By Irv Leavitt, Pioneer Press
Opponents complained last week about tax breaks, noise and traffic connected with a proposed mixed use project anchored by Life Time Fitness at Northbrook’s 1000 Skokie Blvd.
About two dozen people waited out a long Northbrook Plan Commission meeting on Aug. 4 to express their opposition or hear others do so.
There wasn’t time for everybody to speak. They’ll have another chance Aug. 18., when the public hearing on the project continues.
The proposal includes 338 apartments in a five-story building constructed by Houston’s Finger Companies and a 43,000-square-foot Children’s Learning Adventure facility.
Most of the complaints came from the Northbrook East area west of the proposed site. Several residents said they were already plagued by Edens Expressway noise, and the project would make it worse.
Sheryl Zeidman, of the 1000 block of Midway Road, said she is sure that the pool in the back of the fitness center would be a very noisy place, because she has participated in an exercise group in the pool at the Life Time Fitness in Skokie.
“They’re out there yelling at the people in the pool, because they’re not all standing next to each other,” she said.
In its application, Life Time indicates that its facilities will be separated by long setbacks from its prospective residential neighbors to the west, with landscaping buffering the pool and other amenities from homes. The closest house would be over 250 feet from Life Time’s nearest facilities, according to diagrams.
Referring to Life Time’s motto of “a healthy way of Life,” Zeidman said, “I don’t think 8,000 cars and trucks coming through every day will make our lives any healthier.”
Life Time’s traffic consultant and the village’s own consultant agree that the project will generate that much traffic each weekday.
Other area residents said they are worried over the traffic the operation would bring to Midway and Sunset Ridge roads, the latter the only connector street to which some have access from their homes.
A group calling itself Northbrook Citizens for Responsible Development complained about the possible lighting for the project, which they said might wind up in Northbrook East back yards.
The group has collected about 145 signatures for a petition expressing opposition to the project.
One of the group’s leaders, Ruth Haas of the 300 block of Rosewood Court, disagreed with Life Time representative Aaron Koehler, who testified Aug. 4 that the project would not put much of a strain on emergency services. He said that aside from parking lot mishaps like fender-benders, Life Time facilities generate very few emergency calls.
Koehler said that in the Skokie and Vernon Hills facilities, “it works out to be once a month,” according to management. However, he said, Life Time maintains no records of such calls.
Haas said the number of police and fire calls is much higher, including in Vernon Hills. Her Freedom of Information Act request for four years of records from that town indicated there were 20 felony thefts and 19 misdemeanor thefts at the facility. There were also 44 ambulance calls, 16 car burglaries, four reports of marijuana and over 500 calls altogether, the records show.
Statistics compiled by Northbrook staffers indicated there were between 100 and 125 police calls per year to both Life Time facilities in Skokie and Vernon Hills, and about 20 fire calls to each. Northbrook Economic Development Coordinator David Schoon said that is about normal for such businesses.
Asked by Commissioner Muriel Collison if that would require additional police and fire personnel, Schoon said that talks with the police chief, fire chief and village manager indicated such increases would not be necessary for “this particular development, but we’ll have to look at this [village]-wide,” due to several other projects that are in the pipeline.
Koehler testified to questions about competition that existing health and fitness facilities would face from Life Time, which he said were raised after the development’s first public hearing on July 7.
He said that the North Suburban YMCA, Five Seasons Sports Clubs and other existing competitors can continue to succeed in a diverse market where “demand has far outpaced supply.”
“There are a lot of different niches in the marketplace,” Koehler said. “We satisfy one of those.”
He said some consumers just want an unsupervised cardio room and others, much more.
“We’ve found success operating in the upper echelon of this market,” Koehler said.
The proposed site bears a commercial property tax break of an estimated 60 percent for 10 years, which has raised questions among Northbrook leaders of whether the tax break is fair to existing fitness providers. Among those leaders is Trustee James Karagianis, chairman of the Village Board’s Planning & Zoning Committee.
Thomas Deere, chief operating officer of the Kentucky-based Five Seasons Sports Clubs, reminded the commission Aug. 4 of the $10 million in property taxes his company has paid for its Techny facility.
“We’ve been a long-standing partner in the community, and we’ve been a good partner,” Deere said, noting that he came to Northbrook from the East Coast to attend the hearing.
“What we don’t understand is why (Northbrook) is allowing a competitor to come in with tax breaks,” he said. “It’s going to damage our business, if that’s the case. We ask for a level playing field.”
Commission Chairwoman Marcia Franklin told Deere that the tax break is an issue handled by the Village Board. Deere said he will bring the issue up with trustees, when the project’s approval process gets to that level.
At the Aug. 4 hearing, affordable housing proponents asked that some of the Finger units be low-priced enough for local workers to afford them.
Lee Jones, a 30-year Northbrook resident, asked that the commission and Village Board respect the 5-year-old Northbrook Comprehensive Plan, which encourages affordable housing when the opportunity presents itself.
She said the project would bring jobs, “but it does little good to create jobs in a community that does not include housing for those workers.”
Noting Finger’s plans to build “luxury apartments,” Jones said, “We need to stop valuing people by how much they consume, [instead of] how much they contribute to the community.”
Brendan Saunders, of the Winnetka-based Open Communities organization, said, “One of the issues that has not been discussed is inclusion of housing for the work force. Within a half-hour ride, there are 66,383 jobs available.
“We need to find housing for that work force. We need to include it in this development.”
One Northbrook resident testified with enthusiasm for the project. Larry Rosenthal, who said he is a member of the Vernon Hills Life Time club, called it the “most amazing facility I’ve ever seen.”
“I think it would be a great asset for Northbrook,” Rosenthal said.