Marathon Red Seal meeting leaves Mission Hills fate unclear

NORTHBROOK — Developers, homeowners and lawyers debated for about 8 hours Monday over the proposed Mission Hills Country Club housing development, but at the end, it was still unclear if the Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals would eventually vote to recommend the project.

Northbrook’s Red Seal Development is trying to build 137 housing units on nine holes of the 18-hole golf course, which current Mission Hills Country Club Village homeowners maintain will reduce their property values.

There were other issues in the debate, but this one gave the long session its most dramatic moment.

It came when lawyer Bernard Citron, hired by the homeowners’ new Mission Hills Openlands group, asked Red Seal Development’s president if building homes on the golf course that homeowners’ windows now face would affect their homes’ value.

“Do good views cost more?” Citron asked.

Todd Fishbein answered, “It depends on the circumstances.”

Citron then asked Fishbein, one of Fort Sheridan’s redevelopers, if he charged more for a unit that faced Lake Michigan.

Fishbein answered “Yes,” then added, “not necessarily.”

“Why?” the lawyer asked. “Tell me under what circumstances you wouldn’t.”

The developer couldn’t explain.

“Maybe there’d be a premium,” Fishbein said. “Maybe not.”

The hearing had originally been scheduled for July 9 at Northbrook Village Hall, but so many people came it was switched to 1 p.m. Monday at Glenbrook North’s Sheely Center for the Performing Arts.

As Red Seal lawyer Jim Banks interviewed seven witnesses, from Fishbein to a land planner to a civil engineer, many of the two hundred people or so who came Monday complained about the delay, and filtered out. Some returned later.

The opponents now have two lawyers representing them, Citron, who was hired after the July 9 meeting, and Thomas Boyle, hired by seven of 13 Mission Hills homeowners associations, shortly before it. Neither called their own witnesses, but Boyle, like Banks, filed a brief on the disputed premise of the Red Seal filing.

“I believe it’s dispository, and I’m going to hang my hat on it,” Boyle said after the meeting, meaning that he believes that the brief’s facts will dispose of the entire development application.

He maintains the filing is illegal, since it calls for a new planned unit development, ignoring the existing planned development set up more than 40 years ago.

Banks said Monday that his brief notes that the golf course land is governed by a covenant that allows its status as a golf course to expire after 20 years, and the part of the PUD that exists on the golf course then doesn’t exist, either.

Boyle disputed that argument. He said though the covenant allows the golf course status to expire, the PUD lives on. And the only way to change the existing PUD is to get the signatures of all 781 current Mission Hills landowners.

The Cook County State’s Attorney will go over the briefs, including one more on the same subject from Citron, and reply briefs, before a Sept. 3 ZBA decision-making conference. No public comments are allowed then.

ZBA Chairman Kevin Freeman said Monday that the State’s Attorney’s office had indicated that Red Seal – and the county’s staff – were right about the application, but the state lawyers hadn’t yet read the briefs.

Banks called his witnesses to establish that Red Seal’s “Provenance” fulfilled the total of 27 standards for a new PUD, a special use permit and zoning variations.

Land planner Mark Kurensky testified that Red Seal planned to plant 833 trees, keep 242 trees and remove 351.

Kurensky said that removal of nearly all the healthy trees in the interior of the proposed development was permitted by the zoning code requirement, “Trees are dictated by good forestry practice for removal when beneficial to remaining trees,” since the strategy preserved trees along the perimeter. Citron insisted that a PUD allows structures to be moved around, and Red Seal planned none of that to save any interior trees, many more than 10 inches thick.

Citron also pointed out that Red Seal planned two cul-de-sacs twice the size as permitted, without asking for variations, and without saying why.

Citron requested a continuance so he could obtain witnesses, but the ZBA turned him down, saying it would put off the Sept. 3 date.

Though the opposition called no witnesses, plenty of residents spoke on their own behalf.

“I paid $20,000 extra because I’m facing the golf course,” Sun Lee told the board.

She also debated a Red Seal claim that Provenance’s density of about 3 units per acre was far lower than the current Mission Hills density of more than 13.

The Mission Hills number, she and others noted, was only that high without the nine holes Red Seal plans to build upon. With the course, it was somewhere between five and seven, depending on who was doing the math.

Resident Barry Freydberg said his mortgage was already under water, and he expected values to fall without the course, and short sales and foreclosures to become common.

“If you bought a property with a view, and you have to move to Dallas, you’re going to short sale,” he said.

Appraiser Terrence O’Brien testified for Red Seal that the view of nice homes is better for values than open space.

Under pressure, he couldn’t come up with an example.

Wallace Sweet, a resident who said he worked for original developer Gene Corley, was not impressed with Red Seal’s covenant to keep the remnant of the golf course as open space.

He asked, “What’s going to happen to the nine holes?” He said that once the rest was gone, he worried they would fall into disrepair.

Current residents also belittled Red Seal’s deal with the umbrella homeowners’ association to pay for additional landscape buffering on Mission Hills property, if Provenance gets built.

“$125,000 for landscaping?” Sherie Natenberg asked. “On a mile of property?”

The much-applauded star of the residents was Richard Curry, a retired Cook County judge. He didn’t buy the benefit of 36 percent open space within Provenance.

“A plan which would eliminate 44 acres of golf course for a housing development can never be said to ‘create additional open space’” as required by the county’s PUD code, he said.

He also attacked the Red Seal claim that there’s a “need” for the homes, as required by the PUD ordinance, saying it was “a want,” not a need.

“A zoning change to satisfy the house-shopping wants of the wealthy is not in the public interest,” he said.

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