News Column

Proposed Whole Foods in Lake Forest stirs debate at planning meeting

June 12, 2014

By Dan Waters, Chicago Tribune

June 12--Empty seats were sparse in Lake Forest's council chambers Wednesday night for the last of four public hearings relating to a controversial Whole Foods development proposed for the city's west side.

While city officials tried to limit discussion to topics that hadn't been touched on at previous meetings, two recurring resident concerns with the project -- the cutting down of up to 400 trees on the property and razing of a historic 1930 mansion -- dominated public comment.

Gail Hodges, president of the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation, said the 400-tree removal would be the largest in the city's history.

"Clear-cutting and replanting an 8.5-acre site and waiting 100 or more years for replacement trees to grow does not meet the requirements of the city's tree ordinance," she said.

The Plan Commission had not yet voted Wednesday night on whether to recommend the development to the City Council. If the plan cuts through the first bit of red tape, there are still a handful of hurdles left to clear.

The proposal would have to go to the council for approval and would then need to be given the go-ahead from the Lake Forest Building Review Board and Historic Preservation Commission, which would vote on the removal of the 1930 "country house" on the property.

Known as the David C. Everitt Estate, the Tudor revival home -- which includes a coach house and a shed -- was named a historic landmark by Lake Forest in 2003. It is currently used as office space.

Some residents suggested trying to incorporate the home into the site design.

But possibly more pressing is the prospect of tree removal, which is a sore subject for many Lake Forest residents.

In 1987, the actor known as Mr. T cut down more than 100 oak trees on his property in a move that caused quite an uproar at the time for residents of the city that touts itself as a "Tree City USA." Lake Forest has earned the distinction, given out by the Arbor Day Foundation, for 33 years in a row.

That Mr. T incident, which residents are cautioning city officials against repeating on a larger scale, led Lake Forest to put more stringent rules in place for tree preservation.

While Wilmette-based Shiner Group has said it plans to replant trees in areas around the property, some residents maintained that wasn't enough.

Other concerns expressed at the meeting were storm water management issues, setbacks from Route 60 and traffic concerns on nearby roads.

Shiner Group officials confirmed that Whole Foods has already signed a 20-year lease to anchor the development, which would be known as Conway Neighborhood Market. A mix of retail, restaurants and businesses, the five buildings would cover about 70,000 square feet, with about 45,000 square feet for the grocer.

Sam Ankin, principal of Shiner Capital Partners, previously told the Tribune that the group is "very committed" to having Whole Foods as the key to the project.

In a petition to the city, Shiner Group estimated the retail center would eventually generate nearly $900,000 through a combination of property and sales taxes.

Twitter @danwaters33


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Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)

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