On Tuesday, March 3 the City Council heard the issue of the Henkel development. This is also known as the Niles Gateway since it is the first thing one will see when they enter Niles from the south (via Niles Boulevard). This brought out many Niles residents most of whom spoke against the project. They had many concerns including the density of the development, traffic, connectivity to Third Street, and contrast with historic character of Niles.
The project was rejected by the City’s Historical Architecture Review Board (HARB) in a 4-1 vote on January 15 saying that it did not conform to the existing historic nature of Niles. The project was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission with several conditions on February 12.
I agreed with the opponents of the project for several reasons.
My main objection was that the density of the project was just too high. I feel that the issues of parking and traffic discussed below could have been resolved by simply lowering the number of units from 98 to something more reasonable like 60-70. (I hate hearing arguments that someone once proposed 130 units on the site so we should be happy it’s only 98.)
I’m also not sure that the live/work ‘craft’ areas will be filled with retailers making this more of a mixed-use project. The idea is that seven of the units will have large, 20 ft. high areas in the front where some kind of business can be located. While this sounds like an interesting idea, the developer could not site a nearby example of where something like this has been done.
On-site parking was problematic. I pointed out that the retail on Niles would generate demand for 63 spaces, but there were only 27 spaces being provided on Niles Blvd. The other spaces to satisfy this demand were back on the project’s main roadway, some as far as a few blocks away. Also, there are only four parking spaces inside the project for guest parking.
I also brought up the issue of cars making a left turn into the project from Niles Blvd. This could cause backup on Niles and also cause a safety issue since cars have to take a blind right turn (from under the railroad bridge) right before this. The traffic engineer noted that a left turn lane was warranted but City staff didn’t want to include it as it would disrupt the “Main Street” look and feel of Niles Blvd. This will be reconsidered based on Council’s comments.
Finally, there was the issue of connectivity to Third Street that neighbors were concerned about. While the Planning Commission recommended revisiting the provision of this access, staff noted that City policy is to provide connectivity when possible for safety and convenience. It was brought up that the current end of Third Street is in horrible shape. It will need to be repaired and it’s unclear who will have to pay for those repairs.
The final vote was 3-2 in favor of the project with Council member Lily Mei and I voting against.