St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte and Aldermen Jim Martin and Jon Monken were key votes in a reversal of fortune for the controversial Lexington Club residential development Monday night. Now they are explaining their positions for the first time.
The votes by Martin and Monken in favor of the project were the most surprising turn of events to the nearly 50 residents who attended the city council meeting to protest the project. Both were key swing votes in what will now become a residential development of 102 townhouses and 28 houses on the former Applied Composites site on North Sixth Street. Martin and Monken voted against the development last month.
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"It wasn't what I wanted," Martin said in an interview Wednesday. "I was looking for something closer to 100 total units and a reasonable financial contribution from the city. That's why I voted against it in December."
Three factors pushed him to change his mind in the final vote on the project. Martin said he was willing to accept the number of units only because developers agreed to pitch in $200,000 toward intersection improvements on Seventh Street.
Another factor, he said, was the developer reducing his request for financial assistance from the city by $400,000 while still agreeing to receive the money on a pay-as-you-go basis.
"That was very important to me," Martin said. "This way we don't just have to give them all the money. They do the work first, and then we'll pay."
Finally, Martin decided even the possibility of getting the Illinois EPA to chase after the developer to clean up the site was not enough of a guarantee that the pollution and safety concerns would get taken care of in a timely manner. The old Applied Composites company, at 333 N. Sixth St., made rubber, plastic, metal and other industrial parts. It also had several run-ins with the Illinois EPA before the company closed in 2005.
"That property has just gotten worse," Martin said. "Maybe we could get some of that site cleaned up, but we can't sit and wait for another four years for a development to come along."
All those factors also weighed heavily into Monken's decision, particularly the reduction in city financial assistance.
"That was yet another adjustment they made, and we've asked them to do so many things," Monken said. "They've reduced the density. They are paying for off-site public improvements out of their own pockets. The school and park districts both signed off on the financial assistance. And that blighted area really needs to be addressed. I certainly understand the compassion of the neighbors to the site, but you have to make a decision based on what's best for the whole city."
DeWitte said the proposal became a "no-brainer" for him as soon as the developers agree to the pay-as-you-go model for financial assistance. DeWitte said that setup removed all the financial risk from the city's point of view. That said, shrinking the request for financial assistance to $5.6 million was key.
"I believe they felt the need with the project on the precipice to fine tune their numbers as best as they could to get people to move forward," DeWitte said. "They justified their numbers. By no means was their revised request arbitrary."
DeWitte said the "no" votes on the council were politically motivated by the looming April election and the pressure put on aldermen on the ballot by a vocal group of residents who continually showed up to oppose the project. DeWitte said the Lexington project will have less of an impact on neighboring residents than most any other development proposal that would've ever come forward. The known pollution on the former industrial site was always going to be a financial liability for the city, DeWitte said.
"There's no question in my mind that any type of development would have had extraordinary expenses because of that site and requested financial assistance from the city," DeWitte said.