More than 100 residents concerned about Northbrook Walmart proposal
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:05PM
Northbrook — Northbrook wants to know exactly what impact a 24-hour Wal-Mart super store would have on the community before welcoming it to its proposed 1000 Skokie Blvd. site.
The issue drew a crowd of distressed residents to Tuesday’s village board meeting, where they not only filled the board room, but also spilled into another nearby meeting room and the lobby, where a simulcast of the session was being shown.
Village Attorney Steve Elrod explained that businesses must present their intentions to the village board before submitting formal applications to set up shop in the community.
“This is unique to Northbrook. This was created to allow the board a sneak peak before a formal application is submitted to the village. This gives the trustees an opportunity to present a non-binding opinion,” Elrod said.
“If Wal-Mart decides to file a formal application, the village will hold a hearing when people can be heard, but no formal action will be done tonight.”
Elrod suggested that a business would get a hint from the board members if its formal application would have easy going, or not.
Then, representatives could decide whether or not to continue pursuing their goals.
Under consideration was a joint proposal to rezone a total of 18 acres on Skokie Boulevard just south of Sunset Ridge Road to a boulevard commercial district from general office.
Wal-Mart proposed to build a 151,323-square-foot facility on the southern 13 acres of the 18-acre site, while the land owner, Skodun, LLC, would retain five acres for future development.
Plans for the super center call for a 658-space parking lot in front of the store, truck loading docks at its rear and an underground storm water detention vault beneath the lot, according to Wal-Mart’s preliminary application.
The building would be constructed with sustainable features, such as more than 100 sky lights, and include a restaurant, photo studio, vision center, financial institution and medical office.
And Wal-Mart expects to employ about 300 full and part-time people.
However, more than 100 residents contacted the village about their concerns before the meeting had even started, said David Schoon, Northbrook’s senior planner and economic development coordinator.
The residents said they are worried about increased traffic, noise and crime, overwhelming lighting, decreased home values and loss of image, as well as the store being detrimental to small businesses in the community.
Robert Gamrath, an attorney with Quarles & Brady LLP of Chicago, who is representing Wal-Mart, said the site is compatible with the company’s plans for “one stop shopping.”
However, the company would like the store to have less of a setback to Skokie Boulevard, smaller parking spaces and bigger signs.
“There will be no gas station, no tire and lube express, no drive-through pharmacy, and the garden center will be very much reduced in size from a typical garden center,” he added.
Bernessa A. McQueen, a project manager with Manhard Consulting of Vernon Hills, which is also representing Wal-Mart, noted that the store would draw 6,000 cars and 25 semi-trailer trucks a week.
Susan Jacobs, a leader of the Northbrook East Homeowners Ass., which she said represents 1, 100 homes in the Skokie Boulevard and Dundee Road area, noted its members would like to shop at Wal-Mart, but not next to such a densely-populated area.
The plan would have a difficult time going through the plan commission for a number of reasons, said Trustee A.C. Buehler, but he said he particularly didn’t like the split face block construction, because it “looks cheap.”
“It’s not a nice space now,” said Trustee Michael Scolaro. “But that doesn’t mean that ugly should follow ugly.”
Trustee Todd Heller said that the board can’t just say “No” because Wal-Mart could produce big tax dollars and jobs for the village.
“I want research and answers. I want to know the local costs and benefits,” he added.
“We also have to consider the upcoming mixed use development of the northwest corner of Skokie and Dundee in the traffic equation.”
Trustee Kathryn Ciesla noted that she was “turned off,” because the Wal-Mart representatives would not answer a question about how much business the store would do in a year.
“We need to know the economic impact. It could mean $1 million or $2 million dollars a year in taxes.”
Trustee R. Israel added that a 24-hour operation would mean a 15 to 20 percent increase in traffic for an already congested area.
Trustee James Karagianis didn’t like the building’s orientation to the property, or its “institutional look.”
And Village President Sandra Frum stated that she didn’t think the zoning requested was appropriate, and called for the village to authorize not one, but two, traffic studies.