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University moves ahead on garage, access plan

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dominican University officials plan to apply next month for River Forest approval of a parking garage proposed at Thatcher Avenue near Greenfield Street.

University officials informally presented preliminary garage plans Thursday to the village's Development Review Board at a pre-filing conference. Amy McCormack, Dominican's vice president of business affairs, said the university plans to file a planned development application for the project.

The proposed garage would rise four floors above ground, with a first level below ground, and provide spaces for 550 vehicles. University motorists who now park on Park Avenue and Greenfield Street would be able to park in the garage, McCormack said.

The garage is part of the first phase of the university's 10-year strategic plan, which includes a four-story 123,000-square foot gothic-style academic facility and a new daycare center. The university has estimated this first phase will cost $40 million.

The pre-cast construction design for the proposed garage is gothic style with two towers on each end and arched openings. The proposed garage would replace the science building, a one-story building built in 1958, which would be demolished.

Vehicles would access the garage from Thatcher Avenue via a new driveway, which would cross a disputed triangle of woodland restored by Forest Preserve District volunteers. A Greenfield Street entrance would be maintained for maintenance and security vehicles. A new wrought iron fence would be erected along Greenfield Street.

McCormack told the Development Review Board that during neighborhood meetings, residents expressed concerns about lighting, landscaping and security.

The garage would be lit 24 hours for security. Four light poles would be located on the roof. Emergency buzzers would be located inside the garage, McCormack said.

McCormack said light spillover would be directed toward campus rather than toward residences to the north across Greenfield Street.

To help reduce light spillover, the garage's north is a solid wall with a few openings, scheduled to be covered with ivy, McCormack said. Landscaping would be added to help obscure the garage and lighting from residential view.

DRB Chairman Frank Martin questioned the lighting plan.

"We have experience with lighting," he said. "We've been through it with the park district and with Concordia University. This is located in a residential neighborhood and we don't want any residents to be discomforted by light."

Access to the garage would be made through a driveway extended west to Thatcher Avenue through what some believe is Cook County Forest Preserve land. The university originally requested an easement for the driveway, however dropped the request in February claiming it already owns the land.

Cook County Forest Preserve District spokesman Steve Mayberry agreed with the university earlier this year, saying the district doesn't own the land. But Cook County Commissioners Mike Quigley and Larry Suffredin have disputed that claim.

Victor Guarino, head steward in the district's Thatcher Woods Savanna Restoration Project, also has disputed the claim.

"We support the Forest Preserve," Guarino said Monday. "We don't want any land given away because it's against the forest preserve's charter."

River Forest Village Administrator Chuck Biondo said Monday that the village has a 66-foot right-of-way easement on the property.

"We hold the easement for the right of way," Biondo said. "We don't own the property. It's my understanding the western half, 33 feet, is owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve. The eastern 33 feet is owned by Dominican University. Since Dominican University owns it we would need to give them a permit to come across the right of way easement to build a driveway.

"We could also vacate the easement if they agree to maintain the area," he added. "Whatever avenue they take that will occur during the planned development stage."

McCormack said the school wants the driveway in by this fall, so garage construction can begin.

The university anticipates the garage will be used by resident sisters, resident students and commuter students.

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