A proposed multi-story, mixed-use development for the old Ben Franklin property will soon push ahead, if Palos Heights residents have anything to say about it.
The developer for the three-story project presented their plan to members of Planned Unit Development Commission. Palos Heights-based Brigid Capital wants to construct a building at 12306-12320 S. Harlem Ave that will house retail storefronts, second-floor professional offices and six apartments on the top floor. It also would come with nearly 100 dedicated parking spots.
Residents at the public hearing welcomed the new use for the stagnant section of the city's Harlem Avenue business corridor. Several people who spoke spurred city officials to cut red tape and get the project rolling.
"It's time to think big, get out of the box. If you can't find a way, you got to make a way," Don Larson, who has lived in Palos Heights for 40 years, told the committee. He commended Brigid's efforts.
"This is our future," he added.
Mike Coogan, owner of Brigid Capital, introduced the project, which has been named "Palos Place." Coogan called the proposed development a benefit for the city which would bring "renewed vitality" and change to the downtown.
The plan calls for demolishing the former Ben Franklin building. The building would keep mostly retail bookended by corner restaurants on the first floor. Coogan said second floor space would work for general office use, medical or dental offices, while the high-quality apartments would appeal to young professionals. Brigid would retain owners of the property and act as landlord to both the business residential tenants.
"This development and it's proposed mixed-use, without a doubt, will bring additional business to the area, resulting in an increased awareness of downtown and our surrounding commercial neighbors," Coogan said.
Members of the Planned Unit Development Commission, which includes several city alderman, also praised and welcomed the project. However, developers already have ran across a couple of speed bumps in their first public appearance in front of city officials talking about Palos Place.
A miscommunication between the City of Palos Heights and Brigid led to confusion over the process for requesting a change to the city's zoning for the property Brigid wishes to redevelopment. The property currently owned by Brigid includes the Ben Franklin site, zoned for business, and a nearby parcel identified as residential. Brigid will need to submit a final plan for the site before the city's ?zoning board? can vote on the change.
Some members of the PUD committee questioned the figures and calculations Brigid used to determine how many parking spots would be needed to accommodate employee and resident parking. Coogan said information from a City of Palos Heights study on parking.
The inquires into the specific number of spaces that would come with the redevlopment also quickly led into a debate over the availablity of parking anywhere in Palos Heights' business corridor.
Committee member Mike Lombard said parking is a problem everywhere in Palos Heights, much of it driven by restaurants. He said that he favored the project, calling it "great-looking," but wanted more information about how to address the availability of parking at Palos Place.
Coogan answered Lombard and other committee members concerns on parking, saying that their actually was plenty of spots available in Palos Heights. The possibility of closing the section of 72nd Court that lies between Ben Franklin on the residential lot surfaced during the back-and-forth discussion.
Residents who supported the proposed development sidestepped parking concerns. One such person was Susan DeKoker, a who had owned a garden and gift boutique in Palos Heights for 11 years before it closed around 2006. She also saw no problem with parking in the city, except for busy Saturday nights near popular restaurants.
The former Palos Heights business owner aimed her concerns instead at the city itself, accusing it of being unfriendly to business and slow to keep up with the times.
"The downtown was built for the '50s. It still looks like the 50s," DeKoker said.
With the project potentially encroaching close to neighboring homes, one homeowner saw reason to speak about the possibility of more than 100 cars being parked next to her house.
Susan Harrison, who lives near the site, said she liked the plan but offered advice for her would-be neighbors.
"If that's where we want to go, you need to remember that you have residential people living with you," Harrison said.
The City's Council's Planning and Zoning Committee was scheduled to hear the project at Tuesday night's meeting but, even if it is discussed, no action will take place, one Palos Height council member tells Palos Patch.