Rental apartments are being proposed for a long-vacant piece of property at Lake Street and Park Avenue that’s owned by the village of River Forest.

The village’s Economic Development Commission has recommended that River Forest enter negotiations with Centrum Partners/Pine Grove Partners to buy the land and develop a six-story building of rental units. Commissioners said that effort will diversify the community’s residential housing stock.

The recommendation now goes on to the village’s board of trustees, who are expected to vote on it May 11. Negotiations could begin soon after that. It could be two years before the project is completed, Village Administrator Eric Palm said. 

The property, which is pegged as transit-oriented, has been a major redevelopment priority for River Forest for years. The property was purchased with dollars from the Central Business District TIF District. 

In 2011, the village unsuccessfully attempted to attract a developer. Because the economy had tanked around that time, the response they got was underwhelming, village officials said.

Three proposals came in this time around. One other was under review. That was from Keystone Ventures/Inland Real Estate, which wanted to do a multi-use project with condominiums and 18,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.   

Commission Chairman Tom Hazinski said the group was happy with both proposals and their subsequent responses and noted that either one could be successful. 

But commissioners wondered about the economic viability of the Keystone Ventures plan. They expressed concerns about the lack of detail on what type of businesses might go in the retail space. There was the issue of pre-sale risk associated with condominiums.  

“I don’t want a project that sits,” Commissioner Tim Brangle said. 

The biggest point of distinction between the two was that Centrum offered 80 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Commissioner Collette English Dixon said that for-sale products have been the hallmark of River Forest, and she felt that the village needed to provide a diversity of residential stock. 

According to 2013 figures from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 10.1 percent of the housing stock in River Forest was renter-occupied. 

“The community is shifting. People want to rent, not own,” English Dixon said. “Boomers are aging out, kids are wanting to hang around and not have to be a $500,000 condo to do it. If we believe that diversity of residential stock is important, then multi-family residential rental goes in that direction.”

Alternatives to the development plan, such as including three-bedroom units, will be worked out during negotiations, Hazinski said. 

There also will be 8,000 square feet of retail space, which could be either a restaurant or a service-oriented business. 

If a deal cannot be worked out, the village could turn to Keystone, Hazinski said. The firm, owned by River Forest resident Tim Hague, is also working to redevelop contaminated, languishing property at Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue. 

The two parcels of land at Lake and Park property are near village hall. A third piece of land, nestled in between the two, is owned by Jack Strand, who recently expressed interest in selling. That parcel is key to any redevelop at Lake and Park, village officials said.

The third proposal was for a senior assisted-living facility. The plan, from Pathways Senior Living, was taken off the table in March with commissioners determining that the facility would work better at another location. 

While acknowledging at the time that there is need for the type of high-end facility that Pathways could build, commissioners suggested that village officials keep engaged with the organization and help find another location in town.

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