After many years of planning and dispute, Wheaton's Courthouse Square development is back on track to be fully built in the near future.
The Wheaton City Council approved two ordinances Monday, both with a 6-1 vote, that amended the original Courthouse Square development agreement for a fifth time and granted the developer a special-use permit to construct two luxury apartment buildings near Willow Avenue and Naperville Road.
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Tim Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Focus Development, which owns the Courthouse Square property, said he expects construction to get underway sometime at the beginning of 2015.
"I just think right now, this project being launched will be on a road to recovery, both of a healing between maybe the neighbors and us and also the fact that Wheaton launched something that will be, I think, a really valuable asset and addition to downtown Wheaton," he said.
A proposal by Focus Development to build 46 townhouses and 206 condominiums in three buildings was approved by the council more than 10 years ago. To date, 24 townhouses and one 50-unit condominium building have been constructed and partially occupied, along with six condominium units inside the old courthouse building.
But in 2012, the council allowed the developer to amend plans and instead move forward with the construction of senior housing in place of the two remaining condominium buildings that were set to be built.
The proposal angered the residents who were already living in Courthouse Square, some of whom then filed a lawsuit. In an attempt to settle the lawsuit, a consent decree was signed in June by the developer, current residents and the city that stated the community would be completed with the construction of two apartment buildings.
Anderson said concerns residents and council members raised about the architectural design of the apartments at a July meeting were taken into consideration. Since then, the plans have been altered to include a Reber Street entrance to an underground parking garage so all access won't be through Liberty Drive.
However, Anderson said he would be standing firm on the materials proposed for the facade, which will differ slightly from the existing buildings. Some council members said they weren't pleased with that decision but agreed there had to be compromises if the project were to move forward.
"Quite frankly I think this is the best interest of the city," councilman Phil Suess said . "We need to get this thing built and move on."
Councilwoman Evelyn Pacino Sanguinetti said she was voting yes but "with a heavy heart" because she still would have liked to see brick masonry on the exterior of some of the higher floors.
"I certainly don't want to see this all fall through, all this trouble that we've all gone through, and have it all go back to senior housing -- not that I have any sort of problem with senior housing, but I think we can all agree the area is not meant for senior housing in the downtown area," she said.
Still, John Prendiville, the only council member who voted no, said there was no good reason why the city shouldn't obtain the highest quality structure.
"The new buildings won't be steel framed. They're going to be wood framed. The masonry won't go up to the same extent as it does on the existing condo buildings," he said. "It will be a lesser quality building. Still a good quality building, no question. Focus is a good builder, and they'll do a good job. But it won't be to the standards the city originally bargained for."
Mary Ellen Martin, a representative for the year-old Wheaton 121 apartments, also spoke out at the meeting, saying she would have liked the city to take a close look at market dynamics before approving the project, as the occupancy in Wheaton 121 is only about 60 percent.
"That's OK, but it's not the kind of massive, pent-up demand that one would say OK, let's go build a new community a block away in the near future," she said. "These 153 (Courthouse Square) units may seem like a solution for today, but the impact could be really profound for the (other apartment developments in Wheaton's downtown)."