City Scales Back Downtown Zoning Restrictions
First Street building has 7-year-old ban lifted; Fiat dealership to open in the city.
Taking a step back from zoning restrictions imposed at the height of the economic boom a few years ago, the City Council unanimously removed first floor leasing restrictions for the building located at 1770 First St. at its meeting Monday.
The property at the northwest corner of First Street and Laurel Avenue, which is under receivership imposed by a federal court in New York, can now be leased for any commercial purpose. It is not limited to retail uses on the ground floor.
Most of downtown Highland Park was voted into a Pedestrian Oriented Shopping Overlay (POSO) by the council in 2004, when it prohibited any ground floor business that did not generate sales tax. The southern boundary was the north side of Laurel Avenue.
This was done when more and more banks began renting Highland Park storefronts that cut into potential sales tax revenue for the city, according to Mayor Mike Belsky, who is not seeking re-election April 5.
Last year, the property at 1741 Second St., which now houses Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, was removed from the POSO. The property owner voluntarily agreed not to lease the site to a financial institution.
Monday’s action effectively moved the boundary north of Laurel Avenue between First and Second streets.
“At the time, it made sense. We had lost a lot of our retail to the service industry,” Belsky said after the meeting, referring to the POSO restriction. “The property owner asked us to look at it. It’s time to look at them [the restrictions] again.”
Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Nancy Rotering voiced support for the proposal after a presentation by Building Director Michael Blue. She asked about the process in which POSO adjustments are decided.
“Is there middle ground that gives flexibility while protecting our revenue base rather than doing this one property at a time?” asked Rotering.
Blue indicated that a task has met and will bring further proposals to the City Council.
Councilwoman Terri Olian, Rotering’s opponent in the April 5 election, told all present she was part of the task force. She said the council would be pleased with the results.
“This location doesn’t work well for pure retail,” said Councilman Jim Kirsch, who is also part of the task force. “This site is a ground floor, but should be considered a second floor use.”
Councilman Larry Silberman voiced additional support, echoing comments by Belsky and Kirsch that businesses like the real estate office on Second Street generate sales tax because its employees become customers in downtown Highland Park.
Kirsch announces pending arrival of Fiat dealership
In another business development, Kirsch announced a Fiat dealership would soon open at the site of the former Volvo operation at 250 Skokie Valley Rd. across from the Crossroads Shopping Center.
“This is one of the first new Fiat dealerships in the country,” Kirsch said. “It’s very hard to get them [car dealerships] because of radius requirements.”
Kirsch explained automobile manufacturers were now spreading their retail operations further apart. This makes landing one much harder. There will be only 200 Fiat locations in the U.S. with three being in the Chicago area.
“This is a huge win for the city,” Kirsch said after the meeting. “This will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars of sales tax revenue to Highland Park.