Public Watchdog.org

How Much Is Enough?

12.01.17

On the night of November 14, a developer’s representatives showed up at City Holl to pitch the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) on letting it develop the Mr. K’s site – 1440 Higgins, currently zoned for business/commercial use – with 19 3-bedroom townhouses and an office building that the developer hoped would be enough “commercial” to sell the Commission on the project.

Given that the developer previously had sought 31 townhouses and no commercial building for the site, it was clear that the townhouses were the dog and the office building was the tail. Which is why the developer broke out the salesmanship.

So did Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, which dispatched finance guru Luann Kolstad, along with an attorney and a consultant from Teska Associates, to try to persuade the P&Z folks that this new multi-family residential development will likely add 6 to 9 kids (a conservative estimate, per Supt. Laurie Heinz’s letter) to D-64 schools instead of the 2.88 kids the developer was projecting.

One would think that Park Ridge’s oft-lamented lack of business/commercial combined with the longstanding commercial zoning of the site, in the exercise of common sense and simple math, would have made P&Z’s decision to say “no” to more multi-family development a straightforward one.

But it wasn’t.

A couple of P&Z commissioners seemed lost in the funhouse and totally overmatched by the interplay of housing density and student costs, even after a fellow commissioner correctly pointed out that 2 of the 3 bedrooms in each townhouse were so small they appeared designed solely for children. A few more commissioners seemed desperate for some kind of compromise that would avoid their having to make a decision that somebody might not like.

But as James Russell Lowell so trenchantly observed: “Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”

And when we’re talking about a development that can be expected to last a minimum of 30-50 years, a “temporary expedient” – like 19 3-bedroom townhouses and some half-baked office building afterthought – is the last thing we need.

Which brings us to the key question: How much is enough? In this case, how much residential development is enough?

Multi-family residential is the lowest hanging fruit on the development tree for an older, inner-ring upper-middle class community like Park Ridge. Want to turn a quick, low-risk profit? See how many condos or townhouses you can cram onto your target property.

But at what point do more residences, and more residents, begin to adversely affect the community’s quality of life and its sustainability – whether by too many kids in our public schools, too much traffic, too many demands on our infrastructure, etc.?

The answer to that question depends on who you are and where your interests lie.

If you’re the owner of Mr. K’s looking to cash out at the highest price, you probably don’t give a rat’s derriere about what some developer constructs on that property – so long as the check clears. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay.

If you’re a developer looking to turn the quickest profit with the least risk, 31 townhouses – or 19 townhouses and some half-baked office building – might be your best pump-and-dump deal. And that’s okay, too.

And if you’re a local RE broker, 19 new townhouses increases your “inventory” at no significant additional incremental cost to you. And that’s okay.

Because self-interest – both enlightened and doltish – has always been with us and always will be. It’s how we deal with that self-interest that matters.

Perhaps the most important reason we have City government and a Zoning Code is to prevent selfish property owners, selfish developers and selfish RE brokers from putting their short-term profiteering ahead of the taxpayers’ long-term expense and the community’s long-term sustainability as a unique place to live.

Which means remembering that property owners are like one-trick hookers, that developers are like sharks cruising for their next meal, and that certain RE brokers are like the remoras that swim below the sharks’ mouths feeding on the scraps left over from the sharks’ larger meals.

While the owner and the developer may both be one-and-done on a project such as Mr. K’s, it’s those RE agents who will be getting the longer-term benefits from adding condos and townhouses to their residential inventory that can be expected to turn over far more frequently than commercial property or even single-family homes. That means more sales and more commissions for those agents – the gift that keeps on giving.

Once again, that’s okay.

But when you hear some of those RE agents (like, say…William Cline) pontificate in comments to Facebook posts about how “[a]ny development residential or commercial is a net positive for our community” (without and facts or explanation) and how “[o]ur codes need to shift with the needs of today’s society” (also without explanation), first do the math for each unit of these multi-family residences:

At a $16,000 cost per D-64 student, less 40% (D-64’s share) of total RE tax bill = there will be some amount of funding deficit for any residential unit with one kid in D-64 whose total RE tax bill is $40,000 or less. And every additional kid from that same unit in D-64 schools represents $16,000 of additional deficit.

For Cline and his fellow champions of higher-density residential who work on a commission basis, even a 3% commission on the sale of a $350,000 condo or townhouse means almost $12,000 of extra income – which more than covers any incremental RE tax increase they might incur from the extra students.

That doesn’t mean those brokers and developers haven’t earned their money. They have.

But it means we should all remember that it’s their pocketbooks talking the next time you hear one of them claim: “Any development residential or commercial is a net positive for our community” and that “[o]ur codes need to shift with the needs of today’s society and the public officials need to stop catering to the nimbys that have no clue how economic development works.”

And then ask to see their math.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

What gives you the right to pick on a private citizen like Mr. Cline by name?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Cline offered his opinions on a public site under his own name.

This is most definitely the single most important question the Park Ridge City Council must ask itself, since it controls zoning and can screw the schools by continuing to bend the zoning code to permit more multi-family residential.

Well said. As someone who both listened and commented at that meeting, it became clear after the presentation, that developers have become so used to hearing “yes” to their proposals that they don’t even bother to adhere to the ordinance with respect to the requirements within the “special use” they were asking for. To be specific they were required to provide a “substantial public benefit” to even have their plan considered. But admittingly they had none.

And then it hit me. A MORATORIUM!!!! That’s right, I said it, a moratorium, on any and all multi family townhome, apartment/condo, mixed use multi family, or any other similar proposal until the City, Park district, Library, and Schools have an opportunity to fully assess the impact recent (within the past 5 years) already built and approved but not yet built multi family construction has ( or hasn’t) had on all or any of these public bodies. In addition, to allow time for the planning an zoning commission and city council to review the comprehensive plan to see if we are going in the right direction or if we need to make any changes.

And let’s be real about the last few approvals, are there any that we couldn’t have lived without? ie:400 Talcott (22 apartments) 1500sf of commercial, 600 Talcott (16 apartments) mixed use. And if the VFW and JD KADDS come forward with proposals, I’m confident the words “WOW” we need that! Won’t be how that conversation begins.

Moratoriums may sound extreme or even harsh, they are used by communities to make necessary assessments, and to prevent proposals from having to go through processes only to be told no in the end, and to avoid messy potential legal threats by those receiving that “no”.

At the very least I hope that there will be serious discussion about multi family, high density development, in the very near future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A moratorium that would suspend the right to submit development applications and obtain development approvals while the City Council considers, drafts and adopts new land use comprehensive plans and/or development regulations and/or amendments thereto in order to respond to new or changing circumstances not addressed in current laws sounds like a good idea to us.

But we have real concerns about whether a majority of this Council has the nerve to do that – and take the flak that most certainly will come from our local development and RE brokerage interests.

What the hell was Ald. Mazzuca smoking when he said (on the video) that he supports 31 townhouses?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have no idea.

Sadly I agree with your concerns. As a PUD Special Use, the P&Z denial of that project will go before the City Council tomorrow for a 1st read, to either uphold the denial or overturn it requiring a 2/3 majority to do so.

Seems like a good time to encourage discussion about these types of projects moving forward.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We would be surprised to see the Council reverse a 9-0 denial by P&Z, but we agree that a moratorium sounds worth considering.

This project is on the City Council’s agenda for tonight, and the report of the PZ hearing at which it voted 9-0 against this project has Ald. Mazzuca saying that “the proposal for 31 townhomes fit the neighborhood.” WTF?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have no better understanding of Ald. Mazzuca’s position on this than we had when you submitted your original comment on 12.03.17 at 2:30 pm.

Mazzuca doesn’t represent the 6th Ward. He has no idea what’s good for the residents. No one in this neighborhood wants condo’s/townhomes there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ald. Mazzuca is the duly-elected representative of the 6th Ward. How he represents that ward is a different story.

We didn’t understand what sounded like his support – or his voicing of some of his constituents’ support – for 31 townhouses on the Mr. K site. Nevertheless, he voted against that type of development this past Monday night. An explanation from him might be helpful, but so far he has walked the walk even if he has not talked the talk.

Do you have a response to how Bill Cline ripped you on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not really, because we understand it was done in connection with a Kathy (Panattoni) Meade post about the Mr. K’s property on Meade’s “Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group” FB page; and Meade has blocked this editor from even seeing anything she posts, and comments under anything she posts, and any comments to anybody else’s posts on any other FB pages.

But Mr. Cline has had a raw derriere ever since this blog endorsed now-Ald. Moran over Cline’s wife in April 2015 (https://www.publicwatchdog.org/archives/2015/04/06/local-elections-should-give-taxpayers-pause-wilkening-and-moran-for-city-council/).

He’s also one of those newer residents with no apparent sense of this community’s political/governmental history whom we have called out for things like supporting the “3 hubbies” in last April’s D-64 school board race (See our 03.15.17 post) and for his any-development-is-good-development view that appears informed more by his own pocketbook than by the long-term good of the Park Ridge community.

Unfortunately it will probably go to referendum and pass. People have short memories and there are a lot of families who have kids that use the ice rink.

EDITOR’S NOTE: George Bernard Shaw said: “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” Unfortunately, that also applies to our republican (small “r”) form of government when our representatives do not fulfill the role described by Madison in Federalist No. 10:

“[T]o refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.”

Advisory referendums give our wise, patriotic and just representatives – assuming there are a majority of them in any given public body – one valuable, but not determinative, tool with which to exercise their judgment, without binding their hands.



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