Downtown development in Northbrook faces challenges
Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum is shown in a shopping area that houses ACE Hardware and many other businesses. Photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, in Northbrook. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 6, 2012 8:04AM
NORTHBROOK — Village officials tasked with transforming the quiet downtown area into a bustling business and residential district face a number of challenges.
The list includes: Developing more density, creating sufficient water detention to permit larger building footprints, addressing parking and traffic and balancing the fiscal requirements.
A few months ago, the downtown plan steering committee presented ideas for a new downtown area and recommended approval of a new plan.
It consists of concepts gathered through public participation, providing a comprehensive guide for the area’s future.
Now the village board is trying to decide how to prepare for redevelopment while the economy is recovering, so everything will be ready when developers call, Village President Sandra Frum said.
“We are trying to put in place the pieces that will allow redevelopment to occur, such as changing zoning codes for people to come in,” she said. “The biggest hurdle in my mind will be creating more density downtown by more people living there. The consultant we worked with said we needed about 200 more living units.”
That challenge could be handled by putting residential buildings and a parking structure on the west side of the Metra parking lot, she said.
If engineers say it is feasible, the drainage issue could be solved by creating an area behind the village hall and the library large enough to provide water detention for the entire downtown.
“The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District now has requirements that any redevelopment must be treated as if its 100 percent pervious,” Frum said. “That means we must provide detention for the whole area, even though its currently impervious.”
Traffic is another problem, because the downtown area is too built up to widen the streets, and Shermer is the only through-street. Constructing residential units near the railroad could be an answer to that, since people living there who work in downtown Chicago may not need as many vehicles as typical suburbanites, Frum said.
“Another challenge is that developers are always looking for the monetary. I don’t know what he community is willing to do, if anything, to encourage development. Up to now, we have very rarely participated financially with a developer,” she added.
According to David Schoon, the village’s economic development coordinator, residents have said Northbrook’s downtown area “doesn’t feel like a downtown.”
They would like an array of restaurants and more retail to create a unique shopping experience, he added.
Selwyn Marcus, a Northbrook resident who owns downtown property, said he believes that the single biggest obstacle is the absence of a centrally located parking facility.
If more density is desired, demolition of existing properties is necessary to build bigger and taller, Marcus said. That would have to be supported by a common community parking structure.
“We’re bound by a park on one side, train tracks on another and the river on the third. There is nowhere to go to make it bigger,” Marcus added. “I applaud everyone for trying to find answers, but I don’t see any way of significantly changing the status quo. I hope I’m totally wrong.”