River Forest trustees nix Bonnie Brae townhomes

Density, parking, traffic concerns just too much, say elected officials

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By Robert J. Lifka

Contributing Reporter

Reversing the recommendation of the Development Review Board (DRB), the River Forest Village Board unanimously voted down at the Sept. 14 virtual village board meeting a planned development permit for a townhome project at 1101 and 1111 Bonnie Brae Place.

The property owner, Bonnie Brae Construction LLC, proposed demolishing the existing six-unit apartment building and parking lot on the properties to construct a new development of 18 townhomes in six separate buildings.  

The DRB voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the developer's application, which included requests for six zoning variances.

In opposing the project, trustees cited concerns about density, parking and traffic, especially when considering the presence of nearby Concordia University and Grace Lutheran Church and School. The number of variances, including those regarding setbacks, also caused concerns.

Village President Cathy Adduci referred to a meeting in 2019 between village officials and the developer, at which she said the developer was encouraged to scale back the project.

"I'm surprised you took this approach," she said, questioning why the project included 18 units when nine would have "been acceptable" in her estimation.

"None of us is afraid of development, but we want the right one," she said. "I see everything wrong with this. The solution is to build within our zoning code."

Trustees Bob Cargie and Patty Henek also expressed a desire to avoid having the board depicted as being against development.

"I'm all for development, but I want it to be smart development," Cargie said.

"We need development," Henek said. "But I think we have to be mindful of our residents, and I don't believe this is what our community wants."

Cargie and Trustee Respicio Vazquez noted that trustees traditionally endorse recommendations from the DRB.

"I normally support all of our boards, committee and commissions," Vazquez said. "But these are not minor variances. They are substantial."

He also noted that the proposal called for six variances "when there usually are just one or two."

Henek also noted that "many standards are not being met."

Cargie and Trustee Erika Bachner raised concerns about density.

"Density is a big problem," said Cargie, who also raised concerns about parking. "At the end of the day, I don't think this project is appropriate for the space. I don't see how we can pass this tonight."

"The requests for variances go too far," Bachner said. "This is too much for the space."

All nine of the residents who addressed the village board opposed the project, with most echoing trustees' concerns about density, parking and traffic. 

Although the village zoning ordinance requires 2.5 parking spaces per unit, the proposal includes only two spaces per unit. The proposal originally included four guest parking spaces, but that was reduced to two spaces to accommodate a tighter site plan that moved the buildings closer together to increase the setbacks, which are still less than the zoning ordinance allows. 

There was some discussion about the possibility of guests parking parallel to the garage doors along the alley on the east side of the property but those spaces are not code-compliant and could not be included in the off-street parking count.

The project has been in the works since 2016, when village approved plans to build 15 condos on the parking lot and convert the apartment building into a three-unit condominium. 

After the project never got off the ground due to funding issues, architect John Schiess, hired by property owner Art Gurevich, switched gears, planning lower-priced three-story townhomes.

The townhome project has followed a circuitous route of DRB meetings and public hearings over the last seven months. The plan was scheduled to be discussed in March, but the developer requested a continuance so the application could be amended. 

A meeting in May was postponed by concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and one in June was continued at the request of the developer. It wasn't until July when the DRB met and held a public hearing. 

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