Developer withdraws Whole Foods plan for Lake Forest

Amberley Woods residents Cissie Cappola, from left, Jim Diamond and Richard Ernest at the lot line stake for the proposed retail center next to their condominiums.  |  LINDA BLASER/SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Amberley Woods residents Cissie Cappola, from left, Jim Diamond and Richard Ernest at the lot line stake for the proposed retail center next to their condominiums. | LINDA BLASER/SUN-TIMES MEDIA

The developer hoping to builda retail development anchored by Whole Foods at the Route 60 gateway to Lake Forest shocked an overflow audience at the City Council meeting Monday night when he announced the withdrawal of his petition.

The sticking point to build the development in an area zoned for an office complex was what setback from Route 60 the city would allow.

To make the project economically viable, Bill Shiner of The Shiner Group said the development needed a 60-foot setback — much smaller than the 150-foot setback required in the Route 60 corridor.

The City Council, however, upheld the Plan Commission’s recommendation, sticking to a minimum 100-foot setback.

“We can’t go forward,” Shiner said after the city’s eight aldermen agreed they would uphold the Plan Commission recommendation.

“We tried the best we could,” he said. “I hope it gets developed.”

Shiner’s plan called for a Whole Foods and four smaller buildings on 8.5 acres at Route 60 and Saunders Road, in a development to be named Conway Neighborhood Market.

The Plan Commission, which has considered the petition for months, voted June 11 to forward its 25 recommendations to the City Council to give the petitioner feedback. No City Council vote was expected Monday as the project still needed review by the Historic Preservation Commission and the Building Review Board.

Shiner could have amended his proposal and submitted it for further review, according to an outline of the public review process distributed at Monday night’s meeting.

Instead, Shiner dropped his bombshell at the close of the nearly three-hour City Council meeting. After the meeting, Shiner said he was “too emotional” to comment further.

The Shiner Group was working with Whole Foods and the City of Lake Forest for more than two years on a plan for a retail shopping center on the site, he said.

The 8.5-acre site lies just west of the Amberley Woods condominiums and contains a historic residence that would have been demolished under the plan.

Fourth Ward Alderman Michael Adelman, the first City Council member to weigh in after two hours of testimony and questions, said he supported retail over office for the site but felt the proposed plan was “too much” development for the acreage and cited acting in “the long-term best interest of the community” on sticking to the larger setback. The other aldermen agreed.

Fourth Ward Alderman Michelle Moreno said she was “not satisfied” with the plan, noting the need to retain the open green space at the city’s gateway.

“It doesn’t appear to be in the spirit of the city of Lake Forest,” she said.

Several aldermen said they were not opposed to Whole Foods opening a store in Lake Forest.

“In principal, I love the concept,” Third Ward Alderman Stanton “Randy” Tack said. “Unless there’s a viable option for 100–foot setback, I can’t see how I can possibly support this.”

First Ward Alderman Catherine Waldeck, who called the 100-foot setback her “line in the sand,” urged the developer to work collaboratively to create a workable design, citing the Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital plan created through such an effort.

“We believe there is more that can be done,” President of Lake Forest Open Lands President John Sentell said during public comment, even offering the organization’s assistance “in any way possible.”

About a dozen members spoke during a 45-minute period set aside for public comment, some in support of the proposal and others against it.

“There will, undoubtedly, be other opportunities for development,” former alderman Jerry Henry said. Henry was among three former city officials who voiced their concerns about the proposed development on Route 60, which they said did not conform to the comprehensive plan for the area, the city’s tree preservation ordinance and historic preservation guidelines.

After the meeting, resident Maureen Grinnell, who spoke against the proposed development, said she wasn’t sure it was over.

“I hope it is,” she said. “I feel a lot of people wised up to what this all meant, I think the outcome tonight was reflective of that.”

Resident Linda Diamond disagreed

“I think it should’ve been built,” she said.

The Plan Commission deliberated for months on the request by The Shiner Group to construct a 45,000-square-foot Whole Foods and four smaller buildings, including a restaurant and bank, on 8.5 acres with a total footprint of 71,000 square feet of building space.

The proposed shopping center required an amendment to the original special use permit to allow for a mix of retail, restaurant and service businesses at the northwest corner of the Amberley Woods subdivision. The current special use permit allows for two three-story office buildings and ancillary retail for a total of 95,000 square feet. It also calls for a 150-foot setback on Route 60, in keeping with the recommendations of Lake Forest’s nonbinding comprehensive plan, and most of the other properties along Route 60.

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