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Waukegan makes ‘giant step forward’ on River Road project

Updated: January 28, 2014 6:13AM

After nine years and the failure of at least four different proposals to develop the southeast corner of River Road and Route 120, the Waukegan City Council voted 7-1 last week to approve a 65-unit plan in a corridor otherwise known for estate-style properties.

Unlike last summer’s bid by the River Glen Capital Group that asked for 139 townhomes — down from a request for 155 such units earlier in the year — the new plan features detached homes with a density of 2.94 units per acre.

“Waukegan now has made a giant step forward, and you will see development now in this community,” Mayor Wayne Motley, who has expressed past support for development on the 22.4-acre parcel, said after River Glen’s latest proposal won approval on Dec. 16.

River Glen Ninth Ward Ald. Rafael Rivera, who was one of only two aldermen voting for the 139-unit version in July, said the latest version was the result of compromise between the developer and homeowners groups on River Road.

“(The developer was) willing to come down with the density and willing to work with the residents out there. They came together and everybody is basically in agreement with what’s going on,” said Rivera, adding that “I think we learned a lot” during the process.

Rivera also noted that, as with past proposals for the property, River Glen will extend city water and sewer lines past the Tri-State Tollway to serve the new development. Past estimates of the infrastructure improvements were put at $1.2 million.

“We can’t forget about the importance of (sewer and) water coming into this area, which the developer is paying,” River said. “There’s also the excitement we’re going to create here at City Hall as far as the permits (and) new property tax revenue as well. I mean, there are so many positives in this.”

But 7th Ward Ald. Lisa May ended up casting the sole negative vote against the plan, saying she still has concerns about density in an area known for residences on large lots. At one point, May said “are people really going to buy $400,000 and $500,000 homes that are 10 feet apart from each other?”

“I know the work everyone has put into this, and I appreciate the compromise, (but) I still have concerns,” May said. “I question the calculations for open space and all the lobbying that went into this — if this is such a great development, why do we have the banks lobbying us and all these people coming at us? I would think that it would sell itself.”

A past opponent of large-scale development in the area, 6th Ward Ald. Larry TenPas, voted for the project while expressing reservations.

“This has been probably one of the hardest issues that I’ve faced in my aldermanic career, trying to do the right thing,” TenPas said. “We had 40 homes scheduled out there at one time, and then they tried to go to 165 — they were crazy to try to put that many homes there. This was a compromise, a very difficult compromise.

“I’m going to tell the developer, ‘I’m going to vote aye, but don’t ever come back and ask for a single unit on that property.’”

Shortly after approving the plan, the council voted 8-0 to approve a one-year moratorium on development along the River Road corridor.

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