By Nona Tepper
Two years ago, Brightleaf Homes built the most energy-efficient house in Forest Park. Now the green construction firm is looking to expand its local footprint and has proposed building three detached townhomes on the 300 block of Burkhardt Court.
"I started off as a little tree hugger when I was a kid," said Scott Sanders, partner at Brightleaf, "I would always recycle, turn the lights off, always want to do Arbor Day stuff — and I guess it conveyed into the business."
He bought a vacant, single-family home at 315 Burkhardt Court for $221,000 in October, according to property records. Before he bought the home, he said people had been illegally renting its rooms out as a boarding house, with tenants leaving their cars parked along the street and on the oversize lot at all hours of the day. Neighbors constantly complained about the home's residents; eventually the property fell into foreclosure and lay vacant.
Sanders, who has been renting an apartment for the past two years on the 600 block of Marengo in Forest Park, saw the site for sale and immediately bought it, thinking he might be able to build another local green project.
Two months later, on Dec. 3, he presented his building plans for the first time to the Forest Park Plan Commission. Because of the small lot size and lack of alley, Sanders said the townhomes will be situated from front to back on the property, rather than left to right along Burkhardt, as would be typical. Three garages will join the townhomes.
Sanders is not seeking any zoning variances on the project; because of this, he said he expected plan commission members to approve the project at the initial meeting. But the three members present instead made a motion to continue the hearing into January, requesting that Sanders look into landscaping adjustments — particularly, ways to incorporate more greenspace and plants on the property — and covenants with the townhome association regarding snow and storm water removal and mailboxes. They also had questions about the aesthetics of the development, particularly why the side of the townhomes will face the street.
"My perspective is, you will never be looking at the townhomes straight on. You will also be looking at them from the side of the block; it's not going to ever look two-dimensional," Sanders said.
Neighbor Kelly Gundlach, who was present at the meeting, said she believes there should be more green space on the development. As it stands, the main green space proposed is a turf ground cover on the back of the property, which will face Desplaines Avenue.
"It sounded to me that green space wasn't a high priority by the developer," Gundlach said. "Trees are important. They are good for the environment, help with pollution, help mask maybe the high-rises around it and they create a neighborly setting."
Sanders said he's happy to substitute grass in place of turf if that's what the village requests.
In the application, he wrote that he expects the project to win "multiple design awards," as well as an award from the U.S. Department of Energy for innovation in housing, due to the development's compact heating-and-cooling system, all-electric construction and rooftop solar panels.
The plan commission will discuss the project again on Jan. 7, a month after Sanders hoped to already have the village council's blessing to build. He originally hoped to have the project ready by spring; now he thinks the project will be completed by the summer. Once it's done, he plans to live in one of the townhomes and pre-sell the other two for more than $500,000 each.
"It's in the best interest of the village to get this done," Sanders said. "Neighbors don't want an empty lot with a construction fence set up and I obviously don't want to pay the loan on the construction fence either."