After sitting vacant for six years, the future of the Henninger pharmacy property has finally been settled. Wednesday night the Riverside Plan Commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan for the Village Center Development, a controversial 4-story mixed-used retail and condominium project at the prime downtown intersection of Longcommon and Burlington.
After years of false starts and dispute, the Plan Commission approved the plans for the development that calls for approximately 11,000 square feet of retail on the first floor and 22 condominium units, including four penthouse units, on the upper floors.
"We believe this project will be exceptional for the village," said Plan Commission Chairperson Karen Layng.
The Plan Commission attached numerous minor conditions that were recommended by village staff to the site proposal which were all accepted by the developers?"Burr Ridge-based Harold Liesenfelt and Riverside attorney Nick Mlade.
The developers will pay the Village of Riverside $85,000 because the development will have 17 fewer parking spaces than is required.
The developers will pay the village another $15,000 for a 16-foot, village-owned alley behind the existing building. In addition, the developers will grant a 24-foot permanent easement to the village that will allow public access to village-owned parking.
The developers also agreed to consider replacing their planned casement windows with double hung windows which better fit in with the surrounding architecture, according to Plan Commissioner David Lesniak and architect Diane Legge Kemp.
The developers have reached an agreement with Dr. Samuel Chmell to buy his building located just north of the Henninger building. Because the zoning variance that allows a height of four stories only applies to that part of the project in the old Henninger property, the north end of the building, on the Chmell property site, will be only three stories high.
While a couple of members of the audience expressed concern about some aspects of the development, whose size is unprecedented in Riverside, only one person, Nicholas Cariello, spoke out in full-throated opposition to the plan.
"A building cannot be built on a public right of way," said Cariello, who also questioned the validity of the zoning variance that allows four stories, since it was granted only for the Henninger property. The approved plan calls for building on the footprint of the Henninger and Chmell property. Therefore, according to Cariello, the variance granted last spring is no longer valid. However, Village Attorney Dean Krone disagreed. Krone presented the Plan Commission with a letter from noted Chicago zoning attorney Ronald Cope that supported his view.
Cariello wrote in a memo he sent to the Plan Commission that the project was being approved because of pressure applied by the village president and village manager.
"Pushing through an agenda at any expense is not going to be an advance for the village," Cariello said at the Plan Commission meeting.
Chairperson Layne took offense to the idea that the Plan Commission was being pressured by anyone.
"There has been no pressure applied by the village president and village manager," Layng said.
Demolition of the existing buildings will be complete by late February or early March and then construction will take 16-18 months, according to Liesenfelt, who said the prices of the condos are yet to be determined, but a fiscal impact study provided by the village's zoning consultant, Camiros Ltd., estimated that the 12 two-bedroom units would sell for around $470,000 and that the six 3-bedroom units would sell for $550,000.
The fourth floor penthouse units will be custom homes, according to Liesenfelt. "Price is going to be dependent on what the buyer wants," he said.
The project will have a substantial impact on the business district said Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. who spoke at the meeting.
"The community for a long time has wanted to see a renaissance in our business district," said Wiaduck. "We're never going to be a LaGrange; we're never going to be a Winnetka or a Wilmette or something like that. But we do have an opportunity here to start to reinvigorate this community."
Preservation Commission member Chris Robling, who voted against the plan when the Preservation Commission narrowly approved it last month and had called the plan too big and very ugly, attended the Plan Commission meeting but did not speak.
Interviewed on Thursday, Robling said that he was heartened that the developers are considering some of the changes suggested by Kemp. He also credited the developers with working hard to improve their plans and said that the time had come for the Plan Commission to make a decision.
"I believe the developer and architect worked very hard with many commissions," Robling said Thursday. "I give them credit for spending a lot of time and money. This project serves as a milepost for everybody who cares about Riverside. It shows that some form of development is coming. It's been a big learning process for the village. To the extent that we develop a shared vision for Riverside's future, we will have more control over what happens and be more inviting to appropriate development."
Liesenfelt was just happy that the lengthy approval process was over.
"We're happy to be moving forward," Liesenfelt said. "I compliment the village. They're very concerned. It's an important project to the village. This is very thorough."