Lake Zurich downtown future an issue for nine village board trustee candidates
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Debra Vander Weit
Lake Zurich's nine village board trustee candidates offer a variety of ideas on what type of movement they want to see on downtown redevelopment within a year.
Political newcomers Helmut Gerlach, Todd Minden and Ildiko Schultz are on the April 9 ballot for three, 4-year seats as members of Village President Suzanne Branding's United Lake Zurich slate. They have competition from incumbent Jeffrey Halen and newcomer and Daniel Stanovich — both are loosely aligned with current trustee and village president candidate Tom Poynton — and political novices Jim Beaudoin and Geoffrey Petzel.
First-time candidates Debra Vander Weit of United Lake Zurich and Mark Loewes, who also is connected to Poynton, are running for an unexpired 2-year term. Mary Black is the third village president candidate.
All nine trustee candidates recently addressed village issues in Daily Herald editorial board endorsement interviews and on questionnaires. Among the questions posed to them was what they realistically want to see within a year to demonstrate some progress on Lake Zurich's long-stalled downtown redevelopment.
Downtown redevelopment has been a longtime issue in Lake Zurich. In August 2001, village trustees approved a special taxing district to lure developers, but nothing significant has occurred since then because of the weak economy and other factors. Lake Zurich has what's called a tax increment financing district for downtown. That's where property tax revenue is frozen at a certain amount and any additional revenue goes into public improvements rather than to local governments such as school or park districts. Petzel said he'd want developers whose plans were previously rejected brought back before the village, so officials can revisit their ideas. He said a developer with the proposal that best fits Lake Zurich's comprehensive plan should be selected.
"I would bring one of those guys to the table," said Petzel, a salesman and business owner. "Have that project be expedited on the municipal approval side and we can get that project off the ground in six months or less."
Minden said he would want an active promotion campaign in an effort to attract business and developers to downtown. He said a pilot development project would be desirable, possibly starting with Lake Zurich village hall, which "needs some work."
"I think the village could set an example by starting a development of their own building," said Minden, a marketing professional.
Beaudoin, a business owner, contends the current village board trustees' inability to reach agreement has gotten in the way of potential downtown development. He said new faces on the board should help provide better leadership and a development idea.
"Property developers are great people, but really, the people that control the purse strings are the financial people, the bankers," Beaudoin said. "What does that (development plan) look like? I don't think the village is really in agreement. When you get in front of a finance guy or property developer, what's the mix for residential versus commercial? That's all got to be figured out."
Schultz, an operational accounting director, said the village needs to become "incredibly proactive" in listening to new proposals and reconsider previous plans that were rejected.
"I'm not here to rehash old things, but for whatever reason, I think some really good potential ideas just did not come to fruition," Schultz said. "Sometimes, it was through lack of action. Sometimes it was just the board, or whoever was involved, just taking way too long to make a decision. And people that are trying to bring businesses into town are there to make money and they can't wait forever."
Halen said there should be periodic updates at village board meetings so residents can hear about any downtown redevelopment progress. If re-elected, he said he would push to have any concept designs for downtown come before the board in public, and improved solicitation of developers.
"I think the communication of anything that is of interest (for downtown) needs to be vetted publicly," Halen said.
Gerlach, an attorney, said he would push to start approaching developers with financial wherewithal and request a development proposal package, including financing, within three to six months.
"I think there is a lot of opportunities out there over the next year to not sit idle, but to literally go out and talk with developers. And with developers, I would not re-approach the developers we have spoken to in the past because they were just not able to come up with the necessary financing," Gerlach said.
Stanovich, an account executive, said he would want a "full-blown" marketing campaign for the downtown this year and to issue formal requests for proposals as part of the process.
"I think we'd go out there with a campaign to say, 'This is what the village has to offer, here's what the village is prepared to do from a support perspective to help with some of the new development,' and ultimately just kind of generate some ideas and feedback," Stanovich said.
Vander Weit, a financial services consultant and real-estate broker, said she favors a two-part plan that initially would encourage rehabilitation of village-owned downtown buildings, perhaps involving grants or favorable pricing. She said the downtown should be promoted to potential developers that could generate maximum property tax revenue.
"I think we need to do something with the current structures that are there," Vander Weit said.
Loewes, a sales manager, said it's questionable whether the downtown structures are viable for rehabilitation because they may have too many problems, such as mold. He said the downtown and the village as a whole would benefit by creating a "friendly" building department and permitting process to help attract developer interest faster.
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