Thumbs up given to senior home in River Forest

Development Review Board votes 4-2 to recommend new development

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By Nona Tepper

Members of the River Forest Development Review Board voted 4-2 to approve an application for a senior care facility at the intersection of Chicago and Harlem avenues at a meeting on Sept. 6, provided developers agree to a few conditions.

Although village code technically outlaws such facilities from operating anywhere in River Forest, developer Senior Lifestyle and the Kaufman Jacobs investment firm aim to build a four-story, 125-unit senior living home at 800-826 N. Harlem Ave. 

Named The Sheridan at River Forest, it will house 92 assisted-living and 33 memory care service apartments, mostly one-bedroom units, with an average assisted-living unit priced at $5,500 per month, and the average memory-care unit running $6,800 per month. 

"Our proposed development not only addresses the pent up demand for assisted living and memory care in the area, it diversifies the housing options available to seniors wishing to remain in River Forest, or move closer to their family members who already live in River Forest," said Bob Gawronsky, vice president of development at Senior Lifestyle.  

The development would occupy approximately 1.5 acres, and sit at the northwest corner of Chicago and Harlem avenues. The ground floor will consist of common spaces for programs, dining and parking. DRB members recommended the developer lower the number of parking to 66 spaces so as to increase green space.  

The second floor of the senior home will contain a mix of assisted-living and memory care support spaces, with a landscaped courtyard for memory care patients. The third and fourth floors will consist of assisted living apartments. 

The building will be topped by green rooftop courtyards and a pitched roof that faces Harlem Avenue and rises to 68.5 feet, double the village's limit of 30 feet in current zoning for the site.

"I'm just afraid it's too large and I don't think any information was given to say that property values will not diminish," DRB member Therese "Tagger" O'Brien said, later voting against the development. "It just seems that the residents of these properties are not being heard as well as I think they should be."

At the meeting, David Shaw, a zoning attorney from the Northbrook-based Shaw, Fishman, Glantz & Towbin firm who represents Kaufman Jacobs, argued that the site should be zoned as residential rather than institutional since "it's a home, not a sterile nursing home." 

But neither Kaufman Jacobs nor Senior Lifestyle asked for the property to be re-zoned as residential, which confused some resident attendees about whether or not their application needed to be amended to reflect a change. 

"They're now making the case it's a residential use of space, does that require reapplication or a variant to the application or two?" asked resident Joseph Baptist.  

 "Does that raise any effect on zoning, required taxes? How does that affect the tax basis of the land uses?"

The Development Review Board recommended requiring that the site must always stay on the village's tax rolls, with Mike Hoffman, vice president of the Evanston-based Teska Associates design firm, adding that the village would receive an additional $19,000 in property tax revenue from the development if approved, an increase from the $12,000 the village currently receives from the site. Developers previously said the development would generate $500,000 in property tax revenue, but Hoffman clarified that would be a one-time payment to cover the costs of the village's construction, building permits and more. 

"$19,000 compared to the overall village budget is insignificant," DRB Chairman Frank Martin said at the meeting, later voting against the development because its use is not permitted under current code. He called the $500,000 disbursement "a wash" since it covered the village's work in issuing and reviewing permits. 

But the majority of Development Review Board members went on to approve the development, requiring the village's Traffic and Safety Commission look into prohibiting right turns onto Harlem and impose permit parking on Iowa Street and Harlem Avenue; that developers issue a letter of credit that 125 percent of the construction cost is covered; plant trees on neighbors' property, if residents request them; restrict delivery hours to7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and remove snow from the public right of way. 

"This looks like a very high-quality project. I think they provide a lot of services and I think there's a lot of thought that went into it. I think it's an excellent project," DRB member Mary Ann Fishman said.  

DRB members David Crosby, Gerry Dombrowski, Lisa Ryan and Fishman voted for the proposal; Martin and O'Brien voted against developers' plans. Member Michael Ruehle was absent.

The village board will now decide whether to approve or deny Senior Lifestyle and Kaufman Jacobs' application at a future meeting.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com 

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