The first legislative step in turning over 611 Green Bay Road to Itasca-based M&R Development is on the books, now that Wilmette village trustees have approved the contract between M&R and Wilmette.
If all goes as both parties hope, plans for the project, a six-story, planned unit development with 94-98 luxury apartments and 7,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, will get all municipal approvals by the end of June next year and construction can start with a 2016 opening target.
Development representative Anthony Russo Jr. was in the audience Sept. 23 when Wilmette trustees approved the contract. He told board members interested in what type of retail he would bring to Wilmette that a restaurant could conceivably eventually open there.
Even before the contract was signed, M&R has been onsite, beginning its 90-day, due diligence period as early as possible, Village Manager Tim Frenzer said. Six to nine months of public hearings will now follow, first at the appearance review and zoning board of appeals level and then back at the board level.
Frenzer emphasized the need Wilmette’s recent boom in downtown business has for more downtown residents to keep it booming: “The sale of 611 Green Bay is the first step in that part of the process.”
During his presentation, Frenzer reviewed 611 Green Bay’s bumpy history, from the 2005 closure of the old Wil-Shore Ford dealership there, to the village’s 2011 acquisition of it, after one failed development plan led to a lawsuit against the village and, ultimately, the purchase agreement.
He mentioned Wilmette’s first, unsuccessful, attempt to sell 611 Green Bay – to Lexington Homes LLC in 2012 – only by stating that the current deal with M&R would succeed where the Lexington agreement failed, because M&R is satisfied to develop on that property.
Lexington officials stalled repeatedly while they unsuccessfully tried to buy up more adjacent properties, until an exasperated board refused to give them any more contract extensions, and they let the deal lapse this past February.
During his presentation of the contract, Frenzer noted the $4.1 sales price that more than effectively recoups Wilmette’s own $3.67 million purchase of the property back in 2011.
Frenzer highlighted M&R’s $80,000 donation to the village’s housing support program, which he said was a larger net amount than the company paid to Evanston for its recent project there, he said.
He also said the project would fill what he said was Wilmette’s real housing shortage – luxury rentals.
“Most all of the rental properties in the village are all to the lower-moderate” end of the scale Frenzer said, before promising that M&R’s partments “will be the one and only higher-end rental property in the area from Wilmette to Highland Park along Green Bay Road.”
His comments were indirectly disputed minutes later by Gail Schechter, one of several housing advocates who who turned out to continue their lobbying campaign for M&R to actually add affordable units to its plan.
Quoting census and other housing studies, Schechter said Wilmette’s rental stock has declined from 16 to 12 percent of the village’s total, or about 225 units, in 10 years.
The percentage of rental units considered affordable, defined as units that could be rented by people making 60 percent of the median area income, has dropped from 5.5 percent in 2004, to just over 4 percent now, she said.
However Schechter and other speakers, including Wilmette residents Spencer Cowan and Ellen McManus, uniformly thanked Russo for providing the $80,000. Schechter also urged the company to consider looking for tax credit discounts available from the state for providing some type of affordable housing.
Trustee Cameron Krueger, who helped lead the village board’s decision to end its own municipal affordable housing program in favor of one funded completely by charitable donations also thanked M&R, saying the donation was “unnecessary but welcome and appropriate.”
It should, he said pointedly, provide a jumpstart to the private fundraising effort, allowing people “to vote with their pocketbooks” to support affordable housing.