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Article updated: 2/3/2013 5:14 PM

Warrenville considers TIF plan to spur development

By Robert Sanchez

About six years ago, officials worked with residents to draft a plan to transform Warrenville into a city with riverfront paths, multistory condominium buildings and a roundabout intersection.

Now the city council is looking to create a new tax increment financing district to help make that "vision of revitalization" a reality.

The proposed TIF district would include two areas that Warrenville wants to target for redevelopment -- the Civic Center near the intersection of Butterfield and Batavia roads and the Old Town section near the confluence of Warrenville, Batavia and River roads.

When an area is designated as a TIF district, property taxes paid to local governments are frozen for up to 23 years. Any extra property tax money collected within the area after the date the district is established goes into a special fund controlled by the city. The money in the fund then can be used to help pay for certain improvements.

If approved this May, the TIF district will be a tool that allows Warrenville to encourage and facilitate redevelopment and economic development, Mayor David Brummel said.

"Redevelopment is going to come eventually," Brummel said. "The economy is going to improve at some point. We would like to be ready to take advantage of that. The only way to be ready is to get all of your ducks in a row."

To get the Civic Center and Old Town areas ready for redevelopment, the city in 2007 approved a detailed plan to guide developers. That plan, based on input from residents, has a variety of suggestions, including:

realigning the junction of Batavia, Warrenville and River into either a roundabout or four-way intersection;

converting a former piano store site at the corner of Butterfield and Batavia into a mixed-use development with a restaurant overlooking the river;

building townhouses at a former warehouse site next to the Warrenville Public Library;

and constructing a mix of condominiums, small shops and restaurants along Butterfield.

"We don't want strip malls," Brummel said of the vision for the stretch of Butterfield running through the Civic Center. "We want nice buildings that create a downtown feel. We want charm. We want ambience."

In order to achieve the goals outlined in the plan, city officials understood a TIF district would be needed. Warrenville experienced success with its first TIF district, which aided redevelopment of a former quarry into what's now Cantera.

Warrenville had a second TIF district -- bounded by Warrenville, Batavia and Butterfield roads -- until the end of December. Officials decided to end the district early so the new one could be created.

As for the proposed TIF district, several required meetings must happen before it could be established.

Representatives from most of the taxing districts will participate in a March 8 joint review board meeting. Then there will be an April 15 public hearing.

"If we stick to our current schedule -- and there's no major hiccups or hurdles -- the city council will be voting to take final action sometime in May," Community Development Director Ronald Mentzer said.

During a public meeting last week, no one voiced strong opposition to the TIF district proposal. But Michael Hoffmann, who is running for mayor against Brummel, asked if the district would give the city more power to condemn properties.

Mentzer said the city never forced property owners to sell land in either of its two previous TIF districts.

"I don't know what's going to happen with the future elected officials over 23 years," Mentzer said. "But I can't imagine the current group of elected officials saying, 'We need to force people to sell so we can see redevelopment.' There's plenty of opportunities for redevelopment without forcing people to sell their property."

To date, Warrenville has acquired five separate properties in the proposed TIF district. All the parcels were acquired as a result of voluntary sale by the former property owners, Mentzer said.

One of those properties is the former Musselman Lumber site along Manning Avenue next to the library. After spending $2.2 million for the land in 2006, the city demolished a warehouse that once stood there. Now it's working with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the site.

"Since we control that property," Mentzer said, "we're hopeful that it's going to be one of the first redevelopment projects that happen after the TIF gets put into place."

It's unclear when any redevelopment may happen.

Officials say they believe the Butterfield corridor will become more attractive to developers later this year when the state's widening of the road is finished. There also are some positive signs the real estate market is improving.

"There is more interest in general in new development in the community," Mentzer said. "We have seen some new construction. We've been talking to developers."

Ultimately, Brummel said, the market will determine what ends up being constructed in the Civic Center and Old Town areas.

"We're not going to build something," Brummel said, "just to have it sit there empty."

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