Developer Lee Fry’s proposal for a shopping center at 2424 Oakton Ave. won unanimous, if somewhat qualified, support from all five Plan Commissioners present for a hearing Wednesday night.

A rendering of one of the medical office buildings proposed for the site.

Assistant Community Development Director Dennis Marinio said city staff had been working with the developer on plans for the site for two years.

At first, he said, both sides had grander visions for the property — hoping to land a big-box store, like the Home Depot across the street, that could generate a lot of sales tax revenue for the city.

Mr. Fry said that, after discussions with numerous big-box retailers, he concluded that all of them either wanted a site much larger than the seven acres available on Oakton or wanted to be in a cluster of other big-box stores, which isn’t present in the area. The Home Depot site totals about 19 acres.

Mr. Marino said the city’s planning staff is somewhat concerned about the developer’s decision to include a three-story self-storage warehouse as part of the development.

“It doesn’t provide a lot of synergy or cross-sales opportunities” with other retailers on the site, he said.

But Mr. Fry said the warehouse solves another problem — how to shield the rest of the property from a large cement plant just to the west that he said creates noise and dust problems.

The project also includes a cluster of retail shops, a drive-thru bank branch and a service station with convenience store, quick lube and car wash facilities along the Oakton frontage.

At the rear of the site Mr. Fry plans three medical office buildings. And in the middle, to the east of the warehouse, he hopes to build a family-style restaurant.

(More details on the development plans are in this story.)

Plan Commission Chairman Albert Hunter said he was concerned the city might be “buying a pig in a poke” in approving the project without a firm commitment for the family restaurant part of the deal.

Commission Vice Chairman James Woods argued for creating a “more sustainable” system for handling stormwater than the detention basin the developer plans for the southwest corner of the property.

But Commissioner Alice Rebechini said, “It’s a very peculiar site and stormwater detention in the far corner is completely logical.”

Commissioners Stuart Opdycke and Coleen Burrus also supported the proposal.

No members of the public appeared at the hearing to support or oppose the project, but commissioners said they’d have to delay a final vote on the plan until the commission’s Oct. 11 meeting, because they lacked the time Wednesday night to prepare a formal report.

That leaves open the possiblity of a substantially different final vote, since four members of the commission were not present Wednesday.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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