by Emily Spectre • May 14, 2015
The empty lot at 611 Green Bay Road that has plagued Wilmette for nearly 10 years with failed deals will finally be developed now that the Village Board unanimously approved an amended contract with developer M & R Development, LLC at its meeting on May 12. Trustee Julie Wolf recused herself to avoid the appearance of impropriety, since her husband currently working on another project with M & R. Trustee Carol Ducommun was absent due to illness.
At the Village Board meeting on April 28, the Board made an unexpected announcement that it had reached a new deal with M & R that would modify the building’s height from six stories to five stories, with a reduced purchase price of $3.1 million from the original $4.1 million. The amended agreement was in response to the community’s concern about the building’s size and scale, while at the same time the Board sought to protect the village’s investment in the project.
While residents appeared generally pleased with the new deal at the previous meeting, during the public comment period on May 12 the mood was much more dismal. Advocates for affordable housing expressed their displeasure with the project, objecting to the fact that the developer did not set aside any units for affordable housing.
“I believe you made the decision in good faith. That’s why it saddens me that the exclusion of affordable units in the M & R development at 611 Green Bay Road is a decision that does not demonstrate an understanding of the necessary integration of material worth and human worth,” said Lorelei McClure, president of the affordable housing organization Wilmette Cares.
Affordable housing advocate Jennifer Peters said she felt “deceived” that the board agreed to a lower purchase price in what she described as at the “expense of tax payers” when advocates had been told there was not enough public funds for affordable housing.
Gail Schechter, executive director of the affordable housing organization Open Communities expressed disappointment that there was no affordable housing in the plan development. “It is subsidized housing that is really going to ones who can afford it,” she said.
But Village Board President Bob Bielinski immediately responded to the complaints made during the public comment. “We spent a significant amount of time making sure we covered every issue that had been raised either in public meeting or via email or at the Plan Commission meeting,” he said.
“The bottom line is there was a trade off here between the costs that would be recouped given the fair market value of the land for a five-story versus a six-story development,” President Bielinski said. “The board made the judgment that the community was better served by a five story building versus a six story which resulted in a lower purchase price.”
Bielinski also sought to clarify that the developer did not receive a subsidy. “The development is receiving no subsidy from the village of Wilmette. The developer is paying market price,” he added.
And the other members of the Board universally agreed with Bielinksi that affordable housing was inappropriate for this development. “This property is not appropriate for affordable housing as the crown jewel of Green Bay Road,” said Trustee Cameron Krueger.
Trustee Alan Swanson, who has been a member of the board since the site was first considered for development, said he viewed the project as a benefit to the larger community. “I think there is a very significant public benefit to getting this project off the ground,” he said. Trustee Swanson noted that the project was providing rental opportunities for empty-nesters, meeting a community need since such housing is not in abundance supply in Wilmette’s rental market.
Each of the trustees acknowledged that they supported affordable housing, but Trustee McKenna noted that the current conversation between the board and advocates could be improved. Noting that he would be more apt to listen to a proposal from a developer seeking to build affordable housing in Wilmette, rather than trying to force a developer to include affordable units.
And Trustee Sullivan noted this proposal seemed to be the best fit for Wilmette in contrast to previous proposals for the lot. “It is time. This is the one that feels right for us,” he said.