St. Charles officials discuss implications of housing votes
ST. CHARLES – Decisions such as the two that the St. Charles Planning and Development Committee made last week regarding proposed housing projects do not go unnoticed.
Chris Aiston, St. Charles’ economic development director, said the development industry keeps an eye on what cities do. He referenced interest generated among his colleagues after the City Council denied a plan in 2010 to redevelop the former St. Charles Mall site.
“There can be some talk in the industry,” Aiston said.
On Dec. 10, aldermen quashed plans for apartments in western St. Charles and put another housing project in a holding pattern after denying its request for tax increment financing funds.
The Corporate Reserve application regarding the apartment complex has since been withdrawn, and Lexington Club is reviewing its options, city officials said.
Henry Stillwell, the attorney representing Lexington Club, addressed the committee Dec. 10 for 5½ minutes, at times raising his voice.
He noted the hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in the housing development. The developer listened to aldermen’s concerns and altered its plans, he said, and to turn down the TIF request was unfair.
“Where is the credibility?” Stillwell said at the Dec. 10 meeting. “What are you trying to do? Send a message to the broader metropolitan community that this is the most unfriendly development community in the western suburbs? Honest to goodness, how do you get a significant project approved? Because it’s a long process.”
Mayor Don DeWitte, who does not participate in committee meetings, said it is possible that some might discern that St. Charles is unfriendly to development. He mentioned the last three major redevelopment proposals: the Towne Centre, a mixed-use development planned for the former St. Charles Mall site that was denied in 2010, and the two projects acted on this month.
“The council’s actions certainly give the appearance that something else is driving the decision-making process,” said DeWitte, referring to the wishes of a vocal minority taking precedent over the greater good of the community.
DeWitte acknowledged public input is vital in the democratic process, particularly when it comes to development issues. But, he said, there is a difference between a few dozen opponents and 200 to 300 – the number of people who attended meetings about the Walmart Supercenter several years ago.
“I don’t believe two dozen Facebook friends should be the determining factor in making multimillion dollar development decisions for the good of the entire community,” he said.
Aiston, however, doesn’t believe it will be any more difficult to get developers interested in St. Charles. He said the city still has a strong marketplace, fairly high buying power and a good labor pool.
“I’m not pessimistic about the future,” Aiston said.
Third Ward Aldermen Bill Turner and Ray Rogina also disagree with St. Charles being unfriendly to development.
Turner said the type of development matters, as does the residents’ wishes and whether the plan fits with the existing development. In the case of Lexington Club, he said, the plan didn’t fit with the proposed site, and the developer “nibbled around the edges” when it came to making changes based on feedback.
“In my view, it’s a two-way street,” Turner said. “At this point, it’s all been one way – take it or leave it.”
Rogina sincerely hopes the former Applied Composites site – the industrial property targeted for Lexington Club – gets redeveloped and said the vast majority of the neighborhood also wants it redeveloped. But, he said, the proposal was complex and presents complex problems.
He said it is important to listen to input from constituents, who expressed concerns about the plan as presented.
“We have one chance to do it right,” Rogina said. “Let’s do it right.”
DeWitte said the council could give a little more, too.
“In my opinion, future councils must remain willing to compromise if they are to enjoy the fruits of other people’s investment dollars in the community,” DeWitte said.
Stillwell reminded the committee it had recommended approval of the development in May. From the beginning, it was understood a TIF component was essential to make the project happen.
“You say one thing one time and change your attitude another time,” Stillwell said to the committee earlier this month. “That makes it awfully hard on people who want to form capital and invest in it.”
Aldermen said they have a right to change their minds and developers shouldn’t make assumptions about a vote. Fifth Ward Alderman Ed Bessner, who voted for the Lexington Club TIF, said aldermen’s decisions weren’t made lightly.
“It was not a rush to judgment on anybody’s part,” he said.
Reasonable people sit on the City Council, Rogina said, adding he believes reasonableness will win out in the end.
“I don’t think a speech given to the City Council by Mr. Stillwell should be the defining moment of this process,” Rogina said. “It should be a part of the process toward a solution.”