The old Fell’s building and surrounding area in downtown Winnetka have been in meetings and discussions for so long, but people still have many questions. Daily North Shore sat down with David Trandel, CEO of Stonestreet Partners, LLC on May 4 to talk about the development his company is proposing for the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street.
At two public Plan Commission meetings Trandel and his team presented their proposal: a seven-story, mixed-use building featuring 120 rental apartments on the upper floors, underground parking, and retail space on the first floor.
Both meetings were crowded with Winnetka residents voicing their concerns about the project, primarily objecting to the size and scale of the building. At the last meeting on April 22, Stonestreet agreed to submit a new plan before the next Plan meeting on May 27. Since then, Trandel and his team have been working to modify their proposal to respond to the community’s objections.
Here are the results of our recent interview with Trandel:
Why did your team submit a plan of this scale given Winnetka’s zoning restrictions?
Since we’ve owned the property, Winnetka’s Zoning Code has changed. We think that we are providing a lot of public benefit and that always comes with some cost. We view this property as a blank canvas and in one effort are trying to address multiple issues in the downtown. The business district needs parking to attract more retail and restaurants, which community residents desire.
What is the parking situation in the East Elm shopping district?
Right now there is not enough commuter parking and so residents park on the streets in front of businesses. Some residents park on Maple Street in front of people’s homes. Potential shoppers frequently circle the blocking looking for a parking space. A solution to this problem would be an underground two level parking garage with parking spaces for commuters and retail shoppers. It will get the commuter cars off the street and eliminate congestion.
Residents have raised safety concerns about an underground parking garage. How will you address those concerns?
The garage will be open on the West side and that will make safety less of an issue. There are other ways to monitor a garage as well, including cameras and other security measures, and potentially valet parking for restaurant patrons.
The proposed project asks for a roughly $6 million dollar contribution from the Village. How did you wind up with that figure?
We plan to buy a portion of Lincoln Avenue and then deed it back to the Village. The Village will own the parking garage and it will be a village asset. We would build the garage and so the Village contribution is not a subsidy for the project./em>
Are you concerned that the Village won’t be able to pay for the garage?
The Village does have a capital reserve fund. It is more about having the will to solve the parking issue. They also have access to low cost capital. The Village would also indirectly benefit from more retail, resulting in more tax dollars.
Where will the residents of the building park?
In the current plan residents have their own two-level underground parking garage below the building. If we eliminate a level off the top of the building then we might also eliminate a level of underground parking to make the numbers work.
How many of the apartments are 1 bedroom, how many are 2 bedroom, and how many are 3 bedroom, and what is square footage of each type?
I think about 80% of the apartments will be two to three bedrooms with a den and range in size from 1,200 to 2,600 square feet. We don’t envision a lot of one bedrooms. The one bedrooms will also include an office or den.
How much space will be dedicated to retail and what types of retail business do you envision?
The entire first floor will be retail space at about 33,000 square feet. A lot of existing tenants are interested in leasing in the proposed building, such as Kids In Motion. We will envision local boutiques and restaurants, with at least three restaurants. We plan to attract quality retailers by providing more parking. We have so many good shopkeepers in Winnetka, but we are doing them a disservice by not providing enough parking.
If it is easier to park, all of our neighboring communities will want to come to Winnetka. Once there are more retail choices, it will create critical mass and more people will want to come here to shop and go to restaurants.
Who is the market for these apartments?
We are targeting the empty nester market because many residents raise their families in Winnetka and want to simplify their lives and stay here. Right now there are only a handful of places to choose from. We also envision young professionals who want to try living in Winnetka before they choose to buy something.
Why did you choose apartments over condos?
Financing is a real driver. Banks are making loans for luxury rentals but not for condos right now. With two towers, if there is a demand in the future for condos we could convert one tower to condos at some point.
How much do you plan to rent these apartments for?
These are going to be expensive apartments. The average rental price will likely be $4,000 per month on average.
Who will manage the rental apartments?
We will most likely hire a third party that specializes in rental management.
As you work on modifying your plans, will lowering the height result in a less square footage?
If we take down the height then we will need to find ways to save money such as construction styles or not as much underground parking. We are going to lose some square footage. With the original plan we were trying to create light and air for 711 Oak Street.
Conney’s is clearly a hold out. Are you still working with them to reach an agreement/solution?
It would make for a better project if we could relocate Conney’s. We have made generous offers to Conney’s because we don’t want to harm their business. They wanted to own their building and so we offered to buy the building across the street where Mirani’s is currently located. We also offered to move Conney’s to that location and we agreed to a noncompete because they were concerned about a national drugstore opening in our building. They wanted deed restrictions but we could only agree to a noncompete.
We are trying to be sensitive to Conney’s. It is too bad we can’t find a way to get Conney’s to be part of the solution. I hope they reach out and make a phone call so that we can make a deal.
What’s your response to residents concerns about traffic and congestion?
We hired international experts on traffic and their studies show no negative impact on traffic. People won’t be coming and going at the same time. Look at 711 Oak Street which has 78 units and nobody feels they create a traffic burden.
Residents of 711 Oak Street have expressed concerns about your development. Do you have plans to meet with them?
We continue to meet with 711 Oak. The original plan was based on talks with 711 Oak. We kept the design low in the middle to be a good neighbor. We pushed the height out to the edges so that 711 Oak wouldn’t be impacted.
Did you expect this much push back from the community?
I think there is a lot more support than opposition. The majority tends to be much more quiet than the minority and we expected the minority to be vocal and loud. But I want people’s thoughts to be heard and we are trying to address concerns that have been raised. We are trying to listen — the process is healthy because we will end up with a better project in the end.
A lot residents object to the Beaux Arts style of the building. Will you modify the style in your new plans?
We will provide more detail so that people can embrace the Beaux Arts style. We plan to propose some varying architectural styles along Elm Street so it is not just one uniform style. It is going to be beautiful.
You have said that you will not disclose the investors of the project. What percentage are from Winnetka?
We won’t know the final investors until we know what we are trying to finance. The majority of dollars will likely be local. Most people are private about their investments and we respect that.
Mike Klein was part of New Trier Partners, the previous developer for this location. What is is his role in your project?
He is an interested party. When we acquired the property he carried interest. But he is not making any decisions and has zero control over the project.
Do you plan for this to be a long-term investment?
I hope to live here the rest of my life. I want to create something we’ll be proud of and it’s more than just money. It’s about making it happen.
You’ve spoken about this project as transit-oriented development. Could you point to other suburban communities that have successful transit-oriented development?
Evanston and Wilmette are moving toward this type of development. Up and down the Northwest suburbs you’ll see transit-oriented development such as Arlington Heights and Barrington. Three is a convenience factor with this kind of development. Transportation nodes attract activity and the carbon footprint is lower because it requires fewer cars as people rely on public transportation.
Do you have any interest in the apartments or retail space?
We have tons of people interested in the apartment rentals. We are already generating some interest from Chicagoland restaurants. We want to enhance the charm of the community by providing something convenient and architecturally significant.