Would Glen Ellyn apartment proposal dominate downtown landscape?

  • A proposed five-story apartment complex at the corner of Main Street and Hillside Avenue in Glen Ellyn is drawing criticism from some who say it would destroy the feel of the village's downtown.

    A proposed five-story apartment complex at the corner of Main Street and Hillside Avenue in Glen Ellyn is drawing criticism from some who say it would destroy the feel of the village's downtown. Courtesy of Village of Glen Ellyn

  • The site of the development once housed the Giesche Shoes store.

    The site of the development once housed the Giesche Shoes store. Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 1/21/2019 5:35 PM

The corner of Main Street and Hillside Avenue provides one of the best views of the downtown that made Jon Brazier want to move to Glen Ellyn more than 20 years ago.

The area's rolling topography reaches a high point at that corner. To the west is the St. Petronille Parish steeple. Looking south is a tree-lined Main Street with Tudor-style facades and a sense of history.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If built, a proposed five-story apartment complex would dominate that landscape and overshadow one of the downtown's "tremendous view corridors," says Brazier, who lives about a block away.

"Main Street will be a dark, partial canyon for the most of the day," he said. "Nowhere in our village, in those critical downtown areas, are we casting shadows across the street for that type of duration. It will be very uninviting."

The issues of height, architectural style and traffic remain at the forefront of a debate about the redevelopment of the former Giesche Shoe store at the northwest corner of Main and Hillside. Village trustees on Tuesday will discuss the developers' request for financial incentives and nearly a dozen conditions recommended by plan commissioners, who unanimously endorsed the plans.

For proponents, the project represents a roughly $39 million investment that will bring foot traffic to support new restaurants and other businesses that are replacing mom-and-pop establishments. The site has been the subject of four proposals that have failed to materialize since the family-owned shoe store closed in 2014.

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Developers bought the property from the Giesche family. GSP Development President Larry Debb and John Kosich are the project's two principals.

Critics support a mix-used development, but oppose the current plan for "Apex 400," a building with 8,844 square feet of first-floor retail space, 107 upscale apartments and a two-story parking garage.

"We want something that thoughtfully, responsibly integrates with the current fabric that makes Glen Ellyn so special," Brazier said.

Developers have made nearly 30 changes to the project, according to village documents. But Lee Marks, the former chairman of the village's historic preservation commission, said the revised elevation "isn't any better."

"I challenge anyone who lives in Glen Ellyn to stand on the corner of Main Street and Hillside Avenue to look down the hill at our incredibly charming, historic and unspoiled business district, and tell me that a massive five-story building won't completely overwhelm our south historic district and radically change the entire complexion of our downtown," Marks wrote to the village.

Village code allows a maximum height of 45 feet for Main Street properties, but developers are seeking a height of up to 65 feet at the top of a parapet. Most of the complex would stand roughly 58 feet tall.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Just the scale is huge, and it's going to overtake the Main Street," resident Jeff Blei said.

Trustee Mark Senak has suggested developers scrap plans for public parking to scale back the overall height of the complex.

GSP Development has secured an agreement to buy the neighboring village-owned Main Street parking lot. Developers would build 137 covered, public spaces on the first floor of a new parking garage at a cost of $3.143 million. At the end of the project, developers would convey back the first floor at a village cost of $10. The village would maintain and own that first level.

But Senak disputes the need for public parking in the redevelopment. A new garage behind the Civic Center also is in the design phase.

"The simple fact is if you look at almost any metric on how much parking we need in that location, we have plenty, and if we don't, the parking garage at the Civic Center will take care of that," Senak said.

But Village President Diane McGinley said developers aren't willing to pay for the village-owned Main Street lot to make way for the complex. The lot is valued at $1.845 million.

"We would be giving our land forever and we would not have received anything for it," she said.

What's more, increasing commuter parking opens up grant opportunities as the village pursues funding for a planned replacement of its Metra station, McGinley said.

McGinley expects developers to make more revisions as the plans come before trustees for the first time Tuesday. She said officials are open to suggestions, but cautioned against changes that would cause the developers to "start over from scratch."

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