Huge crowd causes postponement of Mission Hills housing project public hearing

NORTHBROOK — The homeowners of Mission Hills filled Northbrook Village Hall’s Board room, the hallway outside it, and the lobby beyond that.

There were so many, so determined to have their say July 9 about a housing development proposed to cover half the links of their golf course development, that the chairman of the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals put off the public hearing he had planned to gavel that day, to reschedule later in a larger venue.

“They have awakened a sleeping giant,” 31-year Mission Hills resident Jackie Birnbaum said of Red Seal Development, planners of the 44-acre, 137-unit project.

“Like Yamamoto, at Pearl Harbor.”

While readers may not know that Yamamoto Isoroku masterminded the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, many of the people in the room were old enough to remember, or have been told about it as children. Mission Hills is a de facto retirement community, and residents had no trouble finding time to make a 1 p.m. hearing, and chant “No Red Seal.”

And they also say that they have been victims of a sneaky attack. They maintain that Mission Hills’ 781 units and 18-hole golf course are a planned unit development that requires their permission to change. But Red Seal’s application seems to be predicated on the premise that the PUD doesn’t exist.

ZBA Chairman Kevin Freeman opened the public hearing July 9 just long enough to put the machinery in motion to settle that conflict.

He asked lawyers for both sides to say what it was that they considered the truth of the matter, then ordered them to file briefs backing their opinions.

The briefs are due no later than 1 p.m. July 21, when the ZBA hearing will reconvene in a larger venue. That venue is likely to be the Sheely Center for the Performing Arts at Glenbrook North High School, 2300 Shermer Road. Freeman, after an hour of trying, wasn’t able to confirm the availability of the big auditorium.

The public hearing on the project will go on without a conclusion on the legal matter. That, Freeman said, will be left to a “decision-making session” 30 days later, after the Cook County State’s Attorney has a chance to examine the briefs and write an opinion.

The possible project, then, won’t be delayed by the legal wrangling. But that legal point may make all the difference.

“There’s no way legally they can do what they’re trying to do” with a planned unit development, said Mission Hills resident Richard Curry, former presiding judge of the Cook County Circuit Court’s Chancery Division. “They would first have to get 100 percent of the (Mission Hills homeowners) to agree.”

Curry was not one of the lawyers called to the podium by the ZBA chairman. The first was Jim Banks, one of at least four Red Seal attorneys in the crowded room.

“The subject property is zoned P2 Open Lands Zoning District,” he told the ZBA. “So the case before the Zoning Board is a map amendment from the P2 Open Land Zoning District to an R6 general residential zoning district.

“So our position as well as (county) staff and staff’s various experts – is that the planned development – that zoning is not our zoning.”

He said that Red Seal was seeking to establish a new planned unit development at Mission Hills.

Thomas Boyle, representing several of Mission Hills’ homeowners’ associations, told the ZBA, “We believe the planned unit development that was part of the ordinance passed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 1972 is still in effect. There has been no revocation of the PUD.

“There was an amendment to the PUD to reduce the number of buildings in 1977,” he said, adding that otherwise, the PUD designation remained intact.

“In essence, the developer is attempting to create a new PUD inside the existing PUD.”

Even if the Red Seal legal team is right, the developer needs a sometimes hard-to-get special permit, which basically requires that a new project not appreciably damage the properties around it.

“The values will go down on existing properties,” resident Stan Kaplan said, while waiting for the postponement decision. “On my particular property, we have a beautiful view of the golf course. We lose that. That’s part of the charm of Mission Hills,” he added.

“I live right on the golf course,” Sherie Natenberg said. “Three holes in a row: 14, 4, 8. A total, complete open view,” that would be replaced by the Red Seal project’s buildings.

“I pay more taxes because I live on the golf course. The exact same [condominiums] across the street pay less.”

Resident Paul Kakuris, a member of Mission Hills Open Lands, a group formed recently to fight the project, said that “a subcommittee is investigating the possibility of turning the property into a private nature preserve.”

The environmentalist said his group would try to get funding to offer the owners of the golf course an alternative to Red Seal.

One of the benefits, he said, would be retention of the ability of the open land to retain water after storms. The neighborhood is already flood-prone without more impermeable surface, he noted.

The Board Room was so jammed with residents, some brandishing “No Red Seal” signs, at 1 p.m. that Northbrook firefighters told Freeman that exits and aisles would have to be cleared for safety. The firefighters cleared the way in about ten minutes, but when Freeman asked people to take shifts in the room so everyone would have a chance to speak, and to hear at least some of the others, only grumbled “no’s” were heard.

Freeman said he made his decision to continue the hearing because “people are up in arms about this issue.

“They have a right to participate, and voice their opposing views, if they choose to,” Freeman said.

“I think this is a good decision by the ZBA,” Red Seal CEO Todd Fishbein said, “so all the respective parties have the ability to be heard.”

His company’s plans call for 21 houses, 34 duplexes and 82 multi-family units.

The Zoning Board could vote on recommendations on the project July 21, or continue the session after testimony. The ZBA recommendations would be sent to the Cook County Board’s Building and Zoning Committee, which is attended by all County Board Members, and then would get a formal up-down vote by the County Board in regular session.

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