Developer proposes seven-story apartment building in downtown Wheaton

The next wave of redevelopment in downtown Wheaton could reach the south side of the railroad tracks that divide the city center.

An area home to a mix of longtime service-based businesses would take on an entirely new look with a proposed apartment building within walking distance of the Metra station.

A Deerfield-based developer wants to build a seven-story complex that would cover almost an entire city block bounded by Liberty Drive to the north, Hale Street to the east, Willow Avenue to the south and Wheaton Avenue to the west.

Historically, that part of the downtown had not kept pace with the building activity and renewal efforts on the north side of the train tracks.

But the apartment plans show how the city's $35 million investment in new downtown infrastructure and streetscape is sparking further private development, officials say. The city's planning and zoning board is set to hold a public hearing on the project on April 26.

"It's right there in the center. You look at its proximity to the train station. It's walkable to all aspects of the downtown," Mayor Phil Suess said of the site. "I think it's a great example of how what we've done in the downtown has encouraged people to come in and make investments."

Banner Real Estate Group hopes to capitalize on that atmosphere by redeveloping more than 2 acres of downtown property. If completed, the 306-unit complex would mark the first large-scale housing project in the core business district since the Wheaton 121 apartments were built about a decade ago.

"Wheaton is a residential community. We have people come here, they raise their families," Suess said. "As their families get older, they're looking to downsize, but they want to stay in the community. I think this type of development is reflective of that trend, not only in Wheaton but in other suburbs as well."

The project would require razing buildings with some links to the city's small-town past. Four structures are eyed for demolition: the Egg Harbor Cafe restaurant that used to house the family-owned Wheaton pharmacy and soda fountain, a four-story brick office building formerly occupied by Wheaton Bank & Trust, the Perfect Thing consignment store, and a house also used as offices on Willow Avenue.

In their place, the developer would build a seven-story complex with an outdoor courtyard and 4,502 square feet of first-floor commercial space. A new Egg Harbor Cafe would fill a portion of the building's first floor, according to a project narrative sent to the city.

Plans also call for an indoor parking garage with 429 parking spaces for the building's residential tenants. One access point to the parking garage would be on Wheaton Avenue, while the other would be on Willow Avenue.

"Given the subject property's location near downtown and the proximity to the Metra train station, it is anticipated that many of the units will have limited need for parking," states the developer's zoning application to the city. "In order to alleviate traffic issues, each floor of the parking garage will have access on separate streets."

Banner Real Estate is seeking zoning relief for the building's height, among several other variations. City code allows a maximum height of four stories or 50 feet in the underlying zoning districts.

"However, the city has previously approved heights up to 82 feet when it approved the (planned unit development) for the First Trust building, and the Courthouse Square multifamily development was approved at seven stories and 70 feet," the developer's application states.

A Banner Real Estate executive did not immediately return a request for comment.

  A four-story office building also would be torn down to make room for a new apartment complex proposed for a 2.34-acre site in downtown Wheaton. Brian Hill/
  The Perfect Thing consignment store in downtown Wheaton would be demolished as part of a redevelopment proposal. Brian Hill/
  A house used as offices would be among four buildings slated for demolition. Once cleared, a developer would construct a seven-story apartment building. Brian Hill/
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