After four hours of debate and discussion, Wednesday, the Lake County Regional Planning Commission (RPC) denied its stamp of approval for plans for a commercial development on the 109-acre Dimucci property, which is at the southeast corner of Route 12 and Old McHenry Road, near Hawthorn Woods.
Some concerns raised by commissioners included a lack of specific details regarding the proposed Planned Unit Development (PUD).
"We dont' know what this is going to be so we don't know the impact. We don’t know what discussion to have . . . offices are significantly different than a big mall with restaurants and retail," said RPC commissioner Loraine Ray."We don't know what a possible developer is going to want to build here."
"It leads to real problems when you try to make judgements on the effects, when you don't know what the final product will be," said RPC vice chair Craig Ellison.
Eric Waggoner, director of Lake County Planning, Building and Development, told commissioners their role is to consider the plan broadly and that it is in the preliminary stage. He said the details and impacts would be determined in the final stages of the plan, when it goes through the Planning Building and Zoning Committee and the County Board.
However RPC commissioners voted 5-3 against recommending the request to rezone the property from residential to commercial with a PUD. The proposal will now move on to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which will meet Wednesday, July 18, 5 p.m. at Concorde Banquets.
Prior to the vote, RPC Chairman Marvin Raymond noted, "If voted down, that does not mean we stopped the process. It is going all the way to the County Board."
However, opponents of the proposal believe the negative vote is significant.
"This group (RPC) spent months listening to experts and residents on this issue and did not recommend it. We believe a negative recommendation going forward will carry a lot of significance," said Pam Newton, CEO for the village of Hawthorn Woods. The villages of Hawthorn Woods and North Barrington, along with Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) oppose the plan.
Attorney Mark Eiden, who represented the petitioners, the Dimucci family, said there are no plans to change the presentation or the proposal.
"I think we have the facts on our side, not necessarily the emotions," Eiden said.
The Dimucci family request is for rezoning from estate residential to general commercial with a planned unit development (PUD) to allow for up to 53 acres of high quality commercial development, surrounded by about 50 acres of open space. The commercial could go up to 800,000 square feet.
During the discussion Waggoner told the Lake County Regional Planning Commission it needed to answer three questions.
- Is there a commercial trend of development along Route 12?
- Is there commercial infrastructure available to this site?
- Is the developer’s proposal compatible with the surrounding area?
In reviewing the request, Lake County staff has determined that the there is a trend toward commercial development along Rte. 12 and that the proposal is compatible with the surrounding area.
Ray questioned, " Is it staff's belief that we should have a solid high density corridor along Rte. 12 with no breaks or buffers?" She said the part of Rte. 12 in question is not high density or commercial in character and that it has an equestrian community, which is considered high priority in the county.
Another area of debate, is the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) between Hawthorn Woods and North Barrington, and whether or not the county should respect that agreement.
Dimucci attorney Mark Eiden argued that the Dimuccis were not consulted as major property owners when the villages wrote the boundary agreement. He also stressed that the county never officially endorsed the agreement.
North Barrington attorney J. William Braithwaite said in his 50 years as a municipal attorney he has never seen a county ignore an IGA.
Commissioner Jordan Madorsky asked Hawthorn Woods planning consultant Lee Brown, of Teska Associates, what he envisions for the property.
He replied that a mixed-use, balanced plan would be more appropriate for the area.
Other areas of debate included impacts on wells if the development was unable to secure city water, impacts on traffic, and impacts to area fire and police departments. There were also concerns raised as to what happens if the project does not secure a developer.
Commissioner Rory Klick asked Newton and BACOG executive director Janet Agnoletti to define their objections to the project as residents. "At first look, this is way under what could be developed. Fifty one percent preserved as open space, without the impacts to schools of residential, doesn't look bad," she said. She asked if they objected to the impacts, the amount of open space or the process.
Newton said Hawthorn Woods residents object to the size and scope of the plan, as well as the process.
"The reason residents are so concerned is that there is no developer to talk to, no plan to review, it's not a process as usual. I have heard it is innovative, unique; this is unprecedented," she said.
Agnoletti said, "This area has character and a sense of place. I don't see how 800,000 square feet fits into that . . . There is an intergovernmental agreement and the county is saying it doesn't matter."
Klick said many people who spoke during a public comment session brought up the issue of trust, or a perceived loss of trust in the county for proceeding with the request.
Waggoner replied, "As we proceed we will give the public ample opportunity to make public comments; should they have any concerns, they are free to express them. The applicant here owns property in the unicorporated area and it is the applicant's right to propose development in the area . . . The county is not bound by the IGA. The applicant came to us and we have to honor that. If we were to fai to do that that, we would be in violation of the public trust."