Opponents of Carvana’s proposed 14-story glass “vending machine for cars” made a last ditch appeal to block the development at Tuesday night’s meeting of Skokie’s Village Board of Trustees, where a second and final vote on the project was held.
Dozens of Skokie residents took their three-minute turns before the board during the public comment portion — having shouted down Mayor George Van Dusen’s attempt to limit them to two minutes each — and pleaded with trustees to either outright deny Carvana’s request or delay the vote until an environmental impact study and thorough review of Carvana’s financial projections could be conducted.
“Every single person has spoken against this. The community is expressing itself clearly and unanimously,” said one attendee.
Yet the vote, six to one in Carvana’s favor, remained unchanged from trustees’ preliminary approval, granted earlier in February. The sole “nay” once again came from James Johnson, who is the lone independent trustee on the board.
The decision left many in attendance scratching their heads, wondering how the project ever made it past the village’s Planning Commission. With the planet at a tipping point in terms of climate change, when environmental concerns should be front and center, “a vending machine for cars is about as tasteless as it gets” and a “symbol of doing the wrong thing,” said Skokie resident Janet Ginsburg in her comments to trustees.
Village Manager John Lockerby outlined the numerous concessions the public process won from Carvana, including wrapping a portion of the tower in a bird-friendly design and routing delivery vehicles away from the neighboring Optima residential complex and Illinois Holocaust Museum. The village has the ability to enforce these requirements, he said.
A stipulation calling for Carvana to post a $200,000 bond in the event the building is abandoned and demolition is required — an acknowledgment that the tower is uniquely fit for the single purpose of displaying cars — was also revised, Lockerby said. The funds will now be triggered if the building is vacant for two years; previously the wording was “if vacant and Carvana has filed for bankruptcy.”
The residents in attendance weren’t appeased by the mitigations. “This is like coming up with a cleaner coal factory,” said one.
Likewise, a promise from Van Dusen to revisit the role of the village’s Sustainable Environmental Advisory Commission in land use matters was received as too little too late. The majority of the commission’s members opposed the Carvana tower, but had no authority to formally review the proposal or vote on its merits.
“That SEAC has been left out gives me pause,” said Trustee Keith Robinson, who nonetheless affirmed his “aye” vote for Carvana.
It remains to be seen whether the rancor generated by the Carvana debate — which residents said left them feeling the developer’s voice carried greater weight than their own — burns out or continues to simmer and carries with it any political repercussions.
“People, election day is coming. Remember these faces,” said resident James Parker, who was among Tuesday night’s speakers.
Van Dusen has been Skokie’s mayor since 1999 and ran unopposed in the most recent municipal election in 2021. Five of the six trustees were endorsed by the Skokie Caucus Party; Johnson was the first independent, non-caucus candidate to win a seat in more than 50 years.
Yet as members of the anti-Carvana coalition noted, more people signed a petition against the glass tower — some 8,000 — than voted for any of the trustees or Van Dusen. Approximately 1,500 of the signatories are Skokie residents, organizers said. Of the nearly 45,000 registered voters in Skokie, only 5,175 cast a ballot in 2021.