WILMETTE – The Wilmette Village Board approved 6-1 the development of a 64-unit, three-story memory care facility at the current site of Wil-Ridge Plaza on Ridge Road by Artis Senior Living, at its meeting on January 9. Trustee Joel Kurzman voted against the development.
After village trustees expressed concerns at a board meeting on December 12 that the building was too tall and Artis failed to show a sufficient public benefit to grant the zoning relief requested, Artis came back to the board with a slightly smaller building and beefed up public benefits. Artis is seeking a special use permit through the planned unit development process (“PUD”) which provides zoning relief in exchange for a public benefit to the community.
By moving the loading zone from the first floor to exterior of the building in the southwest corner of the site, Artis lowered the height of the building by four additional feet to 44 feet, three stories, including the parapet. This change was in direct response to concerns the board raised at the December 12 meeting about the size and scale of the building.
“We believe that with the height reduction it does fit much better within its context,” Rick Whitney, architect for Artis, told the board.
By moving the loading zone to the rear of the property, Artis created an area for trucks to complete a three point turn, rather than backing out onto Ridge Road. John Adler, Director of Community Development, noted that staff would look at this part of the plan more closely before it is finalized, since it looked very tight.
Artis also increased the size of the hedge running along Ridge Road to create a better screen, and also widened the buffer along Ridge Road from three feet to five feet, which they plan to enhance with additional plantings.
As for the public benefits, Artis committed to donating $10,000 per year, beginning one year after occupancy, to the nonprofit organization Housing Our Own. It also committed to a $10,000 annual donation to the village to defray the potential cost of additional emergency runs to the facility, as well as a potential loss in sales tax revenue.
Artis also will seek a Green Globe certification — an environmental seal of approval — that is popular in Europe and gaining popularity with companies in the U.S., such as Whole Foods. Finally, the company will create a preference for Wilmette residents and relatives when there is a waiting list.
Trustee Julie Wolf was impressed that Artis committed to seeking a Green Globe certification, having just learned about it herself at a meeting with the nonprofit Go Green Wilmette. “It is a very substantial certification and level that they would achieve,” she noted.
A preference for Wilmette residents was also viewed as a positive for the community. Trustee Kathy Dodd asked how the village planned to monitor this commitment, given its recent troubles with Loyola Academy’s failure to keep its student enrollment numbers where it had promised. Village Attorney Jeffry Stein said the village would request a report from Artis each year, where it would certify that it had complied.
President Bob Bielinski asked whether the $10,000 payments could be tied to inflation after a five year grace period, since the amount would be less sizable in 20 or 30 years. Jay Hicks, Senior Vice President of Development, worried about open-ended commitments but agreed to negotiate the issue with village staff.
The additional public benefits were enough to tip the board in favor of the project. Trustee Stephen Leanard noted that the lowering of the height, and the monetary contributions changed his view. “I can support this project now and I didn’t expect that,” he said.
Trustee Dodd noted that Artis had responded to each of the board member’s concerns. “I think this is a facility that will really benefit our residents,” she said, noting that her owner mother lived in a memory care facility.
While the majority of the board support the project, Trustee Joel Kurzman expressed his concerns about losing a retail corridor on Ridge Road without a comprehensive strategy. “Once you get rid of retail it won’t come back,” he said.
Village staff said they were working with current residents of Wil-Ridge Plaza to find suitable locations within the village.