Despite opposition from a group of residents and environmentalists, Carvana will get to build its controversial 14-story glass tower “car vending machine” in Skokie, directly across from the Harms Woods nature preserve.
The decision came following a 6-1 vote in favor of the project from the Skokie Village Board of Trustees in a marathon Monday night meeting.
The move was met with a chorus of disapproval from the packed crowd gathered in the village hall, dozens of whom had voiced their objections during the meeting’s public comment session.
“Who wants a big blue glow stick outside their window at night?” asked one young resident.
As the project finally came up for a vote, trustees defended their approval.
The site will be developed, whether by Carvana or another project, said Trustee Edie Sue Sutker. Carvana happened to need a zoning change for its signage and usage, which prompted the public approval process. Other far larger, denser projects could by right be built on the site with zero community input, she said.
“Carvana has made concession nobody has,” said Trustee Ralph Klein.
Hundreds of people emailed trustees and thousands signed onto a petition against Carvana, decrying the project as nothing more than a “glass display case.”
Criticisms ranged from an anticipation of increased truck traffic and fumes, to the insult of having a used-car cube near the Illinois Holocaust Museum, to the building’s skirting of a prohibition against billboards along the Edens Expressway.
Trustee James Johnson, who cast the lone nay vote, said: “This is not a project supported by its residents.”
Carvana, founded in 2012, has already built 30 such towers in 18 states, including one in Oak Brook, though the Skokie tower will be among its tallest.
The company came to the meeting having made a number of changes to its original proposal, addressing concerns over truck routes, lighting and the potential for deadly bird strikes.
It was the planned tower’s transparency, 24/7 illumination and location along a migratory bird flyway that drew the most criticism from environmentalists, who asserted the building would be a magnet for bird strikes.
In response, Carvana agreed to wrap the tower in a bird-friendly pattern up to a height of 63 feet, 10 inches. Additional mitigations are to include turning off the building’s lights during spring and fall migration and, in a concession proposed Monday by Trustee Khem Khoeun, Carvana said it will participate in research study, to last for at least one year, into the tower’s impact on birds.
“We don’t know what more we can do,” said Bret Sassenberg, Carvana’s senior director of real estate and development, who spoke at the meeting. “The goal posts keep moving.”
Opponents made it clear they wanted the project scrapped altogether.
“I am mystified the proposal is getting serious consideration,” said Charlie Saxe, a Skokie resident and member of the village’s Sustainable Environmental Advisory Committee, a group that wasn't asked to weigh in on Carvana.
“It is such a bad idea on so many levels,” Saxe continued. “Consider the damage to Skokie’s brand. What are we trying to build here? We’re debasing ourselves into a carnival of the absurd for economic gain.”
The precise value of those economic gains was also debatable, said neighbors, who blasted trustees for a lack of due diligence and over-reliance on information provided by Carvana, such as traffic studies.
Speaking on behalf of residents of the 660-unit Optima Old Orchard Woods complex, adjacent to the Carvana site, Asher Bromfeld questioned Carvana’s sales projections and estimated sales tax contributions to Skokie.
“Where’s the economic impact? Have the proper amount of questions been asked?” he asked trustees. “Carvana is novel, it's complex. Has the proper vetting been done? Before you ask us to live with it, are you knowledgeable about what you're getting?”
In the end, the “ayes” carried the day.