By Nona Tepper
River Forest trustees voted unanimously to approve an application to build a controversial senior care facility at the intersection of Chicago and Harlem avenues at their Oct. 15 meeting, saying the tax proceeds will benefit the entire village, that it fills a lifestyle need in River Forest and more.
"Being asked to choose between a development who wants to invest in the village and homeowners who have already invested in our village, the basic choice appears like one or the other," Trustee Michael Gibbs told an audience of about 60 residents. "But we represent hundreds of homeowners and River Forest business owners and other taxing bodies that serve our village. I, for one, will always choose what's in the best interest of the entire 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 800-826 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.
The development will 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 66 parking spaces.
The second floor will contain a mix of assisted-living and memory-care support spaces, with a landscaped courtyard for memory-care patients. The third floor will consist of assisted living apartments, with a fourth floor rising in the middle of the building.
That floor will contain assisted-living apartments and green rooftop courtyard. A pitched roof will rise to 68.5 feet on the Harlem Avenue facade, more than double the village's zoning limit of 30 feet for the site.
"The cart has been put before the horse," said resident Saskia Belore. "We have a developer with no ties to the community, with a land use that we are not zoned for, that has entered this process dictating the terms to us rather than the village having a clear plan."
The Sheridan at River Forest was approved on the condition that the village's Traffic and Safety Commission look into prohibiting right turns onto Harlem Avenue from the development and for permit parking on nearby residential streets; that the developer plant trees on neighbors' property, if residents request them; to restrict delivery hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; to remove snow from the public right of way; and that the property remains on the village's tax rolls; and more.
"We're hopeful we'll be given the chance to help the village achieve its goal of becoming one of the most dementia-friendly communities in the nation by providing a better housing option to seniors," said Bob Gawronsky, vice president of development for Senior Lifestyle.
Jennifer Tammen, principal at Ehlers and Associates, an accounting firm hired by the village, reviewed developers' economic impact study and projected that, once the project is built and stabilized in about 30 months, it would generate $581,000 in overall revenue to taxing districts, with at least $68,000 benefiting the village.
"The important thing is the schools will get $400,000 in essentially free money," Trustee Tom Cargie said. "They're going to get additional tax revenue without additional kids to teach. This is a development that ensures that our schools will not have to raise our taxes as much next year."
Despite having reservations about the height of the development, Trustee Patty Henek also said she was looking forward to the ways the community could become involved in the senior care project, including partnering with high school, Concordia University Chicago and Dominican University students.
"I'm really still disappointed in the height," Henek said. "I was really still hoping that we would be able to provide some relief to the neighbors, but I do think it's for the greater good for the broader community."
Gawronsky pushed back against assertions that, since the project was initially presented in three versions at a smaller size, that developers could have decreased the size of the project and have it remain financially viable.
"We're in an environment of rising interest rates, especially construction costs," Gawronsky said. "This plan was recommended by the [Development Review Board] after a significant amount of back and forth. [A plan for] 106 [units] was not financially feasible."
Mark Daniel, an attorney with the Oakbrook-based Daniel Law Office enlisted to represent nearby neighbors, filed a protest of the development, alleging that the senior care facility represented "floating zoning" since trustees were approving a development whose use, parking and classification are not outlined in the village code, that the development represented illegal contract zoning and that the village's process for approving the plan has legal procedural issues.
"This projected does not remotely fit within the goals and objectives in the 2003 comprehensive plan," Daniel said.
Village Attorney Greg Smith pushed back against Daniels' claims, saying the village's process for reviewing developments was greater than state requirements and that the village was not trading developers zoning rights for some type of benefit
"Don't be distracted by the claims," he said.
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