A long-vacant industrial site in downtown Libertyville has attracted the attention of a Lake Forest developer who says the demand for housing is worth the cost of dealing with potential environmental issues.
Station Square is the third big idea in recent years proposed for seven acres known as the Trimm property, directly west of the Metra station on Milwaukee Avenue. Contaminated soil played a role in the others falling short.
In an informal proposal to the village board, architect Rick Swanson said he knows the history, but the downtown has become such a powerful draw that it is worth the cost to build luxury townhouses and apartments.
A clock tower and roundabout would be central features of Station Square, and a train station to be renovated in keeping with the historical character of the area would become a focal point for the neighborhood. The station is not part of the project, but Swanson has been selected by the village to do the redesign.
Swanson said he has a contract to buy the land north and west of Lake Street and Milwaukee Avenue south of the Metra tracks. But it is at a point he needs to decide whether to proceed with the purchase and he wanted a sense of whether village officials would be receptive to what he has in mind.
"You're not the first developer to look at this project," Trustee Todd Gaines said during an informal presentation. He asked Swanson if he was comfortable with the soil condition.
"Yes, I've done my homework. I have a very clear understanding of what the cost is," said Swanson, who, as the developer, had to remediate the soil at the former Bolander Park nearby along Winchester Road before a townhouse project there got underway earlier this year.
"The good news is Libertyville is very popular, people want to live here," Swanson added. "Someone is going to have to absorb that cost."
Swanson said he plans to remove any contaminated soil from the site.
M/I Homes of Naperville in 2013 proposed 80 townhouses on the site but the project eventually was dropped. In 2012, the developer of the School Street neighborhood downtown presented a plan for apartments, offices and restaurants involving Trimm and other properties, but that didn't materialize.
The area is the former home of Newton Instrument Co., which moved more than a decade ago.
The building was demolished, but a legal logjam involving contaminated soil ensued between the village and the company. An agreement in 2006 gave Newton the ability to develop as many as 130 condos or townhouses and gave the village free land to expand commuter parking by 200 spaces.
Swanson's project is described as being a transit-oriented development that would be marketed to young professionals and empty nesters. But because there is no grocery store, trustees noted, residents still will need vehicles, and parking and traffic may be issues. The number of students that may be generated also is a consideration.
Still, the response was encouraging enough that Swanson plans to proceed with public review meetings to explore those issues before the proposal returns to the village board for a formal decision.
"In terms of a general concept, the things I see here I like," said Trustee Rich Moras.