WILMETTE – The Wilmette Plan Commission voted 4-1 in favor of a proposed affordable housing development for the site of the former American Legion Post at 1925 Wilmette Avenue at a meeting on March 6. Commissioner Homa Ghaemi voted against the project.
The village board, which has the final say on whether the 16-unit building being proposed by Housing Opportunity Development Corporation (HODC) gets the go-ahead, will review the project on April 10.
HODC’s proposal includes 16 units, comprised of 10 one-bedrooms and six two-bedroom apartments, a 20% reduction from the original plan presented in 2015 that also targets families, in direct response to community input. The plan also includes set asides for veterans and people with disabilities, as well as 20 parking spaces.
The apartments will be rented at below market — $600 for one-bedroom and $800 for two-bedroom apartments — and will require an income threshold for tenants that they earn no more than $30,000 for a single person, or $38,000 for a four-person household.
Richard Koenig, HODC’s executive director, pointed to community benefits in addition to providing affordable housing, such as improved stormwater management of the site that will reduce run-off by 94%, ADA compliance and a green certification. Since HODC is seeking a special-use permit to construct the apartment building through the plan unit development (PUD) process, a public benefit must be established in exchange for zoning variances.
While some residents have raised concerns that the project could impact property values, real estate appraiser John Satter of Northbrook-based Hilco Global said the project would have no substantial impact on nearby property values. When pressed by Commissioner Michael Bailey to put a number value on “substantial”, Satter said the impact would be less than 5%.
During the public comment period, many residents spoke both for and against the project. Those speaking against the project felt that it didn’t fit into the community.
“It will be an eye sore on the busiest route to the village center,” Alan Minoff said. Others worried about the impact on property values, noting that values could go down even more than 5%.
But many residents expressed their excitement for a project that provides affordable housing, particularly for residents with disabilities who grew up in Wilmette, and can no longer afford to live here independently. “I am very excited that I live in a community that is welcoming to people with disabilities and low income folks,” Lisa Berganza said.
While Commissioner Ghaemi noted her reservations about approving an affordable housing project unpopular with neighbors, the village attorney Jeff Stein noted that the plan commission is tasked only with considering the building itself, not the type of housing it is providing. Commissioner Ghaemi said her main concern was with the density of the project, given the small lot size and high traffic intersection.
But the other commissioners were not concerned with density, noting that HODC has a 30 year history on the North Shore and a strong track record. “I am not troubled in the least by the density of the number of units,” Commissioner Bailey said. Likewise, Chair Maria Choca Urban noted that HODC had responded to community input by revising its plans to include families, as well as designing a building that is in character with other buildings on Ridge Road. “I am heartened that HODC did take community feedback to heart,” Choca Urban said.