BATAVIA – On Batavia’s near west side is an older neighborhood with a curious mixture of land uses, the legacy of days when community planning was haphazard, at best.
Automotive repair businesses, warehouses, light industrial buildings and even an old foundry sit among single-family and multi-family homes in an area that city officials dubbed West Town several years ago. The district is generally bounded by Harrison Street on the east and Van Nortwick Avenue on the west, in some places extending as far south as Walnut Street and as far north as West Wilson Street.
Running east-west directly through the center of the district is a section of Main Street, and it is here that the city is taking action to promote commercial development. On Sept. 17, the Batavia City Council approved the rezoning of three adjacent parcels along the south side of the street from light industrial to a commercial classification.
After numerous hearings, the council opted for the “community commercial” classification rather than the more restrictive “neighborhood commercial” zoning.
At 750 Main St. is a vacant gasoline station owned by Steve Pederson, who operates an automotive repair business in St. Charles.
Next door at 804 Main St. is a building operated by Batavia School District 101 for facilities maintenance. Finally, the structure at 812 Main St. is the home of Vandeventer Manufacturing. Both of those buildings are owned by Ron Link of Batavia.
Pederson said the underground fuel tanks at the gas station site have long been removed and that he hopes to open an auto repair shop in the building.
This would be permitted under the new commercial zoning, Batavia Community Development Director Scott Buening said.
The two buildings owned by Link are now effectively grandfathered in for their existing uses, but new industrial uses would not be permitted under the zoning change, Buening said.
Aldermen are taking the long view for the properties in approving a commercial zoning classification that will allow for a variety of businesses ranging from a bank to a brewpub.
Retail shops, health care facilities, tattoo parlors, hotels, offices and garden supply stores are all listed as permitted uses under the new zoning.
The city last year had established a tax-increment financing district (TIF) to encourage revitalization of the neighborhood and move beyond its industrial past.
A TIF district is a method widely used by municipalities to redevelop areas that are considered blighted or economically stagnant. Within the boundaries of the district, property tax payment levels to units of local government are frozen, and the additional value generated by development is placed into a fund to pay for public improvements.
Pederson said he is interested in applying for TIF district funds to help redevelop the gas station site. Buening said TIF money could be used for parking lot and landscaping improvements.
Aldermen put TIF district funds to use in West Town last year when they awarded a $23,600 grant to Spillane and Sons Building and Remodeling of Batavia, which completely renovated two decrepit houses in the 200 block of South Harrison Street.
More improvements in West Town are on the way.
Just a block from the newly rezoned Main Street properties sits a century-old foundry and warehouse building that the city had declared uninhabitable, citing a litany of building code violations.
The hulking masonry structure at 126 S. Mallory Ave. has been purchased by Tyler Hook of Hinsdale, who plans to turn the building into an antique automotive museum. Hook has a collection of cars, road signs, neon business signs and other artifacts he wishes to display.
The city has issued Hook a demolition permit for the interior of the structure and work has begun.