Facts matter with Lake/Lathrop subsidized luxury condos

Opinion: Columns

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By Dan Lauber

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Facts matter, especially when deciding whether to allow a taxpayer-subsidized development to exceed zoning limits.

So let's get a few facts straight regarding Keystone Ventures' 32-unit luxury Lake/Lathrop condos before River Forest's Development Review Board meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday night at village hall.

Fact: The proposed five-story building will not cast a shadow across the street onto St. Luke Church. Saunter over to the similarly tall Target building in downtown Oak Park. It doesn't cast a shadow onto the north side of Lake.

Fact: The proposed building really will increase traffic by a miniscule 1 percent. Some seem to think every resident's vehicle will enter and exit simultaneously — which, of course, never happens.

Fact: The developers can make a healthy profit without the extra height. After the last hearing, developer Marty Paris bragged to me that my estimate of a $6.5 million profit was too low. He said they could build just the 13 units zoning allows without investing any of their own equity, thanks to River Forest subsidizing the development with $2 million of taxpayer funds from the tax increment financing (TIF) district.

Fact: The vast majority of River Foresters cannot afford to buy these condos. You can afford a home that costs up to 2½ to three times your annual household income according to the time-tested formula. The average condo here will sell for $890,000, requiring an income of at least $296,666 to $356,000. River Forest's median annual household income is $103,622; the average $193,059. Fewer than a third of us here have annual household incomes topping $200,000. This proposal clearly does not meet the village's comprehensive plan objective of "new residential development that provides for the needs of the village's population."

Fact: Objectively speaking, this bulky block-long box of a building doesn't achieve the plan's goals of new housing that is "compatible with, complement, and enhance the existing scale and character of the neighborhoods" nor "maintain and enhance the village's overall atmosphere and character." This proposed building certainly does not meet the plan's goal of developments "consistent with the character of the village."

But most disturbing are that:

Our village officials seem ready to gift these politically-favored developers $2 million of public funds to build this architectural monstrosity when they don't need the subsidy to profit handsomely.

The village is not requiring the developers to sell (with anti-windfall resale restrictions) 15 to 20 percent of the units at prices affordable to teachers, the retired seniors who made River Forest great, our adult children, librarians, village employees, social workers, store managers, and others with modest incomes in exchange for allowing the developer to build 2½ times the number of units allowed.

The village's adopted policies call for development to serve the people of River Forest. This Lake/Lathrop development serves only to pad its developers' pockets with our TIF dollars. Why are we subsidizing developers who don't need taxpayer subsidies to build housing the vast majority of us cannot afford to buy?

Dan Lauber, AICP, a 31-year resident, is a city planning consultant and zoning attorney and a former member of River Forest's Zoning Board of Appeals and Citizen Advisory Committee on Village Finances, which guided River Forest through the Great Recession. More at riverforestmatters.com.

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