A long vacant corner of moved closer to development Monday night as a city commission approved a preliminary plan for the site.
The northeast corner of Harlem Avenue and Route 83 once held a car dealership, almost held a high density mixed use development and a restaurant, retail and professional space.
The Planning Unit Development Commission gave preliminary approval to developers with a 7-1 vote. More detailed plans about the aesthetics of the development, tenant categories and traffic issues would be ironed out in future hearings.
Developer Tad Lagestee fielded questions and concerns from the eight committee members present and clarified his plans for the land and how the development would meet the city's needs and desires.
"We are doing something that's simple, that's functional and that works," Lagestee said. "It is not too complex, or too dense with too many parking requirements or hoops to jump through."
So far interest has been strong and a bank, restaurant, automotive center and retailers have been approached, Lagestee said.
The preliminary plan does designate about 90 percent of the space as retail, however that number could change and a binding agreement would be made before final approval.
Potential businesses for the site would attract local community members and fill a need in town. Lagestee remarked on the absence of a casual restaurant in Palos Heights with a seating component like Panera Bread or Five Guys.
The spaces would likely be filled by national companies. The preliminary plan does includes a bank, a decision some members cited as a possible issue.
"You should be prepared to come up with a plan to compensate the city and the residents for having that non-taxable business there, and if you do I think that would help move the process along," said Ald. Michael McGrogan, citing the city's agreement with where the bank paid the city for lost sales tax revenue.
Lagestee stressed that banks often serve as a stabilizing force for developments and would not be the focal point of the plans.
Aesthetically, the importance of finishing the buildings on all four sides with high-quality materials was discussed. Lagestee said the most likely design would include brick.
The development is close to the soon to be built Cal-Sag Trail which includes links to Lake Katherine. Lagastee said that project was extremely exciting and he hoped to find ways to link the trail to the development while incorporating sustainable and native plant life.
Developers already met with Gareth Blakesley, operations manager at Lake Katherine, to discuss ways to incorporate the nature center's mission into the development, Lagestee said.
A large swath of land east of the proposed development and around the Cal-Sag Channel is owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and is in a leasing agreement with . Development of this parcel would hopefully include an examination of how that land could be better utilized, Lagestee said.
Alderman Alan Fulkerson, the only dissenting vote, was firm in his belief that the project was not forward thinking enough for Palos Heights. He cited a desire to return to the plan that was presented five years ago by another developer that included a multi-story senior living facility among other mixed uses.
"I think this is just a re-bake of everything that is already on the west side of Harlem Avenue and I don't think that's a good idea," Fulkerson said.
He voiced his concern that the commission would let the economy dictate what would be feesible for that space and indicated that the land should remain undeveloped until a more ambitious mixed-use project is a possibility.
Lagestee said that he would like to move ahead quickly with the project and begin construction by next spring. Although not required by ordnance, the plan now moves to the Planning and Zoning Committee for further discussion before it is presented to the full council.
If you have questions about the planned development, leave them in the comments and we will do our best to answer them.