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updated: 1/30/2019 6:41 AM

Controversial Glen Ellyn apartment project takes step forward, but trustee quits in protest

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  • Glen Ellyn Trustee Mark Senak resigned Monday rather than vote on a proposed downtown development.

    Glen Ellyn Trustee Mark Senak resigned Monday rather than vote on a proposed downtown development.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • "Apex 400," a proposed apartment complex in downtown Glen Ellyn, is moving closer to reality.

    "Apex 400," a proposed apartment complex in downtown Glen Ellyn, is moving closer to reality.
    Courtesy of the village of Glen Ellyn

 
 

A $39 million apartment development in downtown Glen Ellyn has cleared a major hurdle after a contentious village board meeting that led one trustee to resign in protest rather than cast a vote on the controversial project.

The board narrowly approved an agreement calling for $1.36 million in village incentives over five years to reimburse developers of Apex 400, a five-story apartment complex on the site of the former Giesche shoe store and a village-owned parking lot.

Developers now have six months to apply for final approval, but the board on Monday agreed to zoning deviations that have drawn the ire of opponents who say the building's height will dominate a stretch of Main Street and won't fit the historic image of the downtown.

Village President Diane McGinley cast the tiebreaking vote, saying the development will boost downtown foot traffic. Trustees John Kenwood, Pete Ladesic and Craig Pryde also voted in favor of the complex that will contain 107 upscale apartments, 8,844 square feet of first-floor retail space and a two-story parking garage with 137 public spaces.

"We need about 400 units in this town," said McGinley, citing expert recommendations. "This is 107 of those 400 that we have been targeting and have talked about transparently for many, many years."

"I'm guessing we don't want to see all 400 in one spot, so we need to take advantage when there's an opportunity ... and do so in a way that allows us to reach our goals," she said.

"I can tell you from sitting up here we do have businesses that come and look at us and leave, whether it's because of lack of parking or lack of foot traffic, but those are always the two reasons."

Shortly before midnight Monday, the meeting took an abrupt turn when Trustee Mark Senak stepped down in the middle of a vote and walked away from the dais. With a "heavy heart but a clear conscience," Senak resigned from the remainder of his current term, but he said Tuesday he's still a board candidate in the April 2 election.

Senak sought to consider alternatives that in his view "had not been fully explored" to try to scale back the height to four stories. He suggested talks with neighboring landowners about the possibility of selling their properties so developers could acquire a larger parcel, reconfigure the design and construct a building that "complied with zoning code" and still made the project economically feasible.

A land swap with St. Petronille Parish also has been floated.

Village Manager Mark Franz said in an email that those concepts "were discussed during various stages of the planning process over the last six months and were deemed not viable by the developer."

Senak said it's wasn't his intent to thwart the development but "only to make it consistent" with zoning rules, planning documents and the comments he argues represent the majority of residents.

But one of the project's principals, Larry Debb, said developers were running out of time under a deadline set by lenders to obtain board approval. "If you don't want to vote tonight, I'm walking away," Debb told the board.

Senak charged the board majority with caving to fears a delay would derail the development.

Outside legal counsel told the board Senak needs to satisfy several legal requirements to step down, including notarizing his resignation in writing. Senak said he plans to talk with the village attorney about what needs to be done to formalize his resignation.

In the meantime, his vote was recorded as an abstention.

Debb said developers have made substantial revisions in response to village pushback. They recently eliminated more than 1,000 square feet of rentable apartment space to drop the southeast elevation to three stories. At the southeast corner, the height of the building's tallest point fell to 58.5 feet from the average grade, down from a previous 65 feet. Village code allows up to 45 feet for Main Street properties.

Debb also agreed Monday to reduce the height at the northeast corner of the building. The changes led developers to increase their request for tax increment financing -- property tax money above a certain point that would have gone to local governments -- from $800,000 to $1.36 million.