The Riverside Village Board cleared one of the few remaining hurdles to the development of the former Henninger Pharmacy site on Monday night, voting 5-0 with one abstention to pass a resolution agreeing to vacate a public alley included in developers’ plans.
The vote, made without comment from trustees, means that the village’s Plan Commission may vote as early as Oct. 24 to give approval for the site plan of the Village Center development. That’s because on Oct. 13, both the Landscape Advisory Commission and the Preservation Commission recommended the general plan for a four-story, commercial/condominium development for the site.
The Plan Commission showed no strong objection to the most recent development plan when it reviewed the proposal on Oct. 6.
“As soon as we get approval, we’ll go ahead with the final plans,” said developer Harry Liesenfelt. “We’d like to get construction in this year, but time constraints might not allow it.”
That’s not to say the plan doesn’t still have its detractors. The Preservation Commission was divided over the question of whether the development was consistent with the historic character and scale of the Central Business District.
Commissioners were split 5-4 on that key point. Vice Chair Nancy Foley, Richard Tryba, Melissa Kotrba, Thomas Walsh and James Marciniak all felt the development was in keeping with the character and scale of the downtown area. Commission Chair Charles Pipal, Richard Ray, Chris Robling and Theodore Smith, did not.
“I still have problems with the scale; I think we all did,” Foley said. “But it’s inevitable that we’re going to have something there. This is the best solution. I think they did a good job, and I appreciate the fact that they listened to us.”
Robling disagreed, saying the development was “grossly overscaled” and complained that the village lost an opportunity to become a partner in the planning process by waiting until now to address the issue of the public alley, which runs north and south from Burlington Street behind the former drug store.
“Nothing at this site can happen but for the village’s participation in [vacating] the alley,” Robling said. “What are we getting for the alley? We should be a full partner with a consensus design and consensus scaling.”
The board made clear what the village would be getting for the alley Monday night. In exchange for the alley, the developers will pay Riverside $15,000 and provide a permanent easement to allow egress to the rear of the buildings on Burlington Street.
With that, they cleared the way for the Village Center development to receive tentative approval from the Plan Commission.
“The village board wants it,” said Ray, one of two architects on the Preservation Commission. “They’ve bent over backwards. I don’t see the village at this point saying this is not a good idea.”
Village Manager Kathleen Rush also hinted that there was now little in the path of approving the development. Minor matters regarding building materials, parking and landscaping should be able to be worked out during the final planning process.
“There was a lot of concern about scale, but we have a development that meets the code,” Rush said. “There’s no real hammer.”