A majority of Development Review Board (DRB) members voted to approve development of Lake and Lathrop at long last, provided the developer agree to a few conditions. DRB members David Crosby and Therese “Tagger” O’Brien voted against the development, while Mary Ann Fishman, Gerry Dombrowski and chairman Frank Martin voted in favor. Members Lisa Ryan and Michael Ruehle were absent.  

“I don’t trust these people; they’ve changed the plans too many times,” Martin said, noting that the final project must be in accordance with the plans presented at the Aug. 23 DRB meeting. 

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

The plan is to have 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 30 two-, three- and four-bedroom condos. Additional parking is planned for the second floor. 

Since its original application was filed, the developer has decreased the total number of condos available in the building, with the majority a mix of three- and four-bedroom units; the height of the building has increased to 85 feet at its highest point, to accommodate elevators that lead to private rooftop decks; and, speaking of rooftop decks, the developer has added six of them to the building, available only to residents of the units directly beneath them. Balconies accompany condos, and the ground floor is still a mix of commercial space and parking. 

Although residents took the opportunity at the Aug. 23 meeting to complain again about the design, parking, traffic safety, developer’s seemingly last-minute change to plans and more, the DRB accepted Lake and Lathrop LLC’s building plans on the condition that 60 parking spaces be reserved for tenants of the building, with another six earmarked for guests. Twenty spaces will be available for commercial customers and employees.  

“I struggle really with the parking; with the owners, employees, deliveries, maintenance, I just don’t see where or how it could work,” said O’Brien, a DRB member who eventually voted against the development. “People aren’t going to park over at Jackson Avenue and Lake Street to go visit someone at Lake and Lathrop. Too many spots are missing.”  

The village requires no parking for commercial customers in that zoning district. Per requests from the River Forest Village Board, the DRB did require Lake and Lathrop LLC to look into purchasing an area of off-street parking for the commercial space. They also asked developers to work with the village to institute a safety plan for pedestrians during construction, and limit the loading dock’s hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

DRB board member Crosby continued to criticize developers’ choice of architecture, saying the Beaux Arts design of the building did not reflect “the character of River Forest.” He called for the developer to break up the building using differing colors and step back the façade at different floors, as a way to reduce its scale. He also advocated prohibiting a bank from occupying the corner of the building, as a way to ensure the development broadens the village’s tax base. 

“We’re trying to meet the needs of the community,” said Crosby, who eventually voted against the development. “We have a lot of banks right here in that one to two block radius. We’re in a position to encourage something else to go there.”  

Members of the board voted against his requests, questioning their authority to dictate the design and type of commercial customer allowed. 

When it comes to commercial, Tim Hague, a River Forest resident and owner of Keystone Ventures, said the developer is hoping to lure a fast casual restaurant into the space, like Chipotle Mexican Grill; a seasonal, or short-term, lease to the property, to “allow retail companies to test new markets, test new goods”; a pet store; convenience food market; or even an on-premise dry cleaner. 

The village has awarded Lake and Lathrop LLC $1.9 million in tax-increment-financing funds, primarily for environmental remediation of a former dry cleaner on the site. 

“These cleaning solutions have changed dramatically; they no longer present a threat to the environment like it used to,” Hague said.

The review board will decide whether to adopt the findings of fact at a meeting on Aug. 30. Their recommendation will then be sent to the Village Board of Trustees, who will decide whether to approve or deny Lake and Lathrop LLC’s application. 

If approved, trustees would need to grant site development allowances regarding the height of the building, number of condos, parking, and size and type of commercial tenants proposed. 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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