Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer is excited about a Texas company's proposal for 350 luxury apartments on the property where HSBC once stood west of Sanders Road and south of Palatine/Willow roads, but a few aldermen have reservations.
"I think it is common sense to approve this development," Helmer said in an interview. "It is the largest, most exciting thing that has happened in Prospect Heights at least in the 28 years I've been here."
Helmer expects the city council will discuss issues around the apartments planned by the Finger Companies, based in Houston, at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 9.
The company wants to build the apartments on about eight of the 31 acres that Allstate Insurance Co. now owns at 2700 Sanders Road. The insurance company's headquarters is across Sanders Road in Northbrook.
A representative of Finger has made it clear that it will abandon Prospect Heights and build in another community unless the city agrees quickly that the project should be built, Helmer said.
Patrick Ludvigsen, alderman of the Fourth Ward, said he thinks the 31 acres should be developed as a planned unit development with some retail, rather than piecemeal.
"I think the city needs to meet with Allstate and talk about their future plans versus jumping into the first project that comes along," Ludvigsen said. "I am not against building 350 apartments there, but they need to be part of a larger overall use of that whole site."
A development with a Mariano's is planned nearby in Glenview, and Ludvigsen would like to seem something like that on the Prospect Heights site.
Third Ward Alderman Scott Williamson agreed with both Helmer and Ludvigsen. While praising work by Finger Companies, he said the council needs more information about this project before changing zoning, and he likes Ludvigsen's idea of having a plan for the entire property.
"I'm really thinking about it right now," Williamson said. "I love the idea of the project, but does it fit the site?"
Ludvigsen said he probably can approve with "tweaking" the changes to the construction code that Finger has requested to make its apartments financially competitive with others planned nearby in Glenview.
The buildings would have sprinklers for fire protection, and the city staff, including officials of the Prospect Heights Fire Protection District, approved the requested code changes, Helmer said.
While the city council could withhold zoning approval for any future project proposed for the vacant land, it cannot force the owner to create a mixed-use development, Helmer said.
Prospect Heights does not have a general property tax, but residents of the apartments would spend money in the city, adding to its economic vitality and providing sales tax, the mayor said. Prospect Heights also gets 8.5 percent of Glenview's sales tax collected nearby as part of an annexation agreement for property in the area, he said.
At one time the site was the headquarters of Household Finance Corp., which was bought out in 2002 by British-based HSBC, one of the world's largest banks. For a time, HSBC based much of its U.S. operations there, but it moved its local operations to a new building in Mettawa in 2008.
Allstate purchased the land where the HSBC offices stood in 2010 and demolished the HSBC buildings.
"Finger's business is building quality housing," Helmer said. "They don't build commercial, but they are one of the top builders in the nation."
Finger built Woodland Creek in Wheeling and The Tree House of Schaumburg in the mid-1980s and still owns those apartment buildings, along with other developments in other parts of the country, said Steve Skiber, director of building and zoning.