Discount grocer Aldi is welcome in Vernon Hills, but will have to improve the look of its proposed store before getting official approval.
The rapidly growing Batavia-based chain for years has been working on a Vernon Hills location and considers the northwest corner of Gregg's Parkway and Milwaukee Avenue as the "best long-term fit," according to Tom Howald, Aldi's director of real estate.
"If you're going to put it there, we've got a long ways to go with the architectural work -- a long, long ways to go with that," village Trustee Cindy Hebda said Tuesday during a concept presentation.
Trustees want more brick and architectural features for the proposed 19,054-square-foot building to be situated on about 2 acres at the northeast corner of Gregg's Parkway and an entry road known as Menards Drive.
Potential conflicts involving traffic flow onto the site and truck movements are other considerations to be worked out with village staff. But aesthetic was the main concern for village trustees and neighbors to the west in the well-appointed Gregg's Landing subdivision.
"The current proposed design of the Aldi's store is unacceptable. We don't want a standard Aldi's box," said Chet Lis, a 19-year resident and head of the architectural committee of the Gregg's Landing North Homeowners Association.
Lis had several suggestions, including: all brick and natural stone for the building; neutral-colored signs with white letters; additional landscaping; and no variations for signs or setbacks.
Not that the board needed a push, but the suggestions carry weight. Homeowners several years ago successfully lobbied for what Lis described as Lake Forest-style commercial architecture for the Lowe's, Mariano's and other buildings built on the sister commercial area south of Gregg's Landing.
"Since Gregg's Landing is a lot of custom houses, we'd like to have the commercial area flow into that type of architecture," he told the board.
Aldi has agreed to tower elements on all four sides, raised walls to conceal rooftop utilities and other features.
Howald said the company takes the suggestions seriously and promised to deliver "something that will surprise you" during the next appearance before the board.
Aldi plans to expand from 1,600 to 2,000 stores in the U.S. by late 2018 and has announced a $180 million plan to remodel 130 stores in Chicago and the suburbs. That includes the Mundelein location on Route 83, which opened in the early 2000s and is the closest to Vernon Hills.
Trustee Craig Takaoka asked whether Aldi considered remodeling any existing vacant buildings, such as Bally Total Fitness.
"We looked at several different sites in Vernon Hills," Howald said. Aldi wants to build new and considers the proximity to Jewel, Mariano's, Trader Joe's and a pending Whole Foods to be to its advantage, he added.
"We are a niche and we want to be as close as we can be to the other groceries," he said.
Next is a detailed review with village staff, followed by a public hearing and then back to the village board, a process expected to take two or three months. Aldi wants to open in early 2018.