Northbrook board OKs luxury apartments, retail space for Grainger site

The Northbrook Village Board early Wednesday morning cleared a project it hopes fulfills the wishes of residents and business owners who for years have sought a more dynamic downtown.

After nearly four and a half hours of discussion Tuesday evening, the board voted unanimously to approve three omnibus ordinances that will transform the former site of Grainger Industrial Supply, 1657 Shermer Road.

The property was purchased by the village for $8 million in May 2018 and has been vacant nearly five years.

The approval allows Quarterra Multifamily Communities - called Lennar Multifamily Communities when the village executed a $10.5 million purchase and sale agreement with the company last May - to develop a 5-story, 318-unit luxury apartment building and a 6,500-square-foot restaurant or other retail space on 8.89 acres.

Quarterra will donate 1.49 acres to the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation for a 48-unit affordable and supportive housing development.

"A big win," Trustee Joy Ebhomielen called it.

The meeting drew 30 public speakers, 22 of them opposing the development, though they'd thinned out by the time Village President Kathryn Ciesla adjourned the meeting at 12:53 a.m.

Those opposed cited numerous reasons - the density of the development, the 64-foot height of the main apartment building, impact on traffic and schools, and a single access drive on the west at Woodlawn Road.

They thought those living in the affordable and supportive housing units would feel segregated from other nearby residents. Many favored development at Grainger, but not this proposal.

People repeatedly cited a Nov. 15 plan commission meeting, where the panel unanimously recommended denial of the project's application.

Other speakers thought the village was considering this proposal simply so it could get the 2018 investment off the books.

Trustee Bob Israel disagreed.

"This plan is not about the sale of some piece of property to recoup some mistaken outlay," he said. "This plan is about an opportunity to have a $150 million dollar investment made in our community that will help support the ecosystem that is our community, and improve our quality of life from the status quo."

Quarterra Central Division President Peter Chmielewski said the proximity to downtown and the development's intended clientele of "future empty nesters and young professionals" would be a boon.

"We are targeting potential tenants who are excited about walking, who are excited about mass transit," he said.

Chmielewski said project completion should take about two years, with the first units ready in a year to 14 months.

Trustees said officials in affected school districts approved of the project, which would generate far more in property tax benefit than when Grainger operated its call center and warehouse.

Glenbrook North High School senior Luke Nelson was the first speaker. He quickly rattled off studies that indicated high-density developments reduced effects on climate.

Well over two hours later Trustee Heather Ross and Israel, the board's key contributors to Northbrook's Climate Action Plan, agreed. Ross also said the need for affordable housing outweighed its overall integration in the complex.

Ciesla, who typically is required to vote only to break a tie, felt the project important enough to cast the seventh vote.

"Last week I was invited to the Chamber of Commerce to meet with downtown business owners, operators big and a small from various industries," she said. "Each of those business owners was totally and completely in favor of the project, each and every one."

Bob Israel
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