In perhaps the clearest sign that a once-favored major development project on St. Charles' west side is now at odds with vision aldermen have for the site, officials attacked the premise of the Corporate Reserve plan for the first time Monday night.
Corporate Reserve was originally going to bring large office space and a mix of retail on the western border of the city along Main Street. But developers came to the table with a new plan in November, saying market conditions favored a rental housing project for the 50-acre site over the original plan.
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While that kind of plan revision runs afoul of the city's comprehensive plan -- the document that guides city planning -- aldermen focused most of their criticism on the density of the planned rental housing.
So, in July, the developers reduced the number of apartments from 407 to 331, but aldermen said that was still too many. On Monday, developers returned to the city council with a plan that reduced the rental housing to 317 units and lowered the height of two of the buildings.
City officials are also in the middle of revising the comprehensive plan. The current plan includes the mix of office and retail in the original plan. Neighbors to the site have also continuously knocked the plan. With those two pressures, aldermen said they've started to wonder if a lot of apartments is really a good idea.
Alderman Dan Stellato said that looking at the owner-occupied housing and office space that surrounds the site, he has a hard time understanding how dense rental housing fits in.
"Owner-occupied is the key," Stellato said. "You can go down the list and say there is no market for that, but there's no market for almost anything right now. We're looking years out. There has to be a compelling reason to change the comprehensive plan. I don't have that reason yet."
The development team tried to convince aldermen that there would still be 100,000 square feet of space on the site that could be used for office or retail space, even with the apartments. The team believes that would be plenty of room to address any demand in the near future for that kind of development. But the office space versus rental housing debate is just one of the major obstacles Corporate Reserve developers face.
A lingering concern from July's meeting is the amount of money the developers want to pay the city in trade for not including any affordable housing in the project.
The city's formula indicates the developers should pay $4.8 million, but the development team is offering $2.3 million.
That's $2.8 million short, but the developers have indicated paying the full sum would take too much of the profit out of the project to make it worth doing.
"I have a relatively large issue with that," Alderman Cliff Carrignan said of excusing the remaining $2.8 million. "To start cutting one-off deals on the (affordable) housing will gut the ordinance."
Aldermen will now engage in a debate about creating a sliding scale for affordable housing payments based on how much affordable housing the city needs at any given time. The goal is for 25 percent of the city housing stock to be affordable. The city currently classifies about 18 percent as affordable. It's unclear if the sliding scale or any other changes could be applied to the Corporate Reserve plan. The developers will get another shot at wooing aldermen on Sept. 10.