Board rejects Henninger development plan

? Property owner Harry Liesenfelt indicates that he may convert the former pharmacy into office space.

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By BOB UPHUES

Will the former Henninger Pharmacy property see redevelopment in the near future? The answer to that question appears to be a resounding "no" after Riverside trustees rebuffed developers by voting down four of five zoning variations for a 4-story, mixed-use building on the northeast corner of Longcommon Road and East Burlington Street in the village's downtown.

The decision effectively killed an ambitious plan that would have topped ground-floor retail space with 20 luxury condominiums. The only variation trustees approved was a petition to increase the height of the building from three to four stories.

A visibly upset Nick Mlade, the minority partner in the property, referenced the cost involved in getting this plan on the drawing board, but would make no further comment. Meanwhile, majority owner Harry Liesenfelt said that the former drug store could be put to another use.

"I'm thinking about putting my construction company offices there," said Liesenfelt, whose development firm, Provencal Builders, operates out of a Burr Ridge space currently.

"We're renting right now; I might as well be in my own building."

Neither Liesenfelt nor Mlade would comment on reworking plans for the strategic site, which is considered to be critical for overall downtown redevelopment. Liesenfelt would not comment on whether he might sell the property.

For the third time, the developers and representatives from their architectural firm attempted to persuade board members that the plan was the highest and best use for the nearly 25,000-square-foot parcel.

But while trustees generally agreed that the site needed to be redeveloped and that the type of development being proposed was in keeping with the village's vision for the Central Business District, all of them felt that the building was simply too big.

Trustees were also reluctant to set a precedent that might lead to similar development at other sites along Burlington Street, saying such development was not in keeping with the Central Business District zoning code, which was approved after much debate in 2003.

"When this project was presented, it seemed to me to be pushing every envelope we had with respect to the zoning code," said Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. "It's a good project, but it's beyond the scope of what we envisioned here."

Asked whether the project could be scaled back to conform more closely to the zoning code, Liesenfelt reiterated his stance at previous meetings. Changing the plan, he said, would create problems for the already limited underground parking and would adversely affect the building's aesthetics.

"Any building can be smaller or larger," Liesenfelt said. "But then you run into problems larger than you already have. We believe we've done a conscientious, intelligent approach to this. It is the best use."

Trustee John Scully, responded by saying that while he wanted very much to approve the project, he was troubled by what he saw as a recalcitrance on the part of the developers and architects.

"I'd like to build on that corner as much as anyone, but you've made no consideration for the neighbors around you," Scully said. "If you guys can't do it, maybe the owners need to find another builder who can."

Scully also referenced the development slated for the former gas station property at Delaplaine Road and East Burlington Street, which the developer changed drastically, from 20 condos to nine townhomes, to conform with the zoning code.

Trustee Dorothy Schroeder criticized the development's plan for giving permanent rear access to the property next door, saying she didn't "understand how it functions at all," while Trustee Cindy Gustafson said that the owners didn't prove scaling back the project would be a hardship other than a financial one.

"I think we'd be setting a precedent of not making enough money [as a hardship]," Gustafson said. "I don't think that's appropriate."

The village board's decision was a reversal of a recommendation in February by the village's Zoning Board of Appeals to grant four of the five variances requested by developers.

"I don't see anything persuasive that tells me why nothing else can be built on that land," said Trustee Kevin Smith, who has been the board's most vocal critic of the plan.

According to Liesenfelt, nothing else
will be.

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