Commission votes against proposed Northbrook Walmart

Julia Jacobs, co-editor in chief

The Northbrook Plan Commission decided not to recommend that the Village Board of Trustees approve Walmart’s application to build on 1000 Skokie Blvd. at an Oct. 30 meeting.

Although the Plan Commission does not have a final say, the Village Board of Trustees follows their recommendation more often than not, Marcia Franklin, chairman of the Plan Commission, said. After four public hearings and about 10 hours of public comment in front of the Plan Commission, all of the nine board members opposed Walmart’s proposed development.

Unlike the rest of the commissioners, Franklin generally supported the development of Walmart in that location. Franklin approved of rezoning the land for a commercial establishment and granting minor variations like the addition of a second parking lot and a lot for seasonal outdoor sales. However, Franklin could not recommend the application primarily because of her concern for its size.

“I think that a 150,000 square foot building in this space is too big,” Franklin said. “I would love to see the applicant come back with a revised proposal that addresses a number of my concerns.”

Another of Franklin’s concerns was increased traffic congestion, specifically on roads like Sunset Ridge Road and Voltz Road that drivers use as “cut-throughs” to avoid busy main roads.

Doug Warshauer, School District 29 board member, spoke at an Oct. 23 meeting about increased commercial traffic on Sunset Ridge Road, where students must cross without a stop sign, stoplight or sidewalk on their way to and from school.

“With all the traffic caused by [the Walmart], I fear there will be some dead children on Sunset Ridge, and I think that should be a consideration on whether we approve Walmart,” Northfield resident James Rogula said.

However, Harold Francke, attorney for Walmart, said the traffic consultant estimated only 18 percent of Walmart drivers would use Sunset Ridge Road. Although Walmart agreed to work with the Village of Northbrook on road improvements, Francke said that the public needs to distinguish between traffic problems in the property’s immediate vicinity and existing deficiencies not related to the property.

At the final public hearing on Oct. 23, Francke said he intended to clarify misstatements of fact about Walmart’s plan that existed in the community. Francke clarified that, in the event that Walmart was built, Northbrook’s total tax revenue would increase around $2 million in the first year of tax collection. In the first five years, reveue from Northbrook’s sales tax  would increase 12 percent.

For resident Plamena Todorov, more is lost than gained in revenue if the Walmart is built.

“The tax revenue Walmart…dangling in front of us would be nothing [compared] to the lost tax revenue from diminishing property values and … shuttered businesses,” Todorov said.

According to Thomas Roszak, who organized a unified opposition group to the plan, Walmart conducted studies on the effect of the presence of the superstore on property values in other locations and concluded that the impact would be minimal. However, those studies were conducted on towns with houses valued considerably less than Northbrook residences, Roszak said.

The majority of Northbrook residents who spoke at the meetings were opposed to the plan, Franklin said. Northbrook resident Leslie Ward said that she had helped collect around 2,000 signatures against the plan and could count the number of people who refused to sign on one hand.

However, Jason Field, the first to speak at the meeting on Oct. 23, supported the Walmart because it would make it easier for him to afford to start a family in Northbrook.

“For Northbrook to not encourage new development in order to spur our current business to change with the economy is a sin,” Field said. “No young family is going to want to move into a town that wants to grow old and resist change.”

Field said that, although it appears that the entire town is against the development, he gets the impression that Walmart supporters do not speak publicly because they are intimidated. At the meeting on Oct. 23, Franklin stopped the proceedings when the audience objected loudly to comments from Francke.

“This is the first time that I’ve been uncomfortable with making my views known because of the previous atmosphere in this hearing room,” Franklin said at the meeting Oct. 30. “I realize that this was a very emotional issue for many members of the public, but I hope that not I, nor any other member of the commission or person wishing to put evidence in, is placed in that position again.”