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Opposition rises against Waukegan townhome project

Updated: February 2, 2013 2:20AM

The latest in a series of attempts to develop a 22.4-acre parcel on the southeast corner of Route 120 and River Road calls for 155 townhomes in a concept that backers compare to the Asters on Almond development about a mile-and-a-half west near 120 and Hunt Club Road.

The would-be Asters on River project took shape earlier this year under the name River Glen, with a Libertyville-based group of developers approaching the city about rezoning the land from R1 single-family to R3, which would allow for townhomes.

A planned review before the city’s development commission last month was postponed when officials in the department of planning and zoning sought an independent traffic study. More recently, city officials reported that the developer, River Glen Capital Group LLC, has been asked to submit new applications that include a request for R5 multi-family housing.

Russ Tomlin, director of planning and zoning, said an independent traffic study was requested by current River Road homeowners that would complement an analysis submitted by the developer. He added that the overall process will review how future development might affect single-family subdivisions to the south.

As with previous efforts to develop the site, opposition has been registered from nearby homeowners, including those in the Daybreak Farms, Huntington Lakes, Nickels and Dimes and River Bend subdivisions. Daybreak Farms resident Andrew Hayes estimated that 75 to 85 percent of residents in those areas have signed petitions opposing the proposal.

“River Road has a character, and it’s a pastoral setting. It has what can be classified as estate-type homes on half-acre and acre property,” Hayes said. “This proposal is half-acre and (smaller). ... To us, that is out of character to anything along here.”

Previous efforts at residential development on the vacant parcel all came to dead ends, including a 2004 bid by Remington Homes to build 81 homes on 5,300-square-foot lots, with prices in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

After that plan faded away, Cambridge Homes and Interlaken Construction of Libertyville came forward in 2006 with a smaller concept that called for 41 homes in the $600,000 ballpark. Cambridge withdrew from that venture, and the city fielded another plan in 2008 that featured 27 homes in a green-friendly design that included natural stormwater management.

In at least the first two cases, River Road residents also filed individual formal objections and petitions opposing the plans, citing such concerns as the lack of a left-turn lane from westbound Route 120 onto River Road. Tomlin said the Illinois Department of Transportation is expected to go out to bid soon on construction of a turn lane regardless of any private development.

According to a statement released by River Glen Capital Group, a traffic analysis contracted by the developer called for not only the turn lane off Route 120 but left- and right-turn lanes from northbound River Road. Entrance and exit lanes would also be added on River Road to access the new subdivision.

The statement added that the developer’s overall investment would be around $38 million, with $7 million dedicated to improve the property with such things as water and sewer lines from the city. River Glen officials estimate that the entire subdivision of $240,000 to $300,000 townhomes would generate $225,000 annually in property taxes for Waukegan, along with $621,000 annually for school districts that include Woodland Elementary and Warren Township High.

A spokeswoman for the developer said plans are to file a preliminary plan and request for zoning change this month with a goal of going before the planning and zoning commission in January. If and when the project moves beyond that step, it would have to pass through the City Council’s Judiciary Committee and go before the full council before a final yes-or-no vote could be held.

While not endorsing the project, Tomlin noted that it already represents Waukegan’s first housing proposal since the Traditions at Glen Flora active-senior community was approved in 2004.

“This is the first non-incentivized, market-rate development that has come before the city in several years, so it’s encouraging to see that,” Tomlin said. “(But) before it can be approved, there’s a lot of questions to be answered. ... They need to put a package together that answers all those questions.”

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