Wilmette residents opposing the proposed seven-unit townhouse development on Wilmette Avenue collectively breathed a sigh of relief when the Village Board unanimously voted against the development at its March 24 meeting.
The Village Board’s refusal was in line with the Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision at its January 21 meeting to vote against the development.
Neighborhood opposition to the townhouse development has been strong. Signs stating “R-2 Zoning Means 2 Units Per Lot” have been visible on neighbors’ yards all along Wilmette Avenue and surrounding streets that would be impacted by the development.
And residents opposing the development were in full force at the Village Board meeting. They were present handing out “NO” stickers as people entered the room and voicing their concerns during the public comment period.
Developer 1314-1318 Wilmette LLC sought a special use permit and three variances to build seven townhouses on the Wilmette Ave property located a half block west of the library. The property is located in an R-2 District, which permits two-unit dwellings and townhouses with up to four units in a single building.
Lawrence LaSusa, the attorney representing the developer, argued that the development increased Village density in accordance with the Village Center Master Plan, but Village President Bob Belinsky quickly cut off this line of argument. President Belinsky noted that the Master Plan was irrelevant since the property is not located in the Village center and the R-2 Zoning District is primarily driven by single-family homes, not town homes.
LaSusa further argued that the project was “consistent with the character of the neighborhood” and that the variances would not only enhance the project itself, but were also de minimis.
Residents opposing the development took turns arguing their case to the Board. They argued the development would cause traffic problems on Wilmette Avenue and add to the congestion surrounding nearby McKenzie Elementary School. They also argued that the issue came down to economics: the property was over-priced, thus forcing the developer to build seven townhouses instead of the permitted four in order to turn a profit.
But while the Village Board expressed only a few concerns with the variances – mainly concerns about the width of the driveway and curb cuts on Wilmette Avenue – overall the board did not view the project as consistent with the neighborhood.
Director of Community Development Jonathan Adler explained to the Board that a special use may be granted when the use is appropriate for that particular district. Against that standard, the Board found that the seven town homes were not consistent with the R-2 District, which primarily comprises older single-families homes.
“This is not an issue of ‘are you for or against townhouses.’ This really is an issue of how many should be on this particular location. I think seven is too much for this particular location,” Trustee Alan Swanson said.
“The problem I have with this is it doesn’t fit in that neighborhood,” added Trustee Cameron Kruegar.
LaSusa argued that the development would only be profitable if seven townhouses were permitted and that it was in the “best interest of the Village” to approve the development. But the Board ultimately found that profitability is not a factor in granting a special use permit.
And the Board also took into consideration neighborhood opposition. “It clearly is not what the Village wants and I heard that from the neighbors,” said Trustee Daniel Sullivan.
Residents opposing the development were clearly pleased with the Board’s decision. “I am glad they were sensitive to the context of the neighborhood,” said Wilmette resident Chad Boomgaarden. “While it is zoned R-2 it is still a single-family scale neighborhood.”
Cynthia Gaskill lives near the proposed development and has been involved with the neighborhood opposition campaign.
“[It was] democracy in action,” she said. “We thought we would just make it. I admired the Board’s reasoning. I thought it was a good meeting. They listened.”