Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by the Board of Directors of the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.
The Board of Directors of the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation has followed closely the ongoing review of the Special Use petition for the property at the corner of Rt. 60 and Saunders Road, commonly referred to as the “Whole Foods” development. This petition has recently been presented for a Special Use Permit at the Plan Commission and for architectural and landscape review at the Building Review Board.
Misinformation and confusion about the underlying requirements of this special use petition have been apparent at the hearings and in ongoing public commentary. Our Board of Directors has in-depth knowledge of the City’s regulations because many of us have served on City boards, the City Council, or as architects working with these regulations. Many residents may not have had this type of experience and may not be as familiar with local governmental codes and procedures. As this petition involves issues related to historic preservation, we want to share our understanding of the issues with the community. We strongly believe that Lake Forest’s Comprehensive Plan, careful attention to details of subdivision, stewardship of quality architecture and landscaping, and defined commitment to preserving our community’s historic buildings and landscape heritage are what make this a very special community of distinction.
First, it is important to understand that the petition for Special Use before the Plan Commission and Building Review Board is not about whether Whole Foods will be allowed to come to Lake Forest. Whole Foods is the proposed anchor tenant in a proposed commercial development. The issue before the City is not “Whole Foods” or “no Whole Foods.” The issue is whether the commercial developer and owner of the property will be granted a special use permit that allows changes from the “Comprehensive Plan Amendment for the Rt. 60 Sub-Area” of Lake Forest adopted by the City Council June 4, 2001, as well as the requirements set forth in the approved subdivision agreement for the subject property. Both documents are City-approved plans for the vision of the Rt. 60 corridor. Further the Zoning Code, Section 46-53-5 Transitional District, specifically references consistency with the Comprehensive Plan Amendment for the Rt. 60 Sub-Area.
What does the “Comprehensive Plan for the Rt. 60 Sub-Area” recommend (see quotes below)? What is the developer asking to be changed?
1. “Enhance Route 60 as the western gateway into Lake Forest.” The developer asks to place small clapboard structures within the front 20% of the 150-foot setback established by the Comprehensive Plan and the subdivision requirements, in stark contrast to the rest of the Rt. 60 western gateway to Lake Forest which maintains the setback.
2. “Enhance Conway Park as a world-class corporate park.” In contrast to Conway Park’s image as a world-class corporate park, the developer asks to place small shed-like structures up close to the road in violation of requirements established by the City.
3. “Enhance and preserve significant tree stands, wetlands, and water views.” The developer asks to remove over 300 mature trees.
4. “Continue improving the frontage along both sides of the roadway (150 feet north/south of right-of-way) with landscaping, and other design features to create a greenway/gateway setting.” The developer asks to reduce the 150 feet to 25 feet, less even than Vernon Hills has in its Rt. 60 development. The developer asks to remove trees within the required setback area. All others who have developed along Rt. 60 have complied with the 150-foot setback and landscape requirement, setting a precedent for compliance on this final undeveloped parcel facing Rt. 60.
5. “The landscaped greenway/gateway should extend along Route 60 from the Tollway to Waukegan Road. A comprehensive plan for this area shall be developed and all future development shall landscape their front 150 feet in accordance with said plan.” The developer’s petition removes over 300 mature trees and requests a 25-foot setback. Most of the required 150-foot setback will be paved with the developer’s parking lot. All others who have developed along Rt. 60 have complied with the 150-foot setback, setting a precedent for compliance on this final undeveloped parcel facing Rt. 60.
6. Specifically, regarding the parcel in question:
- “Moderate density low-rise residential with a range of housing product types that preserves significant tree stands, preserves the site’s overall wooded character, and links to the future residential neighborhood to the east.” The developer asks to remove over 300 mature trees, destroying the “wooded character” of the site.
- “Adaptive re-use of the Miller estate house.” This provision also is a condition of the approval for subdivision of the property, which also includes reuse of the surrounding mature landscape. The developer asks to demolish the Miller estate house (also known as the Everitt House and/or “the old mansion.”), which received one of the City’s highest honors by being designated a landmark by the City in 2006.
- The developer also asks to remove the estate’s entry landscape created by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, who also designed the landscape of the J. Ogden Armour estate, an adaptively re-used estate across Rt. 60 on the north side, which sets a preservation precedent in its adaptive re-use as Lake Forest Academy.
If a special use is recommended by the Plan Commission under these conditions, the Historic Preservation Commission will be required to review the request for demolition of the landmarked manor house to determine whether the building is re-useable or not. The burden of proof is the responsibility of the petitioner. The developer and property owner to date have provided no evidence that the building cannot be adaptively re-used and, in fact, have chosen to ignore the City’s designation report and an additional report that they commissioned which documents the quality and distinction of the manor house, its auxiliary structures, and its landscape.
Note that there also are aesthetic issues under review for this project, relating to the developer’s plans for architectural design, building materials, and landscape and hardscape design, which are being addressed by the Building Review Board. The Board at its last meeting requested revision of these and other plans for the project to help ensure that it is more compatible with the design and materials used at neighboring properties, which set an architectural and landscape precedent for the visual appearance of the Rt. 60 gateway to Lake Forest.