If St. Charles' City Council chamber had a trap door, the developers of the Lexington Club project would have fallen through it Monday night.
Aldermen torpedoed a key element of the proposed residential development by telling the owners of the former Applied Composites site they want a smaller development that features mainly single-family homes.
Right now, the project calls for 142 new residences. Townhomes and row houses would account for more than 80 percent of that number in the current proposal. Despite two aldermen being townhouse owners, that's not the right mix, the council agreed.
"The community in the surrounding area has said townhouses are not wanted," said Third Ward Alderman Bill Turner. "I don't see how this plan is a benefit to the city of St. Charles when the residents have strongly stated they don't want this kind of housing."
Turner said the density of people created by a large number of townhouses would exasperate what is already a traffic nightmare during morning and evening rush hours for people in the existing neighborhood.
Comments from aldermen indicated the city council would rather see somewhere between 100 and 130 residences with the lower number of people single-family homes attract.
Henry Stillwell, the attorney for the Lexington Club development team, called the idea of flipping the ratio of townhouses to single-family homes a shocking turn of events.
Stillwell said the reliance on the particular density of the project and mix of townhouses has been a key aspect of the project for five years. Monday marked the first time he's heard any city official speak against that plan.
Stillwell said the housing market simply won't allow the kind of development aldermen seem to want.
"What you want to do is find ways to increase the cost of the development but severely limit the vehicle by which funds are created to cover the cost," Stillwell said. "There's just no way we can accommodate the kinds of requests and suggestions we're hearing tonight. It's very discouraging."
There were at least two encouraging points for the would-be developers.
A majority of aldermen agreed they want the old Applied Composite site to be redeveloped into a residential neighborhood. The former industrial site is known to be polluted. A new industrial or manufacturing development wouldn't completely clean up that pollution. It would also create an even worse traffic problem than a new residential neighborhood, aldermen said.
Second, aldermen agreed that there is much room to find a compromise.
They weren't willing to cast a vote Monday that would have killed the entire proposal. Instead, aldermen want the developers to work with the city for the next month in coming up with a new plan that decreases the number of townhouses, changes their location of the site and ushers in more single-family homes like those in the surrounding area.
That new vision would likely come back to aldermen for another discussion on March 12.