LAKE FOREST — The Lake Forest Plan Commission unanimously continued a public hearing September 20 at Village Hall on Chase Bank’s application for a special use permit to build a branch on Waukegan Road, sending the application to the Building Review Board.
Some Lake Forest residents think the proposed bank on the former McDonald’s property is one financial institution too many for the city.
Catherine Czerniak, the city’s director of community development, said in a DailyNorthShore interview a special use permit that also requires a new building must be reviewed by both the Plan Commission and the Building Review Board. Both will make recommendations to the Lake Forest City Council, which has the final say.
Czerniak said at the meeting the city’s Community Development Department staff recommended the commission approve the special use permit with specific conditions. Those requirements are adaptability, pedestrian connections and community character.
“We want to make sure if people want to they can get across Waukegan Road to Sunset,” said Czerniak. “It should lend itself to alternative uses if in the future Chase did move out. There should be a commitment to make some contribution to the community.”
Special Conditions Spelled Out
Those special conditions, such as the future use of the building for a variety of uses, prompted Commissioner Guy Berg to suggest the Building Review Board determine whether a proposed structure will not only be good for a bank but a retail store or offices in the future.
“I’m offering a little bit better opportunity here to incorporate the development so it benefits the longevity of whatever is built there,” said Berg.
Commissioner Tim Henry said it may be better for the Plan Commission to finish its review before sending it to the Building Review Board. He said the commission was in a position to decide adaptability, though he has concerns about the proposed structure.
“This is the same (group of) people who sat up here 20 years ago who said a McDonald’s should look like a barn,” said Henry. “That is one of the reasons they didn’t sell too many hamburgers there. One of the reasons is we tried to tell McDonald’s how to design a fast food place.”
Commissioner Michael Freeman initially said the commission should decide on adaptability before sending the project to the building review board. He questioned the adaptability but felt the Plan Commission could make a decision before the Building Review Board gives it a look.
“Go ahead and put a block over the Chase name and tell me it’s not a bank,” said Freeman. “I don’t see how you can tell me it’s anything but a bank. The building to the south of it is a bank and it looks like one. And the building to the south of that is a bank.”
Shift to Building Review Board
By the time the discussion was over, the commissioners agreed it was best to see what the Building Review Board had to say about the design before making a final recommendation to the council.
The bank came prepared to explain why the location was a good one for Chase. John Christhoff, Chase’s market director of real estate, said the closest branch is in downtown Lake Forest. He said bank customers want do drive a shorter distance than from downtown to the west Lake Forest commercial district to get to a bank. He said the proposed branch is atypical.
“This will be more of a business center than a transaction center,” said Christhoff. “Emphasis will be on private office meetings and private client investment advisors. There will be lending advisors serving the local businesses in this area.”
After the bank’s presentation, nine members of the public spoke, with three favoring the new bank, five opposing and one not taking a definitive position. Mary Odonnell was one of those who said there is no need for another bank.
“I do not feel there is a need for a fourth bank. With all the new technology a lot of people don’t even enter a bank,” said Odonnell. “I also get the feeling west Lake Forest is the step child of east Lake Forest. I am not along in that sentiment.
Steve Douglas, who represents the owner of the shopping center immediately north of the site, said he worked cooperatively with McDonald’s in the past but favors letting Chase move into the area. He feels the time may be right for Chase rather than a restaurant.
“The whole area has evolved and it is still evolving,” said Douglas said. “Restaurants in that area have struggled. Perhaps there are too many of them. Maybe the economic evolution will drive more business to the restaurants at Forest Square and Sunset Corners,” he added referring to two of the nearby commercial developments.