The developer of a long-vacant North Riverside strip mall at Cermak Road and Desplaines Avenue told members of the village’s zoning and planning commissions that he hopes to attract medical facilities and law offices to the lot he is renovating. 

At a combined meeting of the zoning and planning commissions on Nov. 19, Robert Houpy asked commissioners to approve two variances for the lot at 7921 Cermak Road, which has sat derelict for the past decade. 

The first request was to reduce the rear-yard setback of the property from 15 feet to 3.47 feet. The second asked the commission for permission to add a 4,373-square-foot addition to the roughly 6,250-square-foot building. 

The zoning and planning commissions both unanimously approved the variances. Work to renovate the existing portion of the development began in the spring but was halted a few months later by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District over storm water plan issues.

Houpy, who owns the Lucky Dog chain hotdog chain and Russell’s Barbecue in River Grove, said he and his brother hope to complete construction by June 2016. Building the addition to the west side of the existing structure will add four more storefronts to the existing five. A parking lot would include 43 spaces. 

According to Houpy, his company, American Real Estate, hopes to attract medical outpatient clinics, dentists and law offices to the spaces, which could be built out to suit the tenants. 

Houpy said his company was already approached by a “major hospital” about opening up a clinic in the building. The hospital wanted to open in 2015, but Houpy said he was hoping they would circle back.

“We think this would be the best use of the space,” Houpy said, “something a little more upscale.”

Commissioners said they were concerned that if the plan didn’t work out, what would go in to fill the space. Houpy said he couldn’t speculate, but said that his company was interested in attracting “higher-end tenants.” 

He pointed to the expense of the materials they were using in their facade construction,  adding that he believed there was a growing market for medical centers to branch out into smaller outpatient clinics. 

Additionally, site plans for the strip mall include changing Keystone Avenue from one-way northbound to two-way for the first 135 feet from Cermak Road, according to board documents. 

This will allow vehicles to travel up and down Keystone to enter the parking lot. The village will add do-not-enter signs south of the alley to keep traffic contained and will post local-traffic-only signs in the alley, about 75 feet from Desplaines Avenue. The site plans and traffic changes were reviewed by Tim Kutt, the village’s public works director, and Village Engineer John Fitzgerald. 

The changes are designed to improve traffic flow in and out of the strip mall, while minimizing the traffic’s impact on the surrounding community.

Houpy purchased the property for $605,000 in August 2014 from a North Riverside man who bought the property at auction in 2007. Previous plans to develop the property included a strip mall, which was only partially completed, car wash.

For decades prior to being bought be a developer in 2005, the property was a gas station.