Evergreen Park retail plan pits city residents vs. suburb, jobs vs. trees
By Steve METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org September 27, 2011 11:02PM
Evergeen Park Mayor James Sexton is shown in this 2011 file photo.
Updated: November 11, 2011 2:14PM
The battle line runs down Western Avenue. But the war is all but over.
To the west sits the former Evergreen Country Club, 9140 S. Western Ave., with its 96 wooded acres, half of which will be used for recreation and half for retail.
To the east is the North Beverly neighborhood of Chicago’s 19th Ward, filled with residents worried about Western Avenue traffic, possible flooding caused by paving over a golf course, and the loss of towering oak trees.
Benjamin Cox, a board member of the Beverly Improvement Association, said opponents plan to fight the development that will bring a Menards, a Meijer store and others to the site.
“Until the trees are cut down and the cement is poured, we’re not giving up,” Cox said Tuesday. “We’re starting a petition campaign and a letter-writing drive. A petition for the local politicians and the letters for Meijer and Menards. We want to let them know what we think. The only way to win this one is in the court of public opinion.”
Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton understands the concern, and said he’s “trying to be a good neighbor, but the ship has already sailed from the dock.”
Zoning for the development has been approved. The Evergreen Park village board has approved plans. Sexton expects ground to be broken by spring.
“This is going to put a lot of people to work and bring in tremendous tax revenue, millions of dollars,” Sexton said. “I know everybody kind of likes things the way they used to be, but nowadays we can’t afford to stand still.”
Sexton said at least 300 construction jobs will be created, with another 300 full-time retail jobs to follow.
A study by Polsky & Associates determined that the village, the library and two school districts would share $4.4 million in tax revenue the first full year of 2014, and $120 million through the year 2036.
Opponents are angry about the loss of green space and an anticipated increase in traffic.
Glancing around the weed-covered site Tuesday, Sexton looked at a towering oak.
“Trees don’t pay the bills,” he said.
Phone calls to Meijer and the developer, Chicago-based Sterling Bay Cos., were not returned Tuesday.
Sexton said the developer has been cooperative from the start. He noted how a long turning lane will be carved from the property along southbound Western Avenue to help traffic flow, and that Sterling Bay may install a costly parking lot surface that would allow water to seep into the soil beneath, rather than into storm sewers.
Sexton said he and the developer have talked with the Beverly Improvement Association about their concerns.
“This has already been approved and contracts have been signed and more stores are coming, so we have to make the best of the situation,” Sexton said.
Plans call for seven outlots facing Western Avenue and another facing 91st Street. The parking lot will have room for 2,000 vehicles, with the main entrance at 92nd Place and Western Avenue.
Sexton thinks having Meijer and Menards anchor the development also could spark interest in The Plaza, the half-vacant shopping center at 95th Street and Western Avenue. Beverly Improvement Association board member Benjamin Cox doubts that will happen and said the village should have convinced Menards and Meijer to fill empty space in The Plaza rather than “tear up green space that’s always been green.”
“Once you lose green space, you don’t get it back,” he said.
Sexton shrugged off the comment.
“Do we all want to live on a quiet little block with a lot of trees? Certainly. But life’s got to go on,” Sexton said.
Those at established businesses across the street believe life will get better. That includes Lynn Sapp, whose grandfather founded The Original Rainbow Cone, 9233 S. Western, 85 years ago.
“I’m very happy about it. Our property values will improve,” Sapp said. “We’re in a desolate part of town now. More people will be coming by with this. I feel sad for the green space, I really do. There are some beautiful trees there, but change is good and progress has to be made.”
As for concerns about traffic, Sapp laughed and said, “That’s what Western Avenue is for. ... They can jump up and down all they want, but (Sterling Bay) has invested $7.5 million in our community and we need jobs. Get out of their way, and let progress happen.”
Tim Sandefur, sales manager at Evergreen Kia, 9205 S. Western, said the development “should increase our business quite a bit.”
But at what cost, nearby residents wonder.
Roberta Kleinman, a 17-year resident of North Beverly and a member of the Beverly Improvement Association, said “there’s a sense of outrage” in the neighborhood.
“We’re talking about the destruction of old-growth oaks and an irreplaceable resource,” she said.
The other half of the former golf course, west of train tracks that run through the property, still will have some trees and is to be developed by Evergreen Park for recreation with a disc golf course, sledding hill, farming area, driving range and putting greens.
Nonetheless, the retail plan “breaks my heart,” Kleinman said.
Sexton said he’s “sorry there’s all this heartache. ... but I’m upset 10 to 15 percent of the people in this area are out of work. All we hear every night on TV is ‘jobs, jobs, jobs.’ Here’s an opportunity to do (something about) it.”
Evergreen Park had been eyeing the golf course land for years, and even tried to take it by eminent domain. It lost that case, triggered by a potential 1999 development deal, and had to pay owner Babe Ahern $1.2 million in court costs.
Ahern died in December at the age of 103, about a month after Sterling Bay Cos. bought the course for $7.5 million.