When Naperville officials were envisioning a "second downtown" at Route 59 and 95th Street about a decade ago, space for a senior living center was part of the plan.
Several shops, restaurants and a movie theater materialized at the corner now called Naperville Crossings. But that second downtown? Not so much, said an attorney for the company that recently sought permission to build a senior living facility there.
"It's an attractive concept, but the concept didn't work," said Len Monson, who represented Formation Shelbourne Senior Living Services LLC, as it pitched plans for The Solana of Naperville to the city council on Tuesday.
The decade-old plan for Naperville Crossings called for senior housing, but the space that was identified now is being developed as The Oaks, a 298-unit apartment complex.
So Formation Shelbourne Senior Living proposed locating its project on a 3-acre site tucked back from both Route 59 and 95th Street and referred to as Lot 9. That property was designated for commercial development, ideally as two four-story buildings with first-floor retail and upper-level offices.
Naperville City Council members turned the proposal down by an 8-1 vote.
"We do need senior housing. I just don't think this is the right place for it," council member Paul Hinterlong said. "I'm holding out to see the day when Naperville Crossings comes together more."
Shops in the development were supposed to face Showplace Drive, a private road running parallel to Route 59, instead of looking out toward the state road itself. The arrangement was "intended to provide an urban shopping environment and a gathering place for the residents in the area," according to a memo from Ying Liu, community planner.
"We were hoping retail would face inward," council member Judith Brodhead said. "Like many shopping centers, it's very hard to get the people who are going to develop it to do exactly what you want."
Since the development came to life different from plans, Monson said his company should have been allowed to build an assisted living and memory care center on Lot 9. He said seniors want to retire to a place where shopping and restaurants are nearby, and Naperville Crossings would have provided plenty to do.
Council member David Wentz said he heard one resident wonder during a previous meeting about the topic why anyone would want to "end up retiring in a strip mall."
"It underlined the question of whether or not this is actually an appropriate use of this property. It was intended as business commercial," Wentz said. "There is certainly a need on the south side for assisted senior living. As we move further down, there is a need for further study of locations that would be appropriate."
Council member Steve Chirico was the only one who voted against denial of the senior living center. Others who voted not to allow it said getting a good commercial tenant will be worth the wait.
Council member Robert Fieseler said he is working with high schools in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 to give marketing students the chance to pitch Lot 9 to developers who could bring something more in line with the retail use intended for the site.
"That development was not meant for a passive use no matter how much you dress it up," Fieseler said. "I think it would very much suppress the intent and what could become of this exciting second downtown."