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River Road residents blast ‘Waukegan sprawl’

Updated: March 13, 2013 2:36AM

WAUKEGAN — The debate over whether or not 155 townhomes will take root near River Road and Route 120 began in earnest Thursday night when the city’s planning & zoning commission listened to more than two hours of often-emotional testimony from a capacity crowd.

“This is tantamount to spot zoning,” said Irwin Gzech, an attorney representing land owners to the east on Hanlon Road, drawing applause from the crowd when he added that “they’re taking (multi-family) zoning and they’re dropping it like a bird crossing over and pooping on it.”

But backers of the proposed $38 million Asters on River development said their plan represents the highest and best use for the 22.4-acre property, which currently is zoned for single-family housing, but has failed to get such a concept off the ground.

“We feel that it’s an appropriate land use for the site (and) we don’t feel that this will affect the corridor or River Road,” said Glenn Christensen of Vernon Hills-based Manhard Consulting, the project’s land planner and landscape architect, adding that he feels “it would be impossible to sell” single-family homes on land that borders Route 120.

The project’s developer, River Glen Capital Group, is seeking a zoning change from R-1 single-family to R-5 multi-family, which would allow for 71 conventional townhomes and 84 rowhouses ranging in size from 1,800 to 2,000 square feet, priced from $240,000 to more than $300,000. The commission is charged with reviewing the application — which also includes a request for a conditional-use permit for a planned-unit development — and then forwarding a recommendation to the City Council’s Judiciary Committee.

The commission postponed a vote on the matter Thursday, with Chairman Michael Rodriguez saying “there’s too much to digest all in one night. ... It’s a big project, and I understand a lot of people would be impacted by this. (There) is so much information and so much testimony to hear.”

Thursday’s proceedings featured comments from four supporters of the project, including two from the general public, while nearly 20 people spoke in opposition, with many focusing on the impacts new development would have on River Road traffic.

“This is crazy. This is crazy to put something like this at a bottleneck,” said John Thames. “I am directly across from this property, and this is a bad idea.”

Thames told the commission that it sometimes takes him three to five minutes to make a left turn from northbound River Road “not to get onto 120, but to get to the median. I think I’m a decent driver, but I’m scared out of my pants” to make the turn.

Christensen said the Illinois Department of Transportation has gone out to bid on a project that would add left-turn lanes from westbound 120 to River Road, adding that “I guess we can anticipate that the work will be done in the spring.” But River Road property owner Greg Grasmick said he doesn’t feel improvements on 120 will benefit traffic from River Road.

“The traffic is unbelievable. Turning lanes won’t help,” said Grasmick, describing the difficulty of turning off River Road with vehicles “blowing through at 55 mph ... somebody’s going to die there.”

“I cannot imagine the chaos” from more traffic, said River Road resident Cynthia Seng, describing 10-minute waits to turn onto 120. “This is a dangerous intersection for even the most accomplished of drivers, and I fail to see how this will change with the addition of a couple of left-turn lanes.”

Also expressing concerns about traffic was Green Oaks Trustee Dennis Dorsey, who said his village is offering to assist Waukegan in studying traffic to and from Route 137 on the south. Steve Barg, executive director of Conserve Lake County, was among those voicing environmental concerns, saying he feels “the plan doesn’t really address preserving (the) natural beauty of the area.”

Among those supporting the project was Timothy O’Leary, who previously developed River Road subdivisions that include Huntington Lakes, who said “nobody would be here tonight” if past objectors to new housing in the area had succeeded.

“In every single case, (River Road development) was described as urban sprawl, Waukegan sprawl,” O’Leary said. “This project is the catalyst for the turn lanes (from 120) and bringing in water. ... I just want everybody to keep an open mind. This is a quality project.”

The planning and zoning commission tentatively scheduled a second meeting on the proposal for Jan. 24 at City Hall. The City Council eventually will have the final say on the project, which has been issued a conditional recommendation from the city’s planning staff, an endorsement that does not constitute approval.

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