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Northbrook approves controversial Red Seal project

Friday, October 16, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Irv Leavitt

Red Seal Development took another step toward building a controversial 137-unit housing development Oct. 13, as the Village of Northbrook's board voted to allow code variations related to the Mission Hills project.

Red Seal released a statement moments after the 5-1 vote, thanking the board.

"We cannot wait to get to work on this project and continue making the Northbrook area the great place we know and love," Red Seal officials said in the statement.

But Earl Simon, who heads one of the Mission Hills homeowners' associations, said the vote does not mean bulldozers can get started.

Simon, who is also a lawyer, said Oct.14 that there are still other government agencies that must sign off on the project's plans, including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the Northfield Township Road District.

Simon and some of his fellow association presidents sued this spring to stop the project, which was approved by the Cook County Board in February. They have said it's illegal under Illinois law to break up the planned unit development link between the golf course and the 781 units of Mission Hills housing. The project would result in some residents losing their views of the nearby golf course.

He said if Red Seal starts the project, then loses the lawsuit and exhausts its available appeals, "they would have to restore the property to the way it was."

Northfield Township Road District Commissioner Pete Amarantos said he also has concerns.

Amarantos said his agency is charged with primary oversight on flood control and has been left off the signature panels on a document Red Seal must file before construction.

Northbrook buildings/planning director Tom Poupard told Pioneer Press at the time that a Red Seal lawyer had told him the company's intention in the change was to sidestep road district's oversight on flood control. A Cook County official said later that the roads' status would not change the drainage oversight.

Red Seal has opposed the Mission Hills lawsuit, and has also filed a lawsuit against Simon and other homeowners association members, partly in an attempt to force Mission Hills to grant easements for drainage. Those easements became unnecessary after Red Seal changed its drainage plans this summer, according to Northbrook officials. Red Seal didn't respond to queries Oct. 15 about the lawsuit.

Northbrook Village Engineer Paul Kendzior told Northbrook trustees at their meeting that the Red Seal drainage plan exceeded village standards for both system capacity and amount of time water remained on the property.

He was responding to a question from Trustee Bob Israel, an engineer who had previously served several years on the village's stormwater management commission.

Israel said he was satisfied with the answer and congratulated Kendzior on being demanding of Red Seal over flood control.

"I feel horribly for the people of Mission Hills who will lose their golf course views," Israel said. "But they don't own the golf course. And neither do we."

He and other trustees noted that the village has limited control over the project.

Amarantos said Oct. 15 that Northbrook should not have approved the Red Seal plans.

"It was the wrong thing to do," he said, "because the engineering is so bad. We have flooding issues out there and nobody is paying any attention."

An Oct. 13 letter to Amarantos from a Red Seal lawyer accuses him of obstructing the development. Red Seal officials confirmed they sent the letter but declined comment on its contents.

On Sept. 30, township Engineer Dan Creaney sent a letter to the developer in which he said that Red Seal plans, updated in August, did not answer the concerns he presented in July. He sought individual answers to his questions. The letter back from Red Seal said that the issues had been sent to the village, not Red Seal, and therefore couldn't be answered at the time. The letter further maintained that all relevant complaints have now been addressed and said no further response will be made to the township.

Nearby opponents of the project also raised other concerns in a public plan commission hearing last month.

Mission Hills resident Dale Mart argued that Provenance would separate the golf course maintenance building from the remaining nine holes. The plan commission had asked that the problem be solved before approvals so that lawn mowers and tractors carrying chemicals wouldn't roll along Techny Road to reach the links.

After Mart noted Oct. 13 that the documents showed the building would be gone but did not indicate where its uses would be moved, Village President Sandy Frum asked Red Seal to explain. Red Seal attorney Danielle Meltzer Cassel testified that Red Seal had bought the property and would raze the building, but beyond that, she couldn't "possibly answer."

"We don't own the golf course," Meltzer Cassel said.

Frum later said Village Attorney Steve Elrod told her that agreements would keep the vehicles off the road.

The subdivision agreement between the village and Red Seal requires the company complete a pre-construction legal covenant with the village that prohibiting golf course "maintenance vehicles from utilizing Techny Road and Sanders Road to travel between the (current building area) and the Mission Hills Golf Course."

With Northbrook Trustee Michael Scolaro absent, the only Village Board member voting against the subdivision approval was Trustee James Karagianis. Trustee Todd Heller asked what his fellow trustee based his "no" vote on, since zoning issues are outside the scope of the village's control.

Karagianis said that he opposed the variations, "specifically streets and sidewalks." Sidewalks had been left off one side of some of the shorter streets in the development. The streets, which had been public when the project was passed by the county board, were changed to private months later.

Bonnie Spangler, a resident of incorporated Northbrook just northeast of Mission Hills, told trustees Oct. 13 that a real estate broker had showed her ads for Mission Hills units sales that noted which ones were or were not affected by the loss of golf course views. She said that mostly elderly owners were likely to lose value in their homes as time went on.

Conversely, Red Seal representatives told the Cook County officials early this year that new houses would likely be better for adjoining property values than the course.

"I have great sympathy for the folks in the neighboring community," Trustee Kathryn Ciesla said. "But … I agree with what our plan commission has done, what our staff has done. It's appropriate, it's reasoned and is consistent with the way the village has acted in the past."

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