It was hard to tell if the banging sound after the St. Charles City Council's vote to approve a controversial residential development was Mayor Don DeWitte's gavel or jaws dropping and bouncing off the floor.
Just one month ago, the Lexington Club project seemed dead. Developers came to the city with a plan to build up to 102 townhouses and 28 single-family homes on the former Applied Composites site. The land is known to be contaminated with industrial pollutants and has been an eyesore and a safety hazard for years.
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Aldermen liked the idea of cleaning up the property with new development. But the type of development and the financial assistance sought by the developers spawned a 6-2 vote against the project last month.
Even with Alderman Cliff Carrignan, who didn't vote in committee, signaling his support for the project, the Lexington development seemed well short of the necessary majority to come to fulfillment.
But on Monday, before an audience jammed with detractors, a rare reversal of fortune occurred.
First, Moises Cukierman of Lexington Homes announced an eleventh-hour change in the project. The developers reduced their request for financial assistance from the city to $5.6 million, $400,000 less than the plan aldermen rejected in December. The development team removed from their request $200,000 of contingency funds and all the money they already spent to begin cleaning up the site to arrive at the lower total.
Even the lower request didn't seem to move aldermen who voted against the project at first.
"We can do better," said Alderman Ray Rogina in summarizing his concerns. "Approval of this project will be a bruise in this community that will remain a long time."
Alderman William Turner agreed with Rogina. He said that even though the developer will get financial assistance from the city only as the project adds property tax value to the city, the development will ultimately cost more than it is worth in the long run.
"This is not free to the city," Turner said.
When it came time for a vote, aldermen Dan Stellato, Jo Krieger and Maureen Lewis joined Turner and Rogina in voting no. It was the same way they voted in December.
Aldermen Carrignan, Rita Payleitner and Ed Bessner voted in favor of the project. Those votes were also not surprises.
But the deciding votes came when aldermen Jon Monken and Jim Martin changed their December positions and voted yes. That resulted in a tie, which is the only time the mayor votes.
DeWitte voted in favor of the project, approving both the development plan and the financial assistance from the city.
Aldermen then went into a lengthy closed-door meeting, leaving Monken and Martin unavailable to explain their changes of heart Monday night.
Residents weren't given the chance the respond publicly to the vote, but one resident shouted at the council that their votes had "disgraced us as citizens."
They also quickly took to the Internet to vent their frustrations.
"Property tax money will not go to the developer to subsidize the construction of this absolutely divisive project, which will stand for generations as a symbol of lost opportunity and a failure of our government to represent our interests," wrote David Amundson in a Facebook group opposed to the project. "The only outgoing advice I can give is to not forget tonight when you step into the voting booth in April."