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Des Plaines Developer Panel discusses new TOD on Oakton and Lee Street

September 18, 2023

Des plaines

In June 2023, the City of Des Plaines participated in a Developer Discussion Panel held at Des Plaines City Hall, supported by the RTA’s Community Planning program. Developer Discussion Panels help municipalities identify the market potential of opportunity sites for redevelopment and allow them to speak directly to development professionals about necessary components, phasing, and feasibility of development projects near transit hubs.

The panel of developers’ discussion was focused on two separate sites at the intersection of Oakton Street and Lee Street in Des Plaines, at the northeast corner, which is currently the site of a strip commercial center with a grocery store anchor, and at the southwest corner, which includes a vacant former Kmart store. (The two sites are also referred to as “Oaks site” and “Kmart site”). These sites are directly adjacent to the Dempster Line, a new Pace Pulse route that offers transit service similar to rail and Bus Rapid Transit between Evanston and the O’Hare Airport multi-modal center, and provides an opportunity to support this enhanced service by increasing residential density and creating new destinations along the route.

The City was interested in talking to developers about these two sites, given their desire to attract additional residential and commercial development to the area that supports the Dempster Line and their long-term goal to deliver a new infill Metra station on the NCS Line at Oakton Street. Metra staff confirmed that additional residential development near the proposed station would help the area to meet the density and land use criteria that Metra uses to evaluate potential infill stations.

The discussion delved further into recent redevelopment projects along Oakton Street, particularly the construction of 125 townhomes between Lee Street and Executive Way and the City’s planned expansion of Des Plaines Fire Station 62. Being nearby the Oaks and Kmart sites, the redevelopment of this area provides a clear and early signal that the surrounding area is attracting investment and has additional redevelopment potential.

Following the presentation from City staff and a brief site visit to the study area, the panelists returned to discuss prospects for redevelopment and potential strategies that the City could employ to facilitate redevelopment.

Site uses and layout

The panelists recommended re-orienting the commercial and retail buildings to front on Oakton and Lee streets. The panelists also recommended then offering a mix of land uses by placing residential developments behind the commercial developments to buffer residents from the main road.

City investment

To help foster the creation of an activity center, the panelists recommended that the City make a series of investments in streetscape improvements and pedestrian infrastructure. This includes installing street trees and other landscaping buffers along the road and improving the crosswalks and pedestrian infrastructure at the Oakton/Lee intersection. The panelists also recommended that the City develop a master plan for the specific study area.

Redevelopment strategies and incentives

The panelists recommended that the City take two different approaches to each site:

  • Oaks site – Panelists recommended the City work with a developer to gauge interest in relocating the grocery store to front on Oakton or Lee streets, then allowing infill residential developments to be behind.
  • Kmart site – Panelists recommended pursuing land acquisition of the Kmart site and publishing a request for qualifications (RFQ) or request for proposals (RFP) following this process. These procurement types would allow the City to identify firms capable of delivering a specific development vision or solicit a variety of creative ideas for how to redevelop the site, respectively.

Fostering plans for TOD

Overall, the panelists participation in the Developer Panel were encouraged by the City’s redevelopment prospects and believed that the City’s goal for redevelopment was achievable. The RTA will continue to work with the City of Des Plaines on its plans to promote a more sustainable, thriving, and livable community and strengthen the transit network in the proposed site area for Des Plaines residents. Read the entire report from the Des Plaines Developer Panel here.

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