What's next for the Bears at Arlington? A review process likely to take years, officials say
Call it inside baseball -- err, football -- but officials at Arlington Heights village hall have outlined a multistep approval process that would take months and likely years before the Chicago Bears could break ground on a potential new stadium at Arlington Park.
It's a process involving politicians, lawyers, architects, engineers and others for a project the likes of which the Northwest suburban municipality -- let alone most other towns -- has ever seen.
So how best to keep it all organized? "We understand this flow chart is kind of busy, but this is a complex project," Village Manager Randy Recklaus said at the recent meeting where the village board inked a predevelopment agreement with the Bears.
Here's a closer look at the play sheet for the upcoming regulatory review process.
If and when the Bears complete their due diligence and close on their pending $197.2 million purchase of the 326-acre racetrack property from Churchill Downs Inc. -- currently slated for the first quarter of 2023 -- the team's consultants will need to prepare and submit to village hall a whole host of plans and studies. That'll include traffic, transportation and parking plans, the economic feasibility of the project for the Bears, and the economic impacts and benefits of the project to the village and other local governments, officials say.
Those documents will be reviewed by the village's in-house financial and community development department staff, but also by two consulting firms they retained in September to work on the massive plan review.
"Can the market support what's being proposed? Those studies need to be provided and all need to be evaluated," said Charles Witherington-Perkins, the village's director of planning and community development.
At the same time, a number of government agencies are expected to provide their input, including the Illinois Department of Transportation, Cook County, Metra, Union Pacific, Illinois Commerce Commission, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, ComEd, school districts, and neighboring towns Rolling Meadows and Palatine. Some have jurisdiction over roads, railroad tracks and other infrastructure, and their blessing would be required for the redevelopment to go forward.
After initial review, the Bears would refine their plans and studies, village officials said.
"The analysis that needs to be done includes of course looking at the impacts on our schools, business and the community at large. We will not be blessing any plan until the proper studies are complete, and we all want to know what any development's impacts will be on this community," Recklaus said. "But anyone who is trying to do any serious analysis about those impacts based on the drawings that we've seen alone on things like taxes, schools and services at this early stage is just getting a little ahead of themselves."
"There will most certainly be a time and a place to dive into those details with both feet. And we'll be going into those details publicly. But that time has not yet arrived because we just don't have the information yet," Recklaus said.
The village could then consider an amendment to its 2015 comprehensive plan, which currently contemplates a mixed-use development at Arlington Park, but not an NFL stadium. That would require more studies on traffic and parking, a fiscal and market analysis, and evaluation of the impact on village services.
New zoning district
Then the village would create a new specialty zoning district for the property, which has been zoned for a business/automotive-type use since it was annexed in 1969. Perkins said regulations would be developed encompassing building setbacks, heights, density, lot coverage and floor area ratio.
There would be a series of public meetings for both comprehensive plan and zoning code changes involving subcommittees of the plan commission, then the full plan commission, and finally the village board.
Finally, the Bears could submit all their detailed plans to start the formal zoning entitlement process. There would be more studies required, of course, and review by even more village panels, like the design and housing commissions.
The predevelopment road map also calls for a community benefits agreement, which could include the team's sponsoring community events and partnering with local organizations.
Though it would be negotiated throughout the process, any "public-private partnerships" would come to fruition once the development plans are more solidified. The Bears have said they plan to formally ask the village and other governmental entities to help pay for a portion of infrastructure costs at the proposed $5 billion stadium and mixed-use district.
All along the way, village officials emphasized, there will be opportunity for public comment at the various meetings and hearings.
Ultimately, the village board has the final say about any redevelopment that happens at the shuttered racetrack site. But that could be a while.
"I don't think we'll be in a position to have anything close to a final vote in 2023," Recklaus said. "I think this is a multiyear effort, and that's if they're interested in moving relatively quickly."