Lake Forest eyes TIF for Laurel site
(Left to right) Jan Gibson, Steven Bruhn and Diane Karzas, all from Lake Forest, pose for a portrait in corner park October 20, 2012. The residents are concerned about a plan to develop this area. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
LAKE FOREST — Lake Forest is considering establishing a controversial Tax Increment Finance District to redevelop and market the 10-acre former Municipal Services site on Laurel Avenue.
Cathy Czerniak, director of community development, said officials want a decision in six to nine months.
The city established its only TIF to spur private development of the Waukegan Road business district and surrounding residential area 20 years ago.
The City Council approved a contract with Teska Associates Inc. in September for $47,500 to assess the situation. Teska worked on the city’s previous TIF.
“We expect this consultant will research current market conditions, formally assess what developers are doing today, what they’re looking for and what they’re willing to build,” Czerniak said. “No decisions have been made. This is still in the exploratory process.”
Four years ago the city put on hold plans for a mix of single-family homes, town homes and condominiums with a small commercial node at the city-owned site north of Market Square when a request for proposals from developers spurred little interest.
“That plan will be part of everything we look at going forward as we try to determine whether, A, now is the appropriate time and, B, if TIF is a potential vehicle to make that happen,” said Third Ward Alderman Don Schoenheider.
Schoenheider chairs the Property and Public Lands Committee, a subcommittee of the City Council, that Mayor James Cowhey set up in May. The committee recommended hiring Teska and considers the project a high priority.
When a municipality establishes a Tax Increment Finance District, the assessed value of the property is “frozen” for determining distribution of property tax revenue. The idea is that as the property is improved, the assessed value will increase above that “frozen” level. Tax revenue collected on the increased value will pay for improvements in the new district.
However, other taxing districts, including schools, park and library, will collect tax revenue based only on the “frozen” assessment level, not any increase, for the life of the TIF, usually 20 years.
“Right now, we’re not getting anything out of it,” Allen Albus, deputy superintendent of finance and operations for School Districts 67 and 115, said of the city-owned site. “As the TIF expires, it comes on as new construction to us, which is outside the tax cap.”
Since 2008, the city has completed some environmental remediation work on the site to prepare it for development. The property formerly housed the city’s Public Works fleet and underground fuel tanks, which have been removed, as have some outbuildings.
The former Municipal Services building and some garages remain. The city’s Municipal Services Department and fleet moved to a new facility on Field Drive in 2009.
With a TIF, the city can use tax benefits from the property to complete remediation, demolish remaining buildings and put in infrastructure to make the land more attractive to a developer.
The Plan Commission may view the report from Teska as early as November, Czerniak said. The Plan Commission will hold public meetings over several months to evaluate the study and learn about TIFs before making its recommendation to the City Council, she said.
“The City Council ultimately will decide if now is the right time and, ultimately, if a TIF is the right tool,” Czerniak said.
Neighbors of the property will keep an eye on the proceedings much as they did four years ago. They hope to retain Franklin Park at Western Avenue and Franklin Place, a berm along Franklin Place, and keep building height and density as low as possible.
“How would designating that as a TIF change the land development plan” is another concern, neighbor Stephen Brun said.
“We’re being vigilant and we want to work with the city,” said Jan Gibson, another neighboring resident.