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Article updated: 6/20/2013 3:12 PM

Trustees: Housing plan too dense for Vernon Hills

By Mick Zawislak

The building may look good and the would-be developer is held in high regard, but Vernon Hills trustees think 264 apartments is too many for a site overlooking one of the community's main attractions.

While not dismissing the possibility of some type of residential development overlooking the lakes at Century Park, village leaders say the size of the project proposed by Seymour "Sy" Taxman was not in the cards, despite his track record for quality and credibility.

"It's just the wrong location for this massive a building," Trustee Thom Koch said of the proposal for the intersection of Lakeview and Hawthorn parkways. "There's absolutely no way I can support this big of a project."

During a village board work session Tuesday, Taxman Corporation and Milco Acquisition Company tested the waters for support of the plan for the nearly 5-acre site that has become a burial ground for failed restaurants.

Taxman, who developed the Vernon Hills Town Center, a gateway retail and residential project at Routes 45 and 21, said a dozen restaurants have come and gone at the location on the south end of Little Bear Lake. That property has reverted to bank ownership and is ripe for an adaptive re-use, he added.

After reviewing options, the partners determined that a "well designed, high-quality multifamily residential project," would be the best use of the property and be consistent with the lake and park, he told he board.

But the plan for 264 units in a single, five-story building is much more dense than one initially rejected for the same spot in 2008.

That earlier plan envisioned 100 condos in two buildings with ground floor retail uses. A revised plan dropped the number of condos to 90, reduced the height of the buildings and introduced a boardwalk to connect with a lakeshore bike path, among other changes. But the development never materialized as the economy collapsed.

Taxman, who owns the 85-unit The Commons apartment building in the Town Center, said there is a need for rental units for people who work in Vernon Hills. This project could become an "integral part of your community" in a busy location surrounded by shopping and corporate uses, he told the board.

"We'll work our butt off to make this work ... make it work the right way," he said. "We just want the opportunity."

But village officials had issues with several aspects of the plan as presented.

Trustee Jim Schultz said even the 90 units proposed five years ago was "pushing it" in terms of density and he did not want the lakefront blocked to public use.

"I do not see residential there," added Trustee Cindy Hebda. "I see people being able to enjoy the vista of the lakes."

Trustee Jeanne Schwartz said residential was acceptable if it included accessibility to the lake and commercial uses on the ground floor.

Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar said it was premature to proceed with more detailed review and suggested the concept be refined.

"It's an important location where the development needs to be scaled properly to the surrounding area," Kalmar said.

Besides reducing density and increasing open space, the possibility of working with neighboring Rust-Oleum, which needs more land for parking, will be considered, he said.

Taxman said he would take that suggestion "to see if we can come up with a revised concept of how this site could be utilized and maybe integrated with our neighbors to see if it could work for both of us."

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