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Whole Foods developer has not officially withdrawn petition in Lake Forest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 who wanted to build a Whole Foods Market and other retail buildings at the western gateway to Lake Forest has yet to formally withdraw his petition filed with the city — even after he announced publicly that he would withdraw it.

“At this time, the city has not set a deadline for submittal of revised plans,” Director of Community Development Cathy Czerniak said in an email Thursday.

Czerniak said the city has already received other inquiries on the prime 8.5-acre site located at the southeast corner of Route 60 and Saunders Road — the start of the Route 60 gateway as designated by Lake Forest’s non-binding comprehensive plan for the area. So far, they are just general inquiries about the property, rather than formal development applications, which would be made public as soon as they were completely filed, according to Czerniak.

Developer Bill Shiner of The Shiner Group in Wilmette said at the July 7 City Council meeting that he would withdraw his petition “tomorrow,” listing several city requirements he believed were impossible to meet. Most notable among those was a 100-foot setback requirement set by the Plan Commission, which aldermen said they would uphold. Shiner said he needed a 60-foot setback to make the development economically viable. His plan called for a Whole Foods, a bank and three other smaller buildings for a total footprint of 71,000 square feet of building space.

Shiner could not be reached for comment.

Aldermen on July 7 said the retail development contained too many structures “shoe-horned” into the space.

During the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce Mayors Luncheon July 10, Mayor Donald Schoenheider told attendees that the city did not reject Whole Foods.

“We would love to have Whole Foods,” he said when an audience member asked why the city let the upscale grocer walk away from the city. “They would’ve been a wonderful addition to the Lake Forest community.”

He said the City Council considered the proposal “far too dense, far too deep and simply not the right plan.”

Schoenheider said the city is “aggressively out now trying to find other opportunities” for the site.

“The city made it very clear we would like to see development there,” he said, adding that the ideal new plan would match up with the Route 60 corridor vision set years ago.

The city is “not going to just do something for tax revenue,” he continued. “I think there will be some things that will come up over the next few months.”

Three days later — and a week after the City Council said it would not waver on the setback and other issues — Schoenheider issued a “thank you” to the public for getting involved in the discussions on the proposal for the Amberley Woods Commercial Center.

“If a plan were presented to enhance the historic and architectural integrity of Lake Forest, the City Council and many in the community have made it clear that there is interest and support for a mix of retail, restaurants and service businesses at this site,” Schoenheider said in the statement.

He also recognized the speakers who referenced the city’s history in their public comment on the proposal. The city’s forefathers “faced the very same difficult decisions over the past 150 years that we face today; attempting to balance development and vitality with the important community qualities that define who we are,” the statement read.

Schoenheider said he is “confident” that together the city and residents will achieve “an impressive commercial development on Route 60.”

The complete text of the letter is available on the city’s website at www.cityoflakeforest.com.

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 the site.

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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