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Northbrook board OKs luxury apartments, retail space for Grainger site

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The Northbrook Village Board approved a project early Wednesday morning that it hopes will meet the needs of residents and business owners who have been seeking a more dynamic downtown for years.

After nearly four and a half hours of discussion Tuesday night, the board unanimously voted to approve three omnibus ordinances that will transform the former Grainger Industrial Supply site, 1657 Shermer Road.

The property was purchased by the Village for $8 million in May 2018 and has been vacant for nearly five years.

The approval allows Quarterra Multifamily Communities — named Lennar Multifamily Communities when the Village entered into a $10.5 million purchase and sale agreement with the company last May — to purchase a 5-story, 318-unit luxury apartment building and a 6,500 square feet of restaurant or other retail space on 8.89 acres.

Quarterra will donate 1.49 acres to the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation for an affordable and supportive 48-unit housing development.

“A big win,” curator Joy Ebhomielen called it.

The rally drew 30 public speakers, 22 of whom opposed the development, though thinned out by the time village president Kathryn Ciesla adjourned the rally at 12:53 p.m.

The detractors cited numerous reasons: the density of the development, the 20-foot height of the main apartment building, the impact on traffic and schools, and a single driveway to the west at Woodlawn Road.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

They believed that those living in the affordable and supportive housing units would feel isolated from other residents. Many supported development at Grainger, but not this proposal.

People repeatedly cited a November 15 planning committee meeting where the panel unanimously recommended denying the project’s application.

Other speakers thought the village was considering this proposal simply to get the 2018 investment off the books.

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Curator Bob Israel disagreed.

“This plan is not about selling a piece of land to recoup a wrong expense,” he said. “This plan is about an opportunity to have a $150 million dollar investment made in our community that will help support the ecosystem that is our community and improve our quality of life from the status quo.”

Quarterra Central Division chairman Peter Chmielewski said the proximity to the center and its intended clientele of “future empty nesters and young professionals” would be a boon.

“We’re targeting potential tenants who are enthusiastic about walking, who are enthusiastic about public transportation,” he said.

Chmielewski said the project would take about two years to complete, with the first units ready in a year to 14 months.

Administrators said officials in the affected school districts approved the project, which would generate far more tax benefits than if Grainger operated its call center and warehouse.

Glenbrook North High School senior Luke Nelson was the first speaker. He quickly rattled off studies that indicated high-density developments reduced climate impacts.

More than two hours later, curator Heather Ross and Israel, the board’s main contributors to Northbrook’s climate action plan, agreed. Ross also said the need for affordable housing outweighed overall integration into the complex.

Ciesla, who usually only needs to vote to break a tie, thought the project was important enough to cast the seventh vote.

“Last week I was invited to the Chamber of Commerce to meet inner city entrepreneurs, large and small operators from different sectors,” she said. “Every one of those entrepreneurs was totally and completely supportive of the project, every one of them.”