Decision on Berwyn residential project delayed two weeks

A final decision on a luxury home development in Berwyn has been delayed two weeks.

After a public hearing on the development, Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero announced April 13 that council approval of the project, located in the 3000 block of Ridgeland Avenue, will be delayed to April 27.

For the subdivision – 29 homes starting in the $400,000s - to proceed, the City Council has to change the 3.8-acre property’s zoning, which is now primarily industrial, to residential. The council also must change the city’s Future Land Use Map, which designates parts of the area as green space.

At the April 13 hearing, several residents submitted letters opposing the project, while others spoke directly to the council.

“These 29 houses around $400,000 [are] in a census track with a 2020 estimated median family income of $69,536,” Korynna Lopez said. “Approving this development tells residents of the area that they are not who we want here in Berwyn. If this is not going to be changed, just tell us straightforward you don’t want people like us here.”

If the developer, Kasper LLC, gets the go-ahead, the residentially zoned property will no longer be in a tax increment financing district and Kasper “will receive no TIF funds for the redevelopment” according to the ordinance approving “a preliminary and final plan” for the development.

As a TIF district, property taxes are frozen for the life of the TIF, usually two decades. The philosophy behind TIFs is that the tax break attracts developments that increase the overall value of the property, resulting in more property taxes once the TIF expires.

Also required before Kasper can break ground is South Berwyn School District 100 must sign an intergovernmental agreement with the city as well as an easement agreement with Kasper. The former entails the city giving up to $250,000 to District 100 for improvements involving a parking lot planned for an almost 11,000-square-foot triangular portion of the subdivision. The city can dip into the Depot District’s tax increment financing fund for that reimbursement, according to the ordinance.

Kasper plans to construct a water detention vault beneath the parking lot. The addition of the vault will help with drainage in the area, which currently is impervious, for about 95,000 square feet, Public Works Director Robert Schiller said.

Residents have criticized the project’s density, pointing out that Berwyn already is the densest city per capita in Illinois. Project plans call for a minimum lot size of slightly over 3,750 square feet, with 15-foot and 25-foot setbacks in front and back yards, respectively. There isn’t enough room on the subdivision parkway to plant the number of trees required by Berwyn’s city code, said Dave Hulseberg, executive director of the Berwyn Development Corp., who has been shepherding the project through the approval process.

Kasper proposes putting the trees on private property at the discretion of the homeowners, who would be responsible for cultivating and maintaining them.

The Berwyn Development Corp., which is funded by the city and through TIF revenue, has recommended the council approve the project, according to a staff report Hulseberg provided. That report counters residents’ concerns about traffic and the safety of children walking to and from Freedom Middle School. The school abuts the property and will share an alley with the new subdivision, according to plans.

Hulseberg pointed to a traffic impact study concluding that changing the zoning from industrial to residential would mean less traffic.

“Typically an industrial building is going to be worse in terms of water consumption and have a greater impact on the streets than a residential neighborhood,” Hulseberg said.

He also said Freedom Middle School currently was only accessible to fire trucks on one side, but that Kasper would make improvements allowing fire vehicle access on three sides of the school.

Hulseberg briefly addressed the challenges the long underused property has had, calling its marketability “rather challenged.” It was briefly considered as the site of affordable housing, Hulseberg said, but the developer “either couldn’t get the tax credits to do the project or couldn’t make the bottom-line deal” to make it work.

Third Ward Alderwoman Jeanine Reardon questioned why any of the property should remain in a TIF, as none of it would be generating any income under the proposed development, thus rendering any potential TIF benefits moot.

“If you’re removing all of the residential property [from the TIF], you’re left with [the] school and the railroad building, which for the foreseeable future supply no income, no property taxes. What value does the TIF have except to move money from the Depot District for this project, to supply the school with the funds to create this parking lot?” Reardon said.

Hulseberg responded that the BNSF railroad property should be paying taxes and that by leaving the property in a TIF, the city had “a tool in its toolbox” to collect those taxes.

Reardon wasn’t buying it.

“I’m just pointing out that this is a really great way to move funds from the Depot TIF, which historically hasn’t done well, to provide support for programs,” elsewhere, Reardon said.