By Bravetta Hassell, Pioneer Press
Wilmette Village Board granted final approval May 12 to an amended plan to build five instead of six stories of a mixed-use project at 611 Green Bay Road for $1 million less than originally proposed.
M & R Development, which planned last fall to build a six-story building for $4.1 million, pared the plan down to five stories and reduced the price to $3.1 million – in answer to concerns raised by community members, Village President Bob Bielinski said.
“We went through a sort of substantial reasoning of how we arrived at where we arrived,” Bielinski said. “This board made the judgment that the community was better served by a five-story building, which resulted in a lower purchase price.”
Bielinski delivered his comments in response to a small chorus of residents who expressed dismay that the project includes no affordable housing options.
Affordable housing advocate Gail Schechter said that while she knows the village is interested in preserving its current affordable housing, that housing isn’t suitable for residents with disabilities who also have low incomes.
Schechter, who is executive director of Open Communities, called the units slated for the new project “subsidized housing.”
“It’s subsidized housing going to those who really can afford it, not to the ones who can least afford it,” Schechter said of the building that will feature luxury apartments, as well as retail space.
Bielinski said the developer is not receiving a subsidy.
“If there is a subsidy here, it’s really the residents subsidizing the master plan or the residents subsidizing their quality of life versus the height of the building,” Bielinski said.
Referring to the village’s affordable housing plan, which states a goal of setting aside 15 percent of all new residential development for affordable housing units, Schechter and others said they were “disappointed” in the board’s move.
“We have a voice in speaking for our community on something that is as strong as all of the other things that you feel important to this village – and housing for people who are in need of it, people who are diverse, should be part of our community,” said resident Ellen McManus.
Lorelei McClure, president of Wilmette Cares, said the board needed to consider the material worth and human worth of its choices.
“Any time you are pursuing an objective where you want to make this village more healthy and more vibrant, you must consider and integrate the two values,” said McClure. “So I’m requesting that you bend your will to an earnest attention to our need for more affordable housing in Wilmette.”
Trustee Alan Swanson said he saw the new project as a benefit to the village, citing the developer’s plans for a green building and its contribution of $80,000 to the affordable housing fund.
“The fact we’ve gotten something kick-started in the village center is more important and speaks to the economics of it, too,” said Swanson, who retired from the board during the May 12 meeting. “We could hold out and say, ‘Yeah, we want $3.65 million.’ We could hold out until we get it, but that property’s going to remain vacant until we do, and I think it’s important right now – given the environment we’re in – to get something started.”
Trustee Cameron Krueger said he thought the developer did the right thing to get the project approved by making a contribution to the organization the village has proposed to identify affordable housing candidates.
“But to be clear, it’s a subsidy by somebody of that fund, and I have yet to find a majority or even a very significant minority of residents that want the village in that business,” Krueger said. “This property is not appropriate for affordable housing, as the crown jewel of Green Bay Road. There may be others that come up that would be appropriate.”
Trustee Daniel Sullivan, newly elected to the board, said that given the long history of the project, the outcome “has actually been the best one of everything we’ve seen. …It’s time. This is the one that feels right for us.”
In his final remarks as trustee, Swanson thanked his family, Wilmette’s residents, the village staff and the board.
Of local community government he said: “It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of commitment. Everybody did the work, everybody took their responsibility seriously, and everybody did what they thought was best for this community.”
At the May 12 meeting, Trustee Mike Basil also retired from the board.