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Article posted: 8/6/2013 5:30 AM

Aldermen back possibility of residential at old St. Charles Mall site

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The comprehensive plan is supposed to be the guiding document for all future development in St. Charles. But residents who showed up for the final public hearing on the plan Monday cared about the vision for only one part of town -- keeping housing off the old St. Charles Mall site.

Yet council members Monday inched open the door for a mix of housing and commercial at the site.

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The desire to keep one of the last large swathes of land in the city along Randall Road for only commercial development was not a new sentiment. It was the very same outcry from neighbors of the property that defeated a plan by the Shodeen Corp. to create a mix of commercial and residential on the site called Towne Centre a few years ago.

But residents felt compelled to voice that concern again after they heard the new comprehensive plan contains language that leaves the door open for at least some residential development on the old mall site.

After residents showed their displeasure with that wording through a short speech and simple show of hands, it was time for aldermen to describe their stances.

As would be reflected in the final vote, the majority of aldermen believed the realities of the current economy called for flexibility, they said.

Aldermen Rita Payleitner, Bill Turner, Todd Bancroft, Jo Krieger, Ed Bessner and Maureen Lewis all voted in favor of revisions to the comprehensive plan that include the possibility of residential housing at the old mall site.

"We need to have all these options on the table," Turner said. "We're not going to have the creativity, the ingenuity on our open spaces by putting restrictions on them."

Lewis echoed the call for flexibility. She said she will not vote for any high-rise apartments on the site and cited a belief that the wording in the comprehensive plan is clear enough to show residential is not the first desire of city officials for the site.

But Aldermen Ron Silkaitis, Art Lemke and Jim Martin voted against the comprehensive plan amendments in belief that there is no need to even be flexible about possibly putting residential at the old mall site.

"This is an opportunity for us to retain the final location for a commercial center," Martin said. "I don't believe that residential belongs there at all. I will not support residential on the St. Charles Mall site."

Even with the changes, the comprehensive plan is not a binding document. Aldermen can use the plan as a guide, or they can ignore the vision completely. The plan also does not serve as legal decision about a development proposal for a site. All such plans that require a zoning change must come to the city council for an individual vote.

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