for slightly over 6,000 square feet. 

“We do believe that our current design for Optima Lumina responds to feedback, connects with the character of the existing buildings within the village center and is consistent with the village center master plan,” said David Hovey Jr., Optima’s president and chief operating officer, during the meeting. 

Wilmette trustees first directed Optima’s pitch to the Appearance Review Commission with the goal of obtaining feedback from the group “as to whether and how the proposed Optima Lumina design works within the overall context of downtown Wilmette and Green Bay Road as a gateway into Wilmette,” according to village documents. 

Trustees also tasked the commission with discussing how the development, in its entirety, could impact the streetscape, scale and character of the surrounding downtown area. 

Because the commission’s deliberations were a nonbinding review, no formal approval from the board was necessary for Optima’s plans to move forward. But commissioners did each have the opportunity to share initial feedback with the development team, and while several showcased positivity toward some aspects of the proposal, the majority of the board also highlighted multiple concerns. 

Commissioner Jonathan Zee, who was the first to share his thoughts, noted that “there are a lot of good moves happening,” but he said that his feelings on the project come down to aesthetics. 

He said that the design has caused the most consternation in the community and the proposal “felt a little bit lazy in terms of design-thinking.” 

“It is borrowing a lot of the kit-of-parts that you bring to the table,” Zee said, later adding that “there is a lot of replication happening that doesn’t necessarily feel like it is responding to the context in very real terms.” 

Board chair Devan Castellano later shared similar remarks, saying that the aesthetic and materials seem “branded.” 

Castellano also expressed hesitation toward the proposed plaza, suggesting that the development team should add either a retail or restaurant use to activate the space. And she urged the team to consider the pedestrian experience as well. 

Several commissioners mentioned that pairing another similar-looking structure directly adjacent to the Verdana building would create the feeling of a “mega block.” 

Commissioners Douglas Johnson and Richard Brill were perhaps the most strong-willed while detailing their opposition. 

“It’s one block of essentially the same mass of a significant building,” Johnson said, while adding that he would “very strongly suggest there be a completely different design” as opposed to just modifications. 

Brill said that adding a seven-story structure to an area where the current code only calls for four stories would be “a dramatic increase.” 

“Definitely, it would stand out and be a massive monument compared to everything else,” Brill said. “When you combine it with Verdana next to it, it is a wall … that just doesn’t fit Wilmette (and) doesn’t look like anything else in Wilmette.” 

Commissioner Nada Andric expressed strong overall support for the project elements, saying she has a “very positive reaction” to the proposal. She added that she believed Optima did a “competent job” responding to the concerns of the community. 

Just over two dozen residents attended the meeting, and eight addressed the board during the public-comment portion — the majority of whom stated a lack of support for the project. 

“I fear that a second, massive, modern, glass building will change the look and feel of Wilmette forever,” Wilmette resident Julie Nelson said. “It will change Wilmette from a charming, quaint village to a modern office building.” 

Resident Barbara Bischoff shared different thoughts, saying that she appreciated the changes Optima has made along the way. 

“They have set a new standard for communication with neighbors,” she said, later applauding the proposal for lessening its bulk, adding open space and addressing the bird strike issue. 

Optima plans will next head to Wilmette’s housing commission for a meeting tentatively scheduled for May 9. After that, a review from the village’s plan commission is on deck. That meeting could take place in early June, according to the company’s proposal.

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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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