Letter: From Bob Heller to Village of Arlington Heights Board on the Hickory-Kensington TIF

Heller Lumber Company at 24 North Hickory Avenue in Arlington Heights was built in 1923 and opened its doors for business on April 1, 1924. Initially, Heller Lumber handled lumber, roofing, cement, stone and coal. A coal business carried the company through the Great Depression.

Throughout World War II, Eugene Heller and Wally Moehling were the only employees at the yard. Gene did the bookkeeping, while Wally unloaded the cars. In the afternoon, they shut down the office to deliver coal. Gene invented a coal “toter,” which was a small conveyer that rode on the truck and was used to unload coal. Before his invention, they unloaded the coal by hand.

Four generations of the Heller family have run Heller Lumber, and many other members of the Heller Family have worked at the yard throughout the years.


Village Board President Hayes and Village of Arlington Heights Trustees Village Hall
33 S. Arlington Heights Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60005

Dear Board President Hayes and Trustees:

I am writing to request that you vote NO to establishing the Hickory/Kensington TIF. I did not come to this position lightly or quickly. In this letter I lay out my reasons for this recommendation.

My family and I were slow to understand the exact nature and process for the redevelopment of the Hickory-Kensington (H/K) area. We now understand that there are three distinct parts to this process: 1) creating the H/K Area Plan, 2) rezoning the area with an overlay that is compatible with the Village’s Comprehensive Plan and, finally, 3) establishing a H/K TIF District. We have been supportive of this process through phases 1 and 2, in large part because of the assurances we have received from Village staff and elected officials. We cannot, however, support phase 3—the establishment of the H/K TIF District.

The H/K Plan is extensive and comprehensive. Our family is appreciative of the scope and quality of the work accomplished by Messrs. Perkins and Enright and the staff of the Planning Department in preparing the H/K Plan. We were impressed with their willingness to consult with us on the impact if any of the plan on our operations, especially through phases 1 and 2.

Most important to us are the assurances given us that Heller Lumber will be allowed to continue in business at 24 N. Hickory Avenue as long as desired, and even able to “re-tenant” those premises into perpetuity. These assurances have been expressed repeatedly both orally and in testimony throughout the H/K Plan development process.

To understand the importance of these assurances to us, it may be helpful to review briefly our long-time involvement and commitment to the Village of Arlington Heights. The Heller family moved to Arlington Heights about 1921, opened The Heller Lumber Company April 1, 1924, and are into our fifth generation in town. The fourth generation is now managing the lumber yard. We love “The City Of Good Neighbors” and we are proud to be members of it and of the contributions our family has made to it. We have supported every bond issue proposed by the village, both school districts, the park district, the library, and have made many contributions to the Historical Society. We have watched and prospered as the village grew from a population of 3500 to over 70,000. It is our desire to continue operations at our current location, 24 N. Hickory, raise our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and continue to contribute to the progress of our city.

We understand that the only thing constant is change, and that therefore the village must plan ahead. If history is accurate, the current businesses will eventually give way, and absent any planning, may be replaced by who knows what, therefore planning is a necessity.

On January 7, 2013, the Village Board considered phases 1 and 2 of this project, the H/K Area Plan and the recommendations for rezoning this area and creating an overlay consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

In the course of their deliberations, the Board adopted a number of recommendations that make provisions for redeveloping this area, but also take into account the needs of those companies currently doing business in this area. At this point, we thought that both Village staff and elected officials had reaffirmed their assurances to allow companies on Hickory Avenue to continue doing business, and even re-tenant “into perpetuity.” We were grateful to the Board for its commitment to allow Heller Lumber to continue operations in Arlington Heights.

Then we attended the June 11, 2014 meeting of the Redevelopment Commission. At the beginning of those deliberations, we were reassured again; when asked if, under the Hickory/Kensington Plan, Heller Lumber could continue in operation indefinitely, Mr. Enright responded “absolutely.” However the consultant from KMA then stated that the TIF was highly unlikely to succeed without redevelopment of the businesses on Hickory which is projected to raise the EAV and increase tax revenue with which to fund the TIF. He also stated that Illinois law requires TIF’s to show considerable progress toward achieving their goal in the first seven years of existence or they may not be able to continue for the full 23 years. At this point, it appeared to us that enacting a TIF would put the numerous assurances that we had received in jeopardy.

In the course of the Redevelopment Commission’s public hearing the topic of Eminent Domain came up. When questioned by some of the commissioners, staff indicated that the village can and has used this tool to transfer property in a TIF from one private enterprise to another for the purpose of increasing tax revenue. We are aware that the Supreme Court has ruled favorably on this use of Eminent Domain. You undoubtedly know, however, that this practice is viewed unfavorably by 70% to 85% of the citizenry of the United States. For this reason some predict this ruling will eventually be overturned. As I understand it, without the TIF, Eminent Domain may be used only for Public Use, i.e., Roads, Police Stations, Etc.

Our concerns were crystallized when Commissioner Jay Cherwin raised the most fundamental issue: It is hard to see how the Village can pursue redevelopment of the H/K TIF District and still allow the businesses on Hickory to continue their current operations and current land use.

We were naïve enough to believe that the assurances of grandfathering in businesses on Hickory that allowed their operation into perpetuity, if they wished, pertained to the whole H/K project from start to finish. We were shocked to learn that those assurances pertained only to phases 1 and 2, and could be made null and void with the adoption of phase 3, the H/K TIF district.

The goals of the village for H/K district are admirable. They can and will be achieved naturally over time without the TIF, at the behest of the owners, as free market forces occur. The TIF district is superfluous as the Overlay Rezoning alone will provide the desired end result on Hickory Avenue, albeit perhaps not as soon, but eventually in a natural fashion. There is no need for the passage of this ordinance.

We respectfully request a NO vote on the TIF, thus allowing us our full freedom to proceed with developing our property when we so choose.

If, however, the Board does not feel it can vote down this measure, we request that the matter be postponed until the village staff and Board can work through more specifically how a transition under a TIF would take place.

Although our primary objective is to continue doing business in our current location in Arlington Heights, we do not want to be in a position where we are expected to relocate under duress or an unreasonably tight time schedule. In the face of the possibility that the H/K TIF district may be established, due diligence on our part requires that we explore alternatives to continuing operations in our current location and we have begun that process.

Throughout many of the documents concerning the Hickory/Kensington Redevelopment
Area, there are references to providing assistance to help existing businesses make a transition out of this area. Heller Lumber is mentioned multiple times in this connection, and we have met with the Planning Department on this issue.

At the June 11 2014 meeting, the consultant indicated there would be a $35 million budget that would be available to facilitate the redevelopment of this area, with $12 million specifically identified to help with the transition. Further, the Village can expect a significant increase in tax revenues if the area’s EAV increases from the current $9 million to the projected $30 to $40 million when the TIF District is fully implemented.

Accordingly, as part of your deliberations and actions, we ask the Board to instruct Village staff to work with us and other businesses in the area to develop transition plans and budgets that ensure we are treated fairly and that we can, if necessary, make any transitions successfully without being under duress or stringent time requirements, or suffering financially. Therefore they should include how much of the cost of relocation and moving will be covered, and what incentives will be offered to remain in Arlington Heights. Those plans should come back to the Village Board for its review.

In our opinion, it is then, and only then, that the Board should take up the matter of a TIF District for the Hickory/Kensington area. Consequently we ask for a NO vote, or barring that we ask for a postponement.

I thank you for your giving this matter the thoughtful attention that it deserves.

Respectfully submitted,
Robert L. Heller

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