'Our retail in Libertyville is fragile': Prominent vacant building in downtown approved for shared workspace
Libertyville trustees reverse course, decide to let prominent downtown vacancy become shared-workspace operation
Rejected in April, a plan to convert a prominent vacant building in the heart of downtown Libertyville to a flexible, shared workspace now is on track.
The village board this week reversed direction and approved measures to allow Brick & Mortar to convert a former grocery store at 416 N. Milwaukee Ave. to a full-service office space to be available by the hour, week or month.
To do that, it approved definitions of what constitutes a "shared workspace" and added it to the list of special uses allowed in the downtown commercial district.
Supporters on the village board said employment trends have changed and Brick & Mortar will fill the needs of individuals, small businesses and others who want a break from working at home or need a place to meet.
The facility also will generate foot traffic and help coffee shops, restaurants and other downtown businesses, supporters said. Some regarded the code modification as an innovative necessity to help a downtown that isn't doing as well as it may appear.
"We're fighting to preserve what we have, but we need to do it with our eyes open. Our retail in Libertyville is fragile," Mayor Donna Johnson said near the end of a two-hour discussion Tuesday. The board then voted 5-2 village to add shared workspace as a special use.
"Most of the businesses are not doing as well as you think they are, but God bless them for their tenacity and hanging in there -- and we want to support them," Johnson said.
Brick & Mortar's initial pitch simply was to allow the use in the prominent location across from Cook Park, a community gathering place. The building most recently was occupied by an Indian motorcycle dealership but has been empty more than two years.
The village's advisory plan commission recommended denial, and the village board voted 6-0 against that first request. The sticking point was rules prohibiting office uses in the front 35 feet or more than 25% of the first-floor area in commercial buildings facing Milwaukee Avenue.
The office ban was enacted years ago to attract commercial uses and revive the downtown. Village officials in April said they loved the Brick & Mortar concept but not the proposed location.
Changes enacted Tuesday maintain the office ban but allow shared workspace as a special use. Any future shared workspace proposals would be reviewed and accepted or rejected on their own merit.
Most of the 16 people who addressed the board supported the zoning change as a compromise needed to allow Brick & Mortar to proceed.
"We have to look ahead," said Pam Hume, former executive director or MainStreet Libertyville, a revitalization group formed in the late 1980s to help remake the downtown.
But some maintained allowing Brick & Mortar could undo progress and set a precedent. The plan commission in its second review voted 3-1 against recommending the zoning change.
Village trustees Pete Garrity and Scott Adams voted no. Garrity said everyone agreed the idea has merit, but he was concerned with the location and lack of flexibility by Brick & Mortar to include retail in front.
"I'm a compromise guy, and I'm feeling stonewalled on this," he said.
Adams said the location warranted a retail use.
Building owner Elliott Khyat said he has been marketing the property for two years and spoke with every retailer who left Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills.
"Didn't get one hit," he said.
The first Brick & Mortar opened a few years ago in downtown Park Ridge. Another is about to open in La Grange.
Locations in Glen Ellyn, Arlington Heights and Deerfield are planned later this year. And in May, a Brick & Mortar was approved for a prominent storefront in downtown Wheaton.