A Swedish-based manufacturer, SKF Group, has received approval of zoning variances to build a 130,000-square-foot research and development center on roughly 13 acres at 1203 E. Warrenville Road in Naperville.
The city council approved the development Tuesday without taking the extra two weeks it customarily requires to review such requests.
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And the approval came despite objections from three neighbors who voiced concerns about the safety of additional traffic on a one-lane road that leads to their homes and about noise and light disturbing their privacy.
"This project has moved at a wildfire pace through the approval process, leaving the residents with no recourse," said Dan Rigby, a resident of the unincorporated Indian Hill Woods subdivision next to the SKF site. "They need to take safety and destruction of neighbors' property into effect. None of us want a parking lot next-door to our home. We'll now have to share the entry to our one-lane road with more cars."
The question of what exactly SKF Group plans to do inside the new research and development center also remained unanswered. What the business will do at the site, along with its name, both were unknown when the planning and zoning commission gave preliminary approval in July.
Walt Delevich, a spokesman for SKF Group, said Thursday in an email that staff members at the facility will conduct research in materials testing, manufacturing processes and tribology, which is the study of design, friction, lubrication and wear of surfaces that interact in motion, such as bearings or gears.
Employees at the future Naperville facility will conduct specialized computer modeling and simulation before fabricating prototypes, testing them and modifying them to fit customer needs, Delevich said. The facility will support local sales engineers who work with customers in industries including oil and gas, aerospace and automotive.
The research and development center will be the third suburban site for SKF Group, a global technology company established in 1907 that focuses on five platforms: bearings and units, seals, mechatronics, lubrication systems and other services. Other nearby locations are in Elgin and Waukegan.
During city council discussion of the development, Win Wehrli, an attorney representing the Indian Hill Woods neighbors, asked the council to wait two weeks before taking a vote. But council members, including Steve Chirico, said they trusted SKF Group would be a "responsible" neighbor and felt confident to move forward without delay.
"I don't want to take a chance of messing up this deal. This is the kind of deal every city wants," Chirico said. "We're trying to execute it to demonstrate the city is not going to be an obstacle to get this deal done. Now you're asking us to be an obstacle."
Wehrli said an additional two weeks would give SKF Group and residents a chance to work out concerns about traffic, noise and light.
Russ Whitaker, an attorney for Daniel Murphy, the developer who is buying the site and plans to lease the future building to SKF Group, said he wrote a letter to neighbors saying "we intend to work with them moving forward," but residents asked for a stronger guarantee.
City staff members said they will hold SKF Group to all landscaping and design standards to ensure there is enough screening of light and noise from the building and its 273-space parking lot. And they proposed a potential alternate entrance that could keep SKF-bound cars off Barkei Lane, the narrow, one-lane road that leads back to the secluded Indian Hill Woods homes.
Bill Novack, director of transportation, engineering and development, said the city has a utility substation near Barkei Lane just west of the Alcatel-Lucent property, and the driveway to that substation could be developed into a new entrance for SKF.
Whitaker said the company aims to begin site work in September. An SKF spokeswoman said a groundbreaking is expected to take place in October.