By Irv Leavitt, Pioneer Press
Life Time Fitness project in Northbrook draws affordable housing, fairness concerns.
Northbrook would give Life Time Fitness property tax break.
A planned Northbrook commercial-residential development, to be anchored by a luxurious Life Time Fitness, has drawn concerns from two widely differing arenas, with one village leader saying a property tax break for developers may interfere with other, established businesses and housing activists requesting that at least some of the residences be affordable.
The project, on the same 18-acre Skokie Boulevard property once sought for a Walmart superstore, would be anchored by a 93,000 square-foot Life Time Fitness “diamond level” facility with indoor and outdoor pools and cafes. Planners have said the gym would be more upscale than Life Time Fitness locations to the north in Vernon Hills north and to the south in Skokie.
The project also would include a 43,000 square-foot facility for children that officials have said would have a capacity similar to some grammar schools. Inside would be a day care, preschool and extended-day services, according to the plans. The building would have two dance rooms and a bowling alley, a TV studio and “commercial kitchen” classroom, as well as a 40,000 square-foot playground, planners have said.
The project’s third component is a four-story building with 338 “luxury apartments” and 575 indoor parking spaces. Houston’s Finger Companies plans amenities including a fitness center, swimming pool, business center, fire pits and a library.
But Northbrook Trustee James Karagianis, who heads the village’s building and zoning committee, said that at least to some extent, the project would be partly subsidized by taxpayers.
In 2006, Northbrook passed a tax break for the land officials said was intended to make the taxes on the commercial property more competitive with tax rates in Lake County.
Karagianis said at the time that he hoped for new office buildings and retail, because of the tax revenue those uses bring. So did then-trustee and now-Mayor Sandy Frum, who said she most wanted a car dealership.
But while officials predicted Walmart would have brought the village about $1 million a year in tax revenue, the current proposed uses – many of which do not generate sales tax – would bring in about $12,000, according to the developer’s financial impact study.
That Laube Companies study also notes that for 10 years, the tax break would reduce the property taxes paid on the non-residential portion of the properties to 40 percent of what they would be without it.
“It troubles me that almost none of it is retail, and the tax situation subsidizes that,” Karagianis said recently. One of his other concerns, he said, is that two Northbrook nonprofits, the North Suburban YMCA and the Bernard Weinger JCC, also are in the fitness business.
“The question is, how would this impact those two facilities, and why would we subsidize something that would hurt those facilities?” he asked, saying that “it really does raise a question of fairness.”
Howard Schultz, the YMCA’s executive director, attended a public hearing for the project on July 7, when the approval process began.
Schultz also noted that his facility, which offers day care, would compete with Children’s Learning Adventure as well as Life Time.
“And they also do (summer) camps,” he added.
Northbrook Park District President Michael Schyman said he didn’t know whether the planned Skokie Boulevard facilities, on the heels of the opening of a new L.A. Fitness on Glenview’s west side, doom his district’s long-held desire to build a public fitness and recreation center. Late last year, the district dropped a plan to buy Northbrook’s Five Seasons Sports Club, after opposition centered on its price.
“We will continue to explore possibilities, as other businesses exit the community,” Schyman said on July 10.
Schultz noted that Five Seasons might be affected as much as his fellow nonprofits, “and they pay taxes.” Five Seasons paid about $645,000 in property taxes in 2013, according to the Cook County Treasurer’s Office.
The new project would pay property taxes, as well. Laube estimated Glenbrook District 225 would get $10.2 million over 20 years and elementary District 28 would receive $12.9 million.
Laube estimated $2.6 million would go to the village, and said it was unlikely that Northbrook would have to spend anything extra for police and fire services.
Representatives of Life Time and the property seller, Michael Krasny, could not be reached for comment.
The tax break wasn’t discussed at the July 7 hearing, which was continued until 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4 at Village Hall, 1225 Cedar Lane.
On July 7, few audience members spoke, but one who did was Gail Schechter, who heads Open Communities, a Winnetka-based housing group. Also attending was Debbie DePalma, a Northbrook affordable housing advocate.
Schechter noted that Northbrook, which had pledged to promote affordable housing in its recent comprehensive plan and in a state-mandated plan 10 years ago, has only welcomed a handful of senior units.
“Since 2010, it’s actually worsened,” she added, saying the percentage of affordable housing drooped from 5.4 in 2000 to 4.3 in 2011.
According to state law, affordable rent in the Chicago area is computed as 30 percent of a salary that’s no more than 80 percent of median area pay. For a single person, that’s $1,065 rent per month on an annual salary of $42,600; $1,216 for a family of two making $48,650, and $1,369 for a family of three earning $54,750, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
Developer plans have said Finger tentatively plans 237 one-bedroom units and 101 two-bedrooms, ranging in monthly rent from $1,605 to $2,800.
Schaumburg-based consultant Tracy Cross and Associates noted in an analysis that with a 30 percent of salary housing allocation, tenants’ annual income would need to range from $64,000 to $115,000.
Schechter said that Northbrook was one of many nearby towns with less than 10 percent affordable housing that did not file with Illinois a new plan to achieve that level.
Frum said on July 10 that village lawyers have advised that home rule communities do not need to file an affordable housing plan with the state.
“We are still interested in affordable housing by Northbrook’s definition,” she said.