A new planned development next to Highwood’s Rec Center will turn the city-owned parking lot into a 49-unit residential building. At the January 7 regular city council meeting, aldermen voted unanimously to grant a special use permit for Benchmark Developers’ planned development at 440 Green Bay Rd.
Benchmark Developers, the same company responsible for the new multi-use development next to Slyce, plans to develop a six story residential building (with 49 units) next to the rec center. The site plan includes 66 onsite parking spaces for the building residents’ use (60 of which are inside the building footprint on the first and second floor). The plan leaves about 20 parking spaces on the rec center property.
In the Downtown Projects Guidebook (adopted in 2014), a three-story mixed use complex was recommended for the site. It proposed including 33 parking spaces to be shared with the community center. The adoption of Benchmark’s plan, which is twice the size of the recommended plan, also accommodates more parking.
According to city manager Scott Coren, the property was previously approved for mixed used development but the project was never completed. In 2018, Highwood put out a request for proposals and selected Benchmark Developer’s residential concept as the best one.
Coren wrote in the Planning and Zoning commission packet, “This development assists with multiple goals in the business district, including investment in a vacant lot and providing additional residential density in the downtown core.”
At the council meeting, Coren said the greatest challenge with this development is the current utilities and the configuration of the existing lot. ComEd has utility poles on the property which the city and developer will need to have removed or relocated.
Regarding parking, Coren wrote, “The City wants to encourage the developer to maximize parking on the site because of the difficulty of parking in the surrounding area.”
In response to the City’s request, the developer’s original plan included 82 spaces, but had the garage entrance on the front of the building (which was aesthetically not ideal according to Codametrics assessment). The updated proposal (which city council approved Jan. 7) includes fewer parking spaces (66 instead of 82) but moves the garage entrance to the side of the building.
As far as public input on the project, the city only received one written comment. Michael Koenitz-Hudac of Preservation Properties Group (and owner of the fire station) supports the development, but is concerned about the lack of a public parking plan.
Koenitz-Hudac wants to know where the public will park if the development moves forward. In the letter Koenitz-Hudac submitted to city council, he said, “I am supportive of the general concept of multi-family redevelopment that has been proposed for the site. But I am not in support of moving forward with a high-density development in the area before a long-term comprehensive public parking plan is discussed and shared with the community.”
Koenitz-Hudac made the point that before moving forward with another high density project, he believes the City needs to show a comprehensive plan to protect and provide public parking in the affected area.
“If existing public parking spaces are being removed by this project,” Koenitz-Hudac wrote, “adequate replacement spaces need to be provided at the same time… Area businesses and surrounding neighborhoods will suffer if the street parking is overburdened and lots are converted from public parking areas into new developments.”