Another hurdle was cleared Tuesday for the eventual commercial development of the Dimucci property at Old McHenry and Rand roads, with only the Lake County Board left to decide.
County officials said commercial use was appropriate for the site, and they appeared comfortable with conditions and restrictions for the complicated and controversial plan hammered out after hours of public meetings and extensive discussion between the county and community leaders.
"A lot of the improvements that were made here were because of the comments we heard from the public and municipal leaders," said Bonnie Thomson Carter, a county board member and chair of its planning, building and zoning committee.
The committee voted 6-0 to recommended approval of the application to rezone the property from estate residential to commercial. It also recommended approval of a preliminary plan that calls for development not to exceed 53 acres, including parking lots and roads, and designating another 50 acres as open space in perpetuity.
The approvals were subject to a 16-page list of conditions outlined by county planners and a letter of intent between the county, Hawthorn Woods and North Barrington, which also sets conditions for development.
And in an acknowledgment of the current market, the committee also recommended approval of a variation requested by Dimucci that the preliminary plan approval be good for two extra years, until 2017.
During the discussions, the original proposal for 800,000 square feet of commercial space was reduced to 450,000 square feet of retail uses and 200,000 square feet of "local service oriented uses" such as offices or restaurants.
Compared with the previous public sessions, attendance at Tuesday's committee meeting was sparse, though concerns were voiced about traffic, noise, the size of the commercial area and the process by which the application is being reviewed.
Earlier this year, the Lake County Regional Planning Commission opposed the request. Last week, the Lake County Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved it.
Harry MacCartney, representing Active Citizens for Responsible Expansion, said the group is not opposed to "reasonable development", but the plan as presented would have an area-wide impact. He suggested it be scaled down to a maximum of 350,000 square feet.
"This all comes down to size," he told the committee.
He also questioned why details needed to be "locked down and solidified in advance" before a detailed plan with the actual uses was presented.
Committee members said preliminary approval sets parameters and land owners have a right to plan ahead.
"We want to get a shovel-ready site so when development comes, we're ready to go," Carter said.
Conditions cover a variety of aspects such as lighting, landscaping, stormwater runoff, noise and road improvements. The zoning would not actually change until a final plan, which would require further review, is approved.
"I feel the county has a great deal of control over what actually happens there," said County Board member Craig Taylor, who lives near the site in Lake Zurich. Taylor is not on the committee but was involved in talks with leaders of the two communities.
However, the committee did not agree with conditions added by the zoning board of appeals, calling for a 10-foot-high berm along Old McHenry Road with extra landscaping, and limiting building height to 40 feet rather than 50 feet.
John Dimucci told the committee that anchor stores need the option of working within a 50-foot height maximum. Reducing it could have a "profound and negative impact" on attracting high-end stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue or Nordstrom, he said.
"We certainly want to approve a plan we feel has the best shot at being successful," Carter said.