Downtown plan may lead to taller buildings
Areas eyed for residential development
Updated: November 9, 2012 9:16AM
HIGHLAND PARK — An ongoing study of Highland Park’s downtown area may result in zoning changes aimed at sending a signal to property owners and developers that higher-density multi-family housing is possible.
The study by The Lakota Group and other consultants is focused on two areas immediately north and west of the core downtown shopping and dining area. However, the zoning also might be applied to the city-owned Highland Park Theater property at the far east of the core downtown district on Central Avenue. There, developers have proposed a six-story condominium and retail building that preserves the historic theater as a meeting and entertainment venue.
Consultants say the current three- and four-story height restrictions downtown are low compared to similar communities and provide only marginal incentives for developers to provide amenities and public benefits.
The downtown study is an outgrowth of a visioning process that was conducted in 2010 and 2011. The project is a joint initiative of the City of Highland Park and the Downtown Property Owners’ Association.
The study’s main focus is dubbed the North Triangle, a B4 Service Commercial district that is the northern gateway to downtown and characterized by gas stations, auto body shops and car washes. The area lies north of Elm Place, east of Green Bay Road and west of First Street.
“With its proximity to a major transit hub and other traditional downtown amenities, this area has the potential to be a community-wide asset that complements the downtown core, rather than detract from it,” consultants noted in their report.
Currently, the triangle is dominated by single-story, single-use structures that are lacking in architectural character, the study found. The area lacks the walkability of an otherwise pedestrian-friendly downtown, with inconsistent setbacks, parking lots, narrow sidewalks and a dearth of open space, according to the report.
Lakota consultant Scott Freres said the changes in land use won’t happen overnight, but the final plan is intended to provide the framework for a transformation over time.
“It may not be five years from now. It may not be 10 years from now,” Freres told citizens during a recent meeting soliciting suggestions on comment cards.
The study also targets another commercial area immediately west of the core, dubbed the Sunset Park district. The area straddles Central Avenue and is bounded by First Street on the east, Laurel Avenue on the south, Hickory Street on the west and Elm Place on the north.
Consultants say this western gateway to downtown is less pedestrian friendly than the core district and many visitors arrive by car.
They believe the natural changes in topography — a steep downward slope from east to west — open possibilities for a unique redevelopment solution.
Freres suggested that as the population changes, there will be a strong market for dwellings that are located near transportation and downtown shopping amenities, particularly among empty nesters who need less space and want to be close to goods and services.
“People are saying they want to be close to where the kids are,” Freres said, noting they are less interested in uprooting to a warmer climate year-round or moving to downtown Chicago.