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Bonnie Brae developer proposes new project

'Don't waste our time again,' says commission chairman

November 12th, 2019 2:14 PM

New Plan: Architect John Schiess discussed plans for a townhouse development at a River Forest Development Review Board meeting on Nov. 7. | Rendering provided

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By Maria Maxham

Staff Reporter

At a River Forest Development Review Board meeting on Nov. 7, John Schiess, a River Forest-based architect, presented a new plan for the development project on the 1100 block of Bonnie Brae. The meeting was a pre-filing meeting, so the board did not vote on the project. 

"This is an opportunity for the board and residents to voice their concerns," said Chairman Frank Martin.

"There is no application on file right now," Martin added before addressing Schiess. "But if you do decide to file an application, the things we discuss tonight are things you should consider when putting together the application."

Schiess has been hired as the architect for the project by Art Gurevich, vice president of Jenny Builders, Inc. and owner of Bonnie Brae Construction LLC. Gurevich owns the properties at 1101-11 Bonnie Brae. 

In November 2016, the village approved Gurevich's plan to build 15 condos at 1101-07 Bonnie Brae and to convert a six-unit apartment building at 1111 Bonnie Brae into a three-unit condominium. The high-end condos would have been priced at $850,000 to $1 million.

That project never got off the ground due to issues with funding.

Now, Schiess and Gurevich plan to submit a new application for the land that includes 19 three-story townhomes priced between $599,000 and $615,000. 

According to Mariano Mollo, broker for Forest Park-based Avenue One who is working with Schiess and Gurevich, this is the "sweet spot" pricing for townhomes in the area right now. 

Martin, however, again wondered about the financing end of things.

"You better be prepared to defend this project with an economic analysis," he said. "Don't waste our time like you did several years ago."

Gurevich said the earlier plans failed because banks would not lend the money unless enough units had been pre-sold. But, no one would buy unless construction started, said Gurevich, setting up a Catch-22.

"It was a no-win situation," said Gurevich, adding that the new project is different because there are no pre-sale requirement for financing.

Development Review Board member Gerry Dombrowski brought up the fact that at the River Forest townhome development in the 7800 block of Madison Street, units are still unsold, and expressed concern that this project would be similar. 

According to Mollo, those townhomes are "outdated design-wise" without the open floor plan in the proposed Bonnie Brae project. 

"This type of townhome is better," Mollo said.

Board member Tagger O'Brien questioned whether a three-story design is what people are looking for. Schiess replied that this is a common type of design these days.

Another concern involved parking and traffic. At the beginning of the Nov. 7 meeting, Schiess and Gurevich planned to petition to have the required traffic study for new construction waived. Having completed one for their previous plans, Schiess said this project is "less intensive than the previous proposal, for which a traffic study was conducted."

But O'Brien brought up the fact that, at the time of the previous traffic study, a Concordia University dorm hadn't been completed yet, and other changes in traffic needed to be considered as well. Martin agreed.

"A study shouldn't be submitted for one project and used for another," said Martin.

Schiess and Gurevich subsequently withdrew their petition for the waiver.

Residents also expressed concern about traffic and parking, mentioning that the new proposal only includes four additional parking spots for visitors. Gene Sullivan, who has lived on Bonnie Brae for over 12 years, said that there is already limited parking on the street. Nineteen residences would increase this. He also mentioned concern over kids getting out of cars when dropped off for school.

"I like that you're putting your dollars where your mouth is by investing in the community," said Sullivan. "But parking and traffic are of grave concern to residents."

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