Bears stadium? Yes. Warehouses? No. Arlington Heights panel weighs racetrack site uses

A lower-level Arlington Heights committee Wednesday night tackled a big topic: the fate of Arlington Park.

The initial review of proposed zoning rules by the ordinance review committee, a subset of the village plan commission, sets in motion a process by village officials to have some say in what becomes of the massive site that's now for sale at Euclid Avenue and Wilke Road.

The panel's recommendation of a so-called overlay zoning district for the 326-acre property would expressly prohibit certain uses officials do not want to see there — a 23-item list that includes adult businesses, car washes, currency exchanges, kiddie parks, funeral parlors and warehouses.

What isn't on the proposed list of prohibited uses, noted plan commission chairman Susan Dawson, is a sporting facility.

“Over the years people have said, 'Wouldn't it be great if the Bears moved out here?'” Dawson said during the meeting, held virtually. “What if someone wanted to put in a football field or soccer field or something like that? ... If someone came through and the plan was acceptable — met special use criteria and it was acceptable — that could be a potential use for this property.”

Long-held rumors that Chicago's NFL franchise could relocate to Arlington Park resurfaced after a team spokesman would not deny such a possibility still exists, after track owner Churchill Downs Inc. listed the track for sale in February. Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes has said a possible Bears stadium and the preservation of live horse racing are both on the table.

Bill Enright, assistant director of the village's planning and community development department, recommended the proposed overlay zone, saying the underlying business zoning classification for the racetrack site isn't conducive to promoting a future mixed use redevelopment of the site.

Enright said the proposed overlay would encourage higher-density, mixed-use development within walking distance of the existing Metra station — known in planning and development circles as a transit-oriented development. The zoning language would also require sustainable development features, such as bicycle access, and that natural site features like Salt Creek be incorporated into redevelopment plans.

“I think that a lot of what we're doing is setting up some standards for good development — good, quality development, and to try to ensure that,” Enright said.

The committee Wednesday night also recommended new rules that would prevent piecemeal subdivision of the site, which officials fear would otherwise result in more haphazard redevelopment.

The proposed zoning changes wouldn't preclude horse racing from continuing under the current or new owners. In fact, the village board earlier this month approved a measure blocking Churchill from placing restrictive covenants on the land as part of a sale, in the municipality's attempt to preserve the possibility of horse racing and gambling there.

But plan commissioner Terry Ennes noted all indications from Churchill would be to sell to a non-racing entity, as company executives hope to relocate the Arlington racing license elsewhere in Illinois.

Enright declined to speculate, ahead of a June 15 deadline for developers to submit proposals to the company.

“I don't know what the future is of the racetrack, whether it'll continue to be operated as a track. I don't know,” Enright said. “Certainly, Churchill Downs has made their intentions clear. It remains to be seen who's going to be interested in the site and who's going to bid on the site and put forth a proposal.”

The full nine-member plan commission will host a public hearing on the proposed zoning code changes during a virtual meeting at 7:30 p.m. June 9, before forwarding the matter to the village board for final approval.

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Susan Dawson
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