Plans to convert offices to apartments stalled by Skokie Village Board absence, recusal

Developers interested in converting two 7-story office buildings on Skokie’s Old Orchard Road into a luxe 245-apartment complex asked to meet with village staff after the Skokie Village Board failed to approve the plan.

The board had a majority vote of 3-2 to approve the developer’s proposal, but a technicality in the village code prevented the board from authorizing its approval to the developer because it had fewer than four votes approving the motion. Trustee Khem Khoeun was absent from the meeting, and Trustee Alison Pure Slovin recused herself from the vote, saying it might be a conflict for her employer.

Mitch Goltz of GW Properties and Tom Drake of the Drake Group presented to the Village Board their apartment complex that would have converted two 7-story office buildings at 5202 and 5250 Old Orchard Road into 245 apartments. The building’s occupancy rates were at 45%, according to Drake, and Goltz said a lot of the leases were set to expire in 2024, reducing occupancy to 20%.

Trustees Keith Robinson and James Johnson voted against the development because the developers did not provide any affordable housing units or pay a fee in lieu (of providing affordable units) to the village to provide affordable housing. Trustees Ralph Klein and Edie Sue Sutker and Mayor George Van Dusen voted in support of the development.

Initially, Van Dusen said the development had been approved because most of the Board members who were present voted to support it. Citing the village code, Johnson said the Board could not make a binding vote unless at least four members voted one way or another.

The village code states, “A majority vote of the Board of Trustees, unless otherwise stated, shall consist of not less than four members. A majority vote shall be required to adopt any ordinance or resolution or take affirmative action on any motion, the nature of which is other than procedural.”

The village’s corporation counsel, Michael Lorge, agreed with Johnson, saying that the village’s code requires decisions to be made by a minimum of four trustees.

“So the motion fails then. The project is not approved,” said Van Dusen.

Goltz asked if he and Drake could have a second reading of the approval because neither he nor Drake knew that Khoeun would be absent from the vote or that Pure Slovin would recuse herself.

Van Dusen said he would have the board do a second reading of the proposal at the next meeting on April 1, and consider having a person cast Pure Slovin’s vote. He suggested Drake and Goltz meet with Lorge and the village manager before the next meeting so that the board could reconsider the proposal and the developers could adapt some changes from the feedback they received.

According to village documents, the apartments would be divided into 24 studio units, 84 one-bedroom apartments, 115 two-bedroom apartments and 22 three-bedroom apartments. The developer also would buy the five-story building at 5230 Old Orchard Road but would only develop its rooftop to convert it into a recreational space for tenants with a pool, putting green, bocce ball and green spaces.

Drake said the project could not include any affordable units because it would not be economically feasible. He said that while the buildings themselves would not need to be erected, the conversion to create 245 apartments with bathrooms and kitchens would be expensive given the existing infrastructure that, in some cases, would require x-raying the concrete floors to find out how they could plan out the kitchens and bathrooms, for example.

Drake said the rent costs would be comparable to other incoming rental properties coming into the Old Orchard area of Skokie. In February, Westfield Old Orchard’s owner said the construction of 400 apartments at the mall would be expected to break ground in 2025. In November 2023, developers for a 5400 Old Orchard Road development with 245 apartments, 49 townhomes, and 10,000 square feet of commercial space received $100 million in construction funding. That development also promoted high-end luxury apartments with recreational space and co-working spaces.

Affordable housing advocates have campaigned against the developments at Village Board meetings over the last few months, including Monday. Resident Emi Yamauchi accused the board of not doing enough to push for affordable housing units in the village. Van Dusen said the village already has 22% of its housing stock considered affordable under the area’s median income.

Developers brought their plans to the Plan Commission in December 2023. The commission voted in support of the development 5-0. Four members of the commission were absent from that meeting.