Commissioners unimpressed with Calumet Country Club redevelopment plan

Time to read
7 minutes

Commissioners unimpressed with Calumet Country Club redevelopment plan

March 07, 2021 - 17:42
0 comments

After five meetings and 20 hours of questioning by commissioners and the public, Homewood Planning and Zoning Commission members concluded that plans to develop an industrial distribution center on the site of Calumet Country Club do not rise to the standards set in the village zoning code. 

Commission members questioned representatives of the developer for two hours Thursday before voting unanimously against recommending the board of trustees approve the rezoning requests, signaling to the developer that any future proposals for the property need to show more attention to and care for the community.

The rezoning and special use permit requests will be considered Tuesday night by the board of trustees. 

The rezoning request from W&E Ventures, if approved, would change the acceptable land use for the golf course from open land to limited manufacturing. The company plans to redevelop the century-old golf course into a warehousing and distribution center that would likely involve 300 to 350 truck visits per day.

Opposition
Most residents who spoke during the roughly 15-hour public hearing portion of the proceedings were opposed to the project, often passionately. During the comment section of the public hearing, residents reiterated concerns and objections that were brought out during questioning of the developer's representatives. 

The first speaker during the comment section was R. Erika Shafer of Flossmoor.

"This would be an extreme rezoning that has not been demonstrated to be of benefit to our community," she said, asserting that it would violate Section 1.2, parts A and B of the Homewood zoning code. The purpose of the code states: A. To protect and promote the public health, safety, comfort and welfare. B. To secure adequate natural light, pure air, clean water, privacy and safety from fire, explosion and noxious fumes and other dangers, and conserve and preserve open space land, which is a limited and valuable resource. 

Geralyn Johnson, a Homewood resident who lives in Governors Park, said she moved to Homewood so her daughter would grow up in a small, diverse, tight-knit community. 

"Most of all, I wanted her to grow up in a place where she is safe and happy," she said. "Now all of that is being threatened by this development."

Johnson said her daughter has asthma. She fears replacing thousands of trees with thousands of trucks would affect her daughter’s health.

Environmental impact
During the public hearing, residents raised questions about how that truck traffic would impact the health and safety of local residents, especially those living in the immediate area. The Governors Park neighborhood is just south from the 175th Street site. 

Residents asked whether the developer had done environmental impact studies that would identify the impact of the project on water and air quality and on wildlife. They asked whether other uses had been considered.

In response, Matt Norton, an attorney representing W&E Ventures and Diversified Partners; Drew Walker, a project manager with engineering firm Kimley-Horn; and Jason Lev, a senior vice president with CBRE Group Inc., noted the plans represented a conceptual design that shows what the developer considers the best and highest use of the property. 

Walker said plans are not in final form because the future client's needs would have to be taken into account in final plans. 

"While it may be nails on the chalkboard for you and the audience at this point relative to some of our answers regarding being compliant at the time of final engineering, it's not because we're trying to hide anything," he said. "I think it's because our goal and the negotiations for the last two years have not been detailed studies. They've been trying to understand the use and trying to negotiate what that use might be and bring something forward and create a zoning that would allow us to dive deeper into the details." 

Lev said the developer attempted several uses, including retail and residential, but received no interest in those uses from potential clients. 

Norton said more precise analysis of impacts on air, water, noise and light could be done when the client was identified and final details of the development were known.

Demand
Walker said because the project does not have an end user client, the developer or another party probably would start by building several spec cross dock warehouse buildings, a type of warehouse designed to move products in and out quickly.

Commissioner Seth Bransky questioned whether spec buildings would be filled quickly. He cited his experience building a number of similar structures during the 1990s along the Interstate 88 corridor. 

"We built these things left and right. Many of them, built on spec, sat empty for years because there was a glut of buildings," he said. 

Lev assured the commissioners that the demand for that type of building is high because it serves ecommerce needs, which have skyrocketed in the past year. He said the demand is high in the Chicago area for that type of building. 

"Because of e-commerce and the demand to receive product in a short period of time, you're seeing more demand for the facilities that we propose," Lev said. "We are comfortable that the spec projects would be leased in a short period of time due to the lack of product in the Chicagoland area."

Traffic congestion
Bransky also questioned the usefulness of the traffic study if it was created without a specific client in mind. 

Walker explained that it was based on national trip generation standards applied to the conceptual model of the project. 

Bransky wondered whether the number of trucks might be even higher than the estimate, which he compared to the air traffic at O'Hare International Airport in terms of congestion.

The plan calls for widening the street at the intersection of Dixie Highway and 175th Street, but Commissioner Dexter Johnson said he worried that step would not be adequate to mitigate the congestion, especially during peak hours for commuters using the nearby Calumet train station. 

Jobs
The developer's team noted that generating new jobs in the area was one of the project's key benefits for the community. The handful of area residents who spoke in favor of the project cited that as the basis for their support.

The subject came up several times over the course of the public hearing, and at the Wednesday meeting Norton said there would be from 500 to 1,500 permanent jobs created, depending on the needs of the end user. 

The job salaries could be from $32,000 to $40,000 for warehouse workers, $50,000 to $58,000 for truck drivers and $75,000 or more for facility managers.

Property value impact
Residents throughout the hearing expressed fear that replacing a golf course with a distribution center would have a negative impact on property values in adjacent residential areas. 

The developer's team tried to assure them that property values would not suffer. Commissioner Johnson asked how the team came to that conclusion. 

"We did not do an appraisal or other study," Norton said. “That decision is informed by the mitigating factors in the project," referring to setbacks in excess of requirements for the warehouse buildings and the commitment to construct a berm to serve as a visual barrier between the site and adjacent neighborhoods.

Unripe plans?
The developer's representatives said preliminary plans at this stage of a project are common, that identifying the likely use and preparing for it with zoning changes was how such projects often are done. 

"I don't think any end user would sign an agreement on a property that doesn't have viable zoning," Walker said.

But the common theme among commissioners in their final comments before voting was that the lack of detail left too many questions unanswered to justify a dramatic change in land use and showed little regard for the impact the project would have on nearby residential areas.

"You did the bare minimum. You have a lot of vague speculative facts here," Bransky said. "I've built many of these distribution centers throughout the '90s. Not a one of them was ever put anywhere near a residential area. So, as I consider the special use standards, I can't fit any of your answers or any of the facts provided about this development concept into the standard in any favorable way.

"This deal stinks like stagnant water in a retention pond."

Commission Chairman Fred Sierzega agreed, noting the imprecision of the plans did not match the community's expectations.

"I'm very disappointed in the fact that you guys didn't do any homework to find out what this community is all about," he said. "I have seen much better plans come in for a lot smaller projects. I think it's kind of an insult to us.”

Acknowledgements
Several commissioners took time at the end of the long process to thank those who were involved in the deliberations, from residents who spoke out, to village staff and the developer’s representatives. 

"I want to thank all the residents who came out to these meetings or watched them on Zoom and for all their questions and comments, because they're concerned with our community," Sierzega said.

Commissioner Bill O'Brien gave a nod to village staff, especially Village Attorney Chris Cummings and Village Manager Jim Marino "for some extraordinary effort in shepherding this application to the point of discussion we're at today."

He also thanked former Economic Development Director Angela Mesaros, who resigned Tuesday, March 2, after a "hot mic" incident in which she made disparaging comments about some residents who attended commission meetings. 

"Personally, I would also like to thank Angela Mesaros for her assistance to me not only on this application but many others over the years," O'Brien said. "She was an advocate for Homewood. I will miss her."

The standards from the zoning code, section 2.15 part D, that the commission and trustees use to assess rezoning requests follows.

Standards 
In making their recommendations on the map or text amendment, the Planning and Zoning Commission shall review the proposed amendment, any oral and written comments received at the respective public hearings, and the standards set forth below: 

  1. Does the current zoning or the proposed zoning more closely conform to the stated goals in the Comprehensive Plan? 
  2. Have major land uses, conditions or circumstances changed since the original zoning was established? 
  3. Do sites exist for the proposed use in existing districts permitting such use? 
  4. Is the requested change compatible with the existing uses, development patterns and zoning of nearby properties? 
  5. Does the present development of the area comply with existing ordinances? 
  6. Does the existing zoning impose an unreasonable hardship or can a reasonable economic benefit be realized from uses permitted by the existing zoning? 
  7. What is the extent of the diminishment of property values, if any, resulting from the current zoning? 
  8. How long has the property been vacant as compared to development occurring in the vicinity? 
  9. Is the property physically suitable for the zoned uses or for the proposed use? 
  10. Does the proposed use satisfy a public need? 
  11. Will the proposed change conflict with existing or planned public improvements or adversely impact schools, parks or other public facilities? 
  12. In the vicinity, will the environment or traffic patterns be adversely affected? 
  13. To what extent will the proposed change diminish property values of the surrounding properties? 
  14. Will the proposed change deter the use of properties in the area or contribute to redevelopment? 
  15. Will the proposed change be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood or of the village as a whole?

Text Amendments 

  1. Is the proposed text amendment consistent with the stated goals in the Comprehensive Plan? 
  2. Does the proposed text amendment address a particular issue or concern for the Village of Homewood? 
  3. Will the proposed text amendment impose an unreasonable hardship on existing uses? 
  4. Have major land uses, conditions or circumstances changed since the original zoning ordinance text was established? 
  5. Is the requested change compatible with the existing uses and development patterns of the community? 
  6. Will the proposed change be detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood or of the village as a whole? 

No one of the above standards is controlling.