Mundelein board divided over land deal that could lead to a new Walmart

Mundelein officials are preparing a deal that could pave the way for the construction of the town's first Walmart - but two trustees vehemently oppose the proposal.

It's not that board members Terri Voss and Robin Meier don't want the retail giant to come to town. Rather, they say the man who owns Oak Creek Plaza, the south side shopping center where the Walmart could be built, is making unreasonable financial demands upon the village.

During a public meeting this week, Voss accused property owner Ron Boorstein of holding the village "hostage" by insisting officials pay him up to $750,000 to help move a creek elsewhere on the property as a precursor to a land deal with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

"You are giving into a bully and putting all future negotiations at risk," Voss told her fellow trustees.

Meier similarly accused Boorstein and his son, Dan, of jeopardizing the Walmart deal, which has been in the works since 2012.

The Boorsteins were in the audience for the trustees' remarks. Both declined to comment about them afterward.

Meier and Voss are the only trustees who have publicly criticized the proposed arrangement with the Boorsteins, which could be approved next month.

Trustee Ed Sullivan defended the proposed deal this week, saying the traffic a Walmart would bring could energize the area.

"I think it's in everyone's best interests," Sullivan said.

The Walmart plan

Oak Creek Plaza is near the southeast corner of Route 60 and Route 45. The most visible tenants are restaurants, including a Pita Inn, a Popeyes and a Culver's.

Some stores and a bank are there, too.

Two large anchors, Menards and Hobby Lobby, moved out in recent years and their former spaces remain vacant.

The Wal-Mart corporation has proposed buying some of Oak Creek Plaza and opening a 178,000-square-foot superstore that would occupy much of the shopping center.

The free-standing businesses would remain, but other structures would be demolished, officials said.

"It would be a major redevelopment and a catalyst for that whole area," Trustee Ray Semple said.

Village officials expect a Walmart store would generate about $75 million in annual sales and about $1.2 million in sales tax for Mundelein, a portion of which would be returned to the company in an anticipated tax-sharing agreement.

This isn't the first time Wal-Mart has considered opening shop in Mundelein.

A Super Walmart was planned for Mundelein nearly a decade ago, on Route 60 north of Route 176, but the project was opposed by residents of a nearby neighborhood and became tied up in court.

Eventually the plan died.

That collapse was on Semple's mind during Monday's discussion.

"We lost Wal-Mart once already," he said. "How patient are they going to be if we say no (to the Boorsteins)?"

According to village documents, the Boorsteins have entered into a sale agreement with Wal-Mart for the land the company would need to build a new store. But village officials said the deal isn't final and confirmed the company hasn't requested building permits.

If the sale goes through, the Boorsteins would retain ownership over some of Oak Creek Plaza, as well as an adjoining 15-acre site that's undeveloped.

That land - between the shopping center and a Speedway gas station - once was home to a self-storage complex, but the buildings were torn down in the 1980s. A concrete pad that's been taken over by weeds and brush remains.

A creek divides them

Last year, the Boorsteins proposed building new shops on the site. But they first want to move a portion of the nearby Indian Creek waterway to create more room for a retail operation.

That's where the village - and its sizable checkbook - come into play.

The Boorsteins want the village to pay them to relocate the creek and for related landscaping costs. They've asked the village to cover up to 70 percent of the cost or $750,000, whichever sum is smaller.

The money would be delivered after the work is done, not in advance, according to village documents.

Meier and Voss don't want to pay up.

"We are all pleased that Wal-Mart is coming to the village, but I am not pleased at all with how this has come to pass," Voss said during Monday's public discussion of the plan.

She called the Boorsteins' demand for a village payout after previously agreeing to a deal with Wal-Mart "incredibly objectionable."

Meier said she believes the Boorsteins can build new stores along Route 45 without moving the creek. That environmental change would benefit the Boorsteins, she said, not the town's residents.

Meier also said the development of the vacant land near the shopping center is speculation, saying no developers have come forth to lead the project.

Additionally, she objected to the Wal-Mart sale being linked to the plans the Boorsteins have for the remainder of Oak Creek Plaza, particularly the creek issue.

"This is not a good business agreement for a whole variety of reasons," Meier said.

But a majority of the town's trustees feel otherwise.

After this week's debate, the board voted 4-2 to approve the terms of an agreement with the Boorsteins, including the payout for the creek relocation.

"The goal is to get these projects going," Sullivan said.

Mayor Steve Lentz joined the majority and voted for the arrangement, too.

"We're not breaking new ground here," Lentz said of the incentives being offered. "It moves things along."

Trustee Dawn Abernathy was absent for the vote.

A final vote on the Oak Creek Plaza deal is scheduled for May 12, Village Administrator John Lobaito said.

After getting the board's support, Ron Boorstein told reporters the negotiations with the village were "difficult."

As for Meier's objections, Boorstein said the Wal-Mart proposal and his plans to build a new retail building at Oak Creek Plaza have "always been linked."

When asked when Wal-Mart could start construction, he said "the sooner the better." He didn't give a more specific estimate.

Deal: Trustee says Wal-Mart sale shouldn't be linked to land owner's plans for plaza

  The owners of this land in Mundelein want the village to pay them up to $750,000 to help move a nearby creek. They say moving the creek will allow retail development on the site. Russell Lissau/
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