While most neighbors said they favored development of the long-talked about site at Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue in River Forest, property owners had plenty of questions regarding the parking, height and design of a proposed mixed-use development at a hearing before the Development Review Board on June 28. 

“You can’t tout new investment and development always on what’s been done in the past, and what exists today, or things would never change and investment would never happen,” said John Houseal, who serves as planning consultant for the village.

Developer Lake and Lathrop LLC – comprising Sedgwick Development and Keystone Ventures – plans to build a five-story, mixed use development at the southwest corner of Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue, from 7601 to 7621 Lake St. The parcel also includes 423 Ashland Ave. 

They are proposing parking and commercial spaces on the ground floor — which they’re hoping a restaurant, retail shops and bank branch would fill – topped by four floors that would include 32 two-, three- and four-bedroom condos. Additional parking is planned for the second floor.

“There’s nothing about this development that is contrary to and objective of the comprehensive plan,” Houseal said, noting that he’d prefer not see a bank branch approved on the prominent corner of the development, since that would not generate sales tax revenue for the village. 

Houseal also outlined a number of zoning variances the Development Review Board would need to approve if they were to take the application as-is. 

Lake and Lathrop LLC is seeking a variance for height, since the proposed building rises 80 feet, above the village’s allowed maximum of 50 feet. If the village were to grant the variance, the new building would be the second-tallest building in River Forest, falling just two feet short of the condominium building at Lake and William streets. 

Pat Belke, who lives in the 500 block of Lathrop Avenue, said she went door to door polling neighbors about the proposed height of the building and found hundreds of people worried it would cast a shadow across St. Luke Church and School. 

“Are we really going to twist ourselves into a pretzel to accommodate a building, when the church has been there 100 years?” Belke asked.  

A photometric plan, which reveals the level of illumination, shadow and glare proposed developments would yield, showed no significant shadow impact to St. Luke’s, Houseal said. 

In addition to height, developers are also seeking 32 residential units on the site — under village zoning code, 13 condos are allowed.

Developers are also seeking a parking variation, since the proposed 86 parking spaces fall one space short of the village’s mandate of 87, and their mix violates village code. 

Lake and Lathrop LLC is proposing 32 parking spaces for retail parking and 54 parking spaces for residents. The village requires no commercial parking, but the code would require 80 spaces for residents and seven spaces for their guests. 

Since the developer is also proposing outdoor dining, Houseal noted that he would have to check village code to see what, if any, regulations River Forest had regarding the practice. 

Houseal believes this is the first development to ever propose outdoor dining on a public sidewalk, and many residents wondered if there would be enough space to accommodate tables, waiters and pedestrians, since the proposed development would be built to the lot line. 

“There is no other building I know of in River Forest that is a … bland, drab box like this, so I wish you would show some respect for the village of River Forest and its residents and alternate the color of the façade and indent every other column,” said neighbor Daniel Lauber, who said he’s previously served as president of the American Planning Association. 

Lauber passed out fliers to attendees, Development Review Board members and the developer, urging Lake and Lathrop LLC to change the design of the building. He also urged the Development Review Board to require the developer to reserve 15 percent of the units for affordable housing. 

“There’s no shortage of expensive housing in River Forest, [but] there is a severe shortage of housing that the middle class, that our teachers, that our policemen, that our village staff, the village manager can afford,” he said, drawing a standing ovation from the some 75 attendees. 

After nearly three hours, officials from the Development Review Board asked the developer to provide an additional shadow study, conduct an additional traffic study and provide specific information on possible retail tenants. 

The Development Review Board will reconvene at 7:30 p.m. on July 26 at the Concordia University Chicago campus to make their final recommendation to the village board. 

The review board’s recommendation will then be sent to village trustees, who will decide whether to approve or deny Lake and Lathrop LLC’s application. 

Developers are hoping to start work on the site in August.

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com 

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