Mellody Farm shops-apartments proposal moves forward in Vernon Hills

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A proposed $200 million plan for a retail center anchored by Whole Foods and luxury apartments at the northeast corner of routes 21 and 60 in Vernon Hills is moving through the approval process.

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A retail center promising to incorporate hip urban elements reminiscent of Chicago’s Wicker Park or west Loop neighborhoods in a suburban setting has been recommended for approval by a Vernon Hills advisory board.

A three-story building with 260 luxury apartments also is a key element of the proposed $200 million Mellody Farm development unanimously approved Wednesday by the village’s planning and zoning commission. The recommendation was to allow residential development at the northeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) and Townline Road (Route 60); development of a mixed-use property with variations for building height, landscape buffer, signs, parking and other elements; and permits to allow restaurants that may serve alcohol and/or have a drive-through.

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Whole Foods has signed as an anchor of a 274,000-square-foot retail center and leases are being negotiated with several other anchors, shops and restaurants, according to Matt Hendy, vice president/investments for Regency Centers, a Jacksonville, Florida-based firm with an office in Oak Brook.

A proposed $200 million plan for a retail center anchored by Whole Foods and luxury apartments at the northeast corner of routes 21 and 60 in Vernon Hills is moving through the approval process.

As proposed, Mellody Farm would present a “unique and authentic experience” for customers with a mix of modern and old-time features, such as street pavers, turn-of-the-century rooftops, painted signs and other elements to create an urban feel. The name is a nod to the former Hawthorn Mellody Farm dairy and attraction that was a destination from the late 1940s until 1970.

Approvals came after review of what grew to a 3-inch-thick file of documents over several public hearing sessions in recent weeks. The future of what is considered a “crown jewel” property east of the Hawthorn shopping center, and one of the few remaining undeveloped areas in the commercial-heavy community, moves to the village board for consideration and an ultimate decision.

The prominently located site is one of the last remaining pieces of the once-vast Cuneo family holdings. About 35 of the 50 acres are buildable and the parcel is bordered on the east by MacArthur Woods Forest Preserve.

Part of that process will involve the designation of a special financing district to provide a village incentive of about $20 million to Regency Centers. Focus Acquisitions LLC of Northfield would build the housing portion.

Lake County approval was required because residential development was prohibited under a 1996 agreement to provide water and sewer to the Gregg’s Landing development, and that covered future development on other Cuneo properties. Tuesday, the county board approved changes to the agreement to allow Regency to proceed.

Developers in August 2015 presented the concept to gauge the village board’s general interest and willingness to provide a substantial incentive.

The planning and zoning commission recommendation comes with 34 conditions, including Illinois Department of Transportation approval for major roadwork in the busy area.

Plans include a traffic signal on Route 60 adjacent to the northern entrance of the Rivertree Shopping Center, a third northbound lane on Route 21 across the frontage of the site, a designated right-turn lane to eastbound Route 60, a third eastbound lane on Route 60, and dual left-turn lanes in all directions at the intersection of routes 60 and 21.

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