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Panel split on Techny car wash

NORTHBROOK — The Northbrook Plan Commission split July 1 on whether to recommend a proposed Techny car wash that neighbors have panned in two public hearings.

Commissioners Steve Elisco, Bryan Schimel, Susan Elfant and Jeremy Melnick all said they were likely to vote “no” when they have the chance July 14.

Commissioners Muriel Collison, Norm Jacobs and Dan Pepoon spoke much more positively about what would be the area’s first Waterway Wash & Gas station.

Commission Chairwoman Marcia Franklin said she remained on the fence. Commissioner Scott Cyphers, absent July 1, had spoken relatively positively about the project at the first, May 20, public hearing, and had said that he was waiting to see if screening and traffic issues were settled.

Screening was improved by July, but traffic issues were far from settled. Collison said she wouldn’t vote for the project if the planned left turn lane into the station was part of the package.

She maintained that despite its tentative approval by the Illinois Department of Transportation, the left-turns would be hazardous to traffic, including drivers coming in and out of nearby Northbrook developments.

She tried to include in the July 14 vote documents an amendment to exclude the left-turn lane, but the measure failed by a 4-4 vote.

Franklin had said May 20 that she wouldn’t vote for the car wash if the left-turn lane were included, but she didn’t mention that pledge July 1.

“We need access to our property,” said Todd Berlinghof of Hamilton Partners, which holds the Society of the Divine World lease on the land, which has a Chase Bank on its south end. He said that even if the project fails to win acceptance, a left-turn lane would be a part of the next proposal for the five-acre commercial property at 2370 Waukegan Road.

Collison said that she had visited a Waterway car wash on a recent vacation, and found it to be an attractive operation.

Fellow commissioner Steve Elisco indicated he felt that was beside the point.

“This is the best-looking combination gas station/car wash I’ve ever seen. It has the best landscaping, (and) I sort of disagree about the concerns about traffic. My main question: is the location right for the use?

“There is a very nice mix of residential (in the area) … which does not a need a gas station and a car wash … in the middle of it.

“I’ve sat on this commission seven years, and this is the one thing I can definitely say is not a case of NIMBY (not in my back yard). These residents have real live concerns, and we have a duty to our residents.”

Those concerns may have been best described by the first audience member to speak July 1, former Northbrook Greens homeowners association president Gail Shipley. Northbrook Greens backs up to the proposed car wash’s west side.

“We bought at Northbrook Greens for the same reason people bought at Royal Ridge, because we thought it was going to be a really good investment. Then, of course, the bottom fell out of the market.

“As a consequence we have all lost at least $100,000 per unit. We honestly feel, with no animosity toward the gas station/car wash people, that it is not an appropriate” neighbor.

“We cannot afford to have property values take another dip because there’s a gas station 130 feet from our homes, especially the ones who live on the perimeter.”

Residents of nearby Royal Ridge, Meadow Ridge and the Ponds of Sunset Ridge also complained. Royal Ridge resident Jill Gilford, however, said that Northbrook Greens residents would get the worst of it.

“Many of the owners of that development are first-time homeowners, immigrants, young families.

“I do not believe anyone ever expected a gas station (open) seven days a week, 6 (a.m.) to 10 (p.m.).”

She accused the Society of lacking “a moral compass.”

Berlinghof defended the Society July 2, noting that the Catholic order had given the Northbrook Park District hundreds of acres of free land, and had bought the five-acre commercial parcel in 2003 after neighboring residents howled over the possibility of a Dodge dealership locating there.

He said that he’d have preferred to bring a restaurant or other business the neighbors wouldn’t have fought. But he maintained that the few chain restaurants still in an expansive mood would prefer to locate in the Hamilton-built Willow Festival shopping center, or elsewhere along Willow Road.

“It isn’t like we haven’t talked to every restaurant company over the last six years, and every restaurant broker over the last six years,” he said.

The portion of the property planned to be given over to a “community garden” for area residents, he added, would be paved over for most other uses, which need more parking than the car wash.

The car wash company came to the meeting with two fewer zoning variation requests than in May. The building had been squeezed a little, and the parking rearranged, so that the gas canopy no longer protruded over the required front yard, and space had been found in the rear for a loading zone that had been left off the plans at the start.

But it still needs a car wash special permit, and that’s the rub.

Waterway Vice President Mike Goldman said that worries over future locations have always dissolved after construction.

“Once we’re open, it always happens,” he said. Opponents say “’You guys do what you say you do. We like you as a neighbor.’ It happens every time.”

Pepoon said his research of news stories backed Goldman up. Pepoon added that his responsibility was to do what’s best “for the entire community, not just the immediate neighborhood.”

But the Northbrook opponents don’t believe.

“Imagine yourself sitting in you living room, your kitchen, seeing a gas station right next to you,” Northbrook Greens’ Amy Xia said.

“Please put yourselves in the position of these homeowners. Give consideration of property values, years of hard work.”

Commissioners July 1 voted 8-0 to order their staff to prepare an amendment to shorten the car wash hours to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., to make the facility easier to take for residents,if approved. They’ll vote July 14 on the amendment along, with the recommendation to the Village Board. Village Board members hold the final decision in their hands.

Commissioner Bryan Schimel said that the Village Board should scrap the long-held requirement that the property produce sales tax revenue, so that the zoning could be changed, and residences could be built there. That didn’t lead to an amendment, because it’s outside the purview of the Plan Commission.

“I think it’s abundantly clear that this proposed development will have a negative impact” on neighbors, lowering property values and quality of life,” Schimel said.

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