IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME. REALLY?!
Buffalo Grove Village Management and some Trustees are looking into a Developer’s proposal to sell the BG Golf Course to the developer so he can build a downtown Buffalo Grove on about half of it (65 acres). The original proposal was made two years ago and as of now the residents are able to see the results of an engineering study of how building on the Golf Course can be done. The Village has had the engineering report since July 31, 2014 and for a month the report has been going back and forth between the Village and Engineering firm for edits. Really? What’s been going on for a month? And, there have been several meetings between BG and other agencies over the past three months.
Over the past two years I have had lengthy conversations about the downtown proposal with a majority of the Trustees, village staff and residents. I’ve also done some research on the matter. In this document, I’ve put together a recap of some of the points that have come up over the last two years along with comments/facts regarding those points.
Almost the entire Golf Course is a flood plain and has two flood ways (Buffalo Creek and the Farrington Ditch) traversing it. During heavy rains the Golf Course fills with water and is unplayable for several days. So the flood plain is working and this seems to be happening quite frequently over the last few years. Accommodation of this flood water must be made if there is to be building on the Golf Course. It is required that if building is done, the water storage volume that must be accommodated is 120% of what a hundred year flood would bring. The engineering report addresses this point. The report is over 100 pages long and does provide water retention and detention methods if building is done. The price for the Village to remediate the flood plain/flood way issues is somewhere around $21 million. This amount may have to be included as part of the Golf Course’s selling price or paid for by the Village. Does the engineering report mention that all the stormwater and sump outflow from the Manchester Green subdivision is piped onto to the Golf Course? For 19 years this system has kept Manchester flooding at bay. How much of a negative impact will downtown have on this?
The Village’s Municipal Code mentions two points regarding building on the Golf Course flood plain/flood way. (1). Section 18.14.50 says there is to be no creation of damaging increase in flood heights or velocity. A recreational facility is an approved use of a flood way. Approved uses do not include construction of any new structures or channel modifications. (2). Section 18.14.70 says a project that revises or establishes a flood way or flood plain profiles must have Illinois Department of Natural Resources/Office of Water Resources (IDNR/OWR) review and concurrence to permit prior to any local permits being issued.
Is the only way residential, retail and recreational development can be done in BG be through building a downtown? Is more of this stuff needed? There have been articles about retail stores recently that don’t paint a pretty picture. First, the Wall Street Journal said that 50% of teenage boys and 75% of teenage girls don’t shop in stores. They shop online. These are near-term, primary, future shoppers. There are also stories in the media that suggest both Walmart and Target may soon be gone as we know them because people are not shopping as they used to in huge, big-box stores. People now want smaller convenience-type stores near their homes. If this is the wave of the future, what kind of retail will be worth putting in a downtown?
If the retail idea is discounted and the main purpose is to build recreational and entertainment features in the downtown, what about the already existing and to-be-built features near BG. About one mile from the proposed downtown is a huge, “free” recreational parcel of land at Arlington Heights and Lake-Cook Roads. Picnic facilities, walking/hiking trails, etc. are there now. And this facility is soon going to be expanded further. Lake County Buffalo Grove residents are paying for this already. About four miles east of the proposed downtown, Wheeling, IL, has already approved a $100 million development of their “downtown”. This will include 275 residential units, several restaurants and eight theaters. Construction is supposed to start next year. In these two cases, Buffalo Grove will be in “catch up” competition to draw local audiences away from other, existing area features.
The feeling that BG doesn’t have an upscale restaurant which causes residents to spend their money in other towns is also brought up. (It’s thought that 60% of available BG spending money leaves the Village.) Some folks are suggesting that if BG builds a downtown, “Lettuce Entertain You” would immediately put two restaurants there. Now, you mean to tell me if that company really wanted to put restaurants in BG that there currently are no existing locations they could use? Only a downtown would do it? If there really is a problem of not having upscale restaurants in BG, why aren’t we addressing that individual problem? When Town Center was being built, several restaurants that seem to bring in the crowd were not allowed to be put in that area (Olive Garden and Chili’s for two). BG Trustees were involved in those decisions at that time. Interestingly, the September 7, 2014 Parade Magazine reports an 11% decline for restaurant meals eaten per person between 2000 and 2014.
In the original downtown proposal from the developer are some 8-9 story high-rise buildings. Is that really going to happen? One Trustee has already said no. Will there really be another grocery store in the downtown? Will downtown add to the approved but unbuilt residential properties in BG? If there are not enough residential units allowed, will the developer continue to work his plan? Or will he back out?
What if, for various reasons, after the downtown development is physically underway, the developer pulls out and leaves BG with no Golf Course and a torn up mud field? The Village says that there will be safeguards to avoid this with benchmark/checkpoints that must be met before moving ahead. Does history back this up? The residents in Lake County were given the Fort Sheridan golf course by the federal government. Lake County announced the course would be renovated. The course was closed and torn up for renovation. Then Lake County decided they weren’t going to renovate the course. So there it sits, a closed, torn up, unused piece of property. Recently a developer backed out of redevelopment of the old, BG Rogan Shoe store on BG and Dundee Roads. So the best laid plans sometimes do go awry.
In general, a downtown along Lake Cook Road appears it will bring more traffic on Lake Cook, duplicate a lot of the features/functions already in BG or nearby surrounding areas and is fraught with scary possibilities that could leave the Village “hanging” and not getting what it bargained for. Other points to ponder are the destruction of the fairly new police station, Golf Course Club House/Restaurant, remodeled Village Hall and Public Works Building. These buildings are planned to be re-built on the north end of the downtown near Old Checker Road. This will cause more traffic there and the plan suggests Old Checker Road will be widened to four lanes.
A common argument for a downtown is the fact that only golfers are being accommodated by the Golf Course while a downtown will accommodate all residents, primarily with the recreational and entertainment features. Another point mentioned is the expense of maintaining and operating the Golf Course. First, not all patrons of the Golf Course are golfers. I know of 8 or 9 off the top of my head (including me) who regularly frequent the course and restaurant who are not golfers. If the Golf Course is such a financial burden for BG, a suggestion is to keep it as open green space, shut the course down as a maintained property and allow it revert back to nature without maintenance and let people enjoy it as is. Or keep the Golf Course open and add walking paths and some picnic areas for all residents to enjoy. Many golf courses provide multiple uses. Thinking outside of the box on this may result in some really great ideas.
What about the potential for crime and nearby neighborhoods that will be adversely affected? When The Escape in BG wanted to hold teen dances on the weekend, the Trustees and Police were so worried about the potential for problems and crime in the area that they wanted police personnel on site and as a minimum television cameras that broadcast a view of the activities directly to the police station. If the downtown is to be a “destination” who will be coming to that destination? Not only will the downtown be open to all, but so will the surrounding neighborhoods. Will there then be more home vandalism and break-ins due to more non-residents frequenting the area? What about increased vehicle break-ins? Gurnee Mills has expended a big effort to combat the large amount of gang presence there and the robbery attacks in its parking lot. Are these incidents being caused by Gurnee residents? Several hundred feet from the east edge of the proposed downtown is Saint Mary School. How will that school be affected by the downtown’s people and vehicle traffic?
The neighborhoods around the proposed downtown will be adversely affected by a downtown in other ways. The quiet Manchester area will no longer be quiet and no longer be anything like it is today. Bernard Drive will become an “interstate-type bypass” at rush hours for drivers trying to avoid Lake Cook Road traffic. Surrounding residential streets will also be affected by traffic trying to “escape” Lake Cook Road. Will there be extra police controlling this? When there was Lake Cook Road construction a few years ago, the afternoon back-up at the four-way stop at Bernard and Weidner was two blocks long. Drivers were speeding along Bernard and when that wasn’t fast enough, they turned and sped along the side streets. When I requested the police place an officer at the stop sign to keep traffic moving on Bernard, I was told the police don’t have the manpower to that. Will the police have manpower to control downtown traffic that seeps into the neighborhood? If so, who pays for the extra costs? Add this to the increased traffic on a four-lane Old Checker Road.
In summary, building a downtown on the BG Golf Course will drastically change the “flavor” of BG. It brings the city into the suburbs. It is a flawed idea that doesn’t address the real problems facing the Village. And, it creates problems of its own. Being the large project it is it will tax Village manpower and facilities and cause extra expense that may not be covered by self-generated revenue. This may cause the tax increases that the project hopes to avoid to become reality. Could it put the Village in a financial bind? Other alternatives should be deeply considered before going forward with a downtown proposal.