ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles Plan Commission on Tuesday voted in favor of letting office spaces occupy downtown storefronts, which have been restricted mainly to retail use since 2006.
The commission held a public hearing on making amendments to the Downtown Overlay Zoning District in hopes of filling up empty storefronts downtown and creating more pedestrian traffic. Members voted 5-1 to approve the changes, with Sue Amatangelo voting no. Commission member Tom Pretz was not present.
The commission’s favorable recommendation will head to the City Council.
Downtown spaces within the overlay district are currently restricted to certain uses, such as art galleries, theaters, hotels, personal service businesses, restaurants and retailers.
With the proposed changes, the overlay district would allow business and professional buildings, medical and dental offices and financial institutions to occupy those spaces. The city staff would review the changes after two years.
Plan Commission member Tom Schuetz said it may be time to “think outside the box” in terms of filling those storefronts.
“Maybe we’ll really do something great,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen.”
Amatangelo suggested keeping the downtown overlay as-is for the storefronts along Main Street, but allowing the changes elsewhere in the overlay district.
Plan Commission member Brian Doyle said the problem with that idea is there are some highly visible empty storefronts along Main Street.
“It doesn’t help the downtown district at all if there are numerous downtown vacancies people can see,” he said.
St. Charles resident Sharon O’Leary, a local commercial real estate broker who represents downtown clients, said during public comment that she is in favor of the proposed changes. She said the changes would support a co-working concept that would help locate some work-from-home business owners in space downtown, and foster networking opportunities for those business owners.
“Right now, I have a couple of clients looking for office space downtown. I’m definitely in favor of it,” she said. “I think it would be good for our downtown.”