Proposed RF senior facility stirs controversy

Hearing continued after vocal objections from residents

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By Nona Tepper

Following resident outcry over the proposed height, landscaping, impact to property values and more, members of the River Forest Development Review Board extended a public hearing on an application to build a senior home at the intersection of Chicago and Harlem Avenues to Sept. 6, when they will then make their recommendation to the village board. 

"We have to sort of change some things but be reflective of the character we have. I think the applicant is doing that," John Houseal, village planner for River Forest, said at a meeting on Aug. 30. "It provides a need within River Forest that isn't met right now. Residents or family members who need memory care or assisted living can't find that in the village." 

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, 814, 818, 822 and 826 N. Harlem Ave. Named The Sheridan at River Forest, it will hold 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. 

Meals, housekeeping, laundry and more amenities will be available to residents. 

"It's not your moms version of an old folks home, it's truly a hospitality service we're in," said Bob Gawronsky, vice president of development at Senior Lifestyle. "We want it to be like living in a four-star hotel." 

The site will take up approximately 1.5 acres, more than a football field, and sit on the northwest corner of Chicago and Harlem Avenues. The ground floor will consist of common spaces for programs, dining and parking. Developers plan to offer 74 indoor and outdoor parking spaces, lined with permeable pavement, for employees, residents and guests of the facility. Because the village offers no zoning for a senior care community, Houseal said it was "hard to extrapolate" River Forest's parking requirements, but noted that developers exceeded the amount of spaces recommended by both the Institute of Traffic Engineers and American Planning Association. 

Michael Werthmann, a principal and founder of the KOLA traffic consulting firm, said he expected the facility to generate a less than 1 percent increase in traffic, since memory care patients are not permitted to drive, many residents are not expected to have cars and that some of the 34 employees of the facility will likely use public transportation. He noted that the singular access point of the senior community will replace the five driveways of the former TCF Bank and residential homes that currently occupy the space. 

"It will greatly improve the flow of traffic on Harlem because it will eliminate all these conflicts and greatly improve the pedestrian experience," Werthmann said.  

The second floor will contain a mix of assisted-living and memory care support space, 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, far above the village's limit of 30 feet in current zoning for the site. 

"When they talk about the green roof that residents can go in, when they talk about the public realm that residents can look out, they are talking about my yard. They are talking about a garden my kids play in. We have asked them to lower that fourth level repeatedly," said resident Daniel Roach, adding that the developer told him that the project is not "financially viable" at less than 125 units.

Developers estimate it will generate about $500,000 in annual real estate taxes for the village once it's built. 

The first three floors of the building will be covered in brick with the final story covered in light-toned wood panels. A landscape designer has met with neighbors about planting trees on their properties to provide screening from the facility. 

Police Chief James O'Shea said he's talked with developers about installing emergency call buttons, lighting and security cameras on the property. He said developers seemed "very open to these discussions, even though the village ordinance does not require these things, they seemed to understand their necessity in River Forest." 

Fire Chief Kurt Bohlmann also noted that developers have a contract with a private ambulance company to respond to calls from the facility, and that the senior home will likely only add two calls to River Forest first-responders' list weekly. 

Resident Suzanne Morrison called for the private ambulance company to silence its sirens at night and submit the total number of ambulance calls expected.

"Now all of a sudden I can expect to be woken up by private ambulances and village ambulances at night?" she asked. "It is going to hurt my property values and it is going to hurt my house," she added.  

The public hearing has been extended to Sept. 6, after which the Development Review Board will submit its recommendation to the village board. That elected body will decide to approve or deny Senior Lifestyle and Kaufman Jacobs' application. 

If approved, trustees would need to grant site development allowances regarding the use and height of the building, parking, setbacks, landscaping and lighting.  

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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