Trustees approve new Menards in Vernon Hills

Despite protests from more than 50 nearby residents, Vernon Hills trustees unanimously approved construction of a two-story Menards store at Milwaukee Avenue and Greggs Parkway during a preliminary vote this week.

The vote came after more than two hours of debate during a June 17 meeting. Some architectural designs are being revised before the all-encompassing package sees a final vote in late July or early August.

Vernon Hills trustees rarely overturn their first vote, so the new Menards store appears to be a done deal.

“Before we get started, are there any residents who want Menards in town?” said Mayor Roger Byrne, who repeated his query after no one spoke up. Shortly afterward, he asked if any trustees were planning to vote against Menards. Again, there was silence.

“I’m glad we got that out of the way,” he said.

The new store would be 225,000 square feet, with another 61,000 square feet going toward an outdoor lumberyard, garden center and warehouse storage.

Plans for the lumberyard include a drive-through pickup area surrounded by a 14-foot wood fence.

The building will have three loading docks for 12 daily semi-truck deliveries. During a May 28 public meeting, Menards officials said deliveries would arrive during the 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. store hours. As of the June 17 meeting, Menards had made a compromise, and said semi-trucks going to Vernon Hills would have to arrive before 8 p.m.

Trucks will also not be allowed to idle in the parking lot overnight if they’re late, and trucks will be turned off while being unloaded.

Vernon Hills also required Menards to revise the building’s exterior designs to better fit in with neighboring shopping centers, and to look better to the abutting houses. The plan already calls for fake windows on the back of the building.

“You realize the community doesn’t tax your house because of sales tax from retail developments like this,” Byrne told the crowd. “This 37 acres of land was set aside for commerce back in 1988.”

Menards will take about 17 acres, and Byrne said every new property owner in Gregg’s Landing gets a “letter of awareness” explaining the nearby zoning.

Residents like Ann Panicola and Richard Gross said they knew retail was in the future, but Menards was a surprise.

“A big box store with a lot of deliveries, a lot of light and a lot of cars was not what I expected,” Panicola said.

“They mentioned a 14-foot fence. We live on the second floor, six feet above that fence, and in the winter when the trees go bare we’ll see absolutely everything,” Gross said.

Wal-Mart had interest in this same 17 acres of land in 2007, but the plans fell through in 2008. Gregg’s Landing resident David Oppenheim took credit for stopping Wal-Mart during the June 17 meeting.

Oppenheim presented a letter from a lawyer that says Menards is a warehouse, which would be prohibited from the Milwaukee Avenue and Gregg’s Parkway area.

Village officials maintained Menards’ status as a retailer, because it has a sales floor and sales associates. Byrne later asked if Oppenheim was going to sue Vernon Hills over the terminology, but Oppenheim declined to answer.

Resident Scott Brand said he thinks either Menards or Lowe’s, located a few blocks away, will go out of business, and residents will be burdened with a uniquely designed empty building. He asked what would happen then.

Village Trustee Thom Koch said a retail consulting agency called Melaniphy was hired to study the affects of having three large retailers in the same town.

“They told us Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menards can all coexist,” Koch said. “These people have a great track record. They warned us about Super K and Dominick’s, and we were able to plan ahead.”

Byrne said in recent years, Vernon Hills helped flip a vacant Builder Square into a Home Depot, a vacant Super K into a DSW Shoe store and a Dominick’s building into Mariano’s.

Tempers really flared, however, when resident Teresa Trifetti came to the podium to talk about children crossing a busy Greggs Parkway.

“I can’t stand here while you hold your hands over your head and look at me like you don’t care what I’m saying,” Trifetti said to Byrne. “You basically sat here and told us if this goes to a vote, you’ll pass it no matter what. This was a big waste of time. Why do we live here in Vernon Hills?”

Koch and Trustee Cindy Hebda told Trifetti that what helps an entire community is sometimes more important than the discomfort of a few. They said Vernon Hills will be vigilant in holding Menards accountable to the agreed-upon neighbor-friendly provisions.

“We’ll never be able to please everyone,” Hebda said. “And often the things we fear aren’t as bad as we think. I live behind the train station and it hasn’t hurt my property value.”

As for the concern about extra traffic on Greggs Parkway, Director of Public Works David Brown said the road is designed to handle more traffic than it has now, and more than it will have after Menards is built.

“We knew those 37 acres to the north and 20 acres to the south were going to commercial when we built the roadway,” Brown said.

The 20 acres to the south now has Lowe’s, Mariano’s, Staples, Panda Express and Starbucks. After Menards is built, about 20 more acres will be available on the north side of Greggs Parkway.

Menards hopes to start construction this summer.

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