Batavia tables discussion on design for Houston Street

 
 
Updated 1/20/2015 11:28 PM

What was supposed to be a discussion of a design for a path along Batavia's Houston Street near Depot Pond on Tuesday turned into a quarrel over whether a design firm was trying to push something on the city.

In the end, even though time had been cited as one of the reasons for discussing the matter Tuesday, the council committee decided to continue the discussion at next Tuesday's committee-of-the-whole meeting.

 

Unhappiest of all was Alderman Susan Stark, who has questioned the whole streetscape program -- specifically the merit of spending money on aesthetic items for Houston.

Money for the project would come from a tax-increment financing district designated to improve downtown and attract businesses, thereby increasing land values and property tax receipts. When an area is designated as a TIF district, property taxes paid to local governments are frozen for a certain number of 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 improvements to the area.

But there is little room along Houston for new businesses or significant improvement to existing properties.

In December, the council asked the design firm, Altamanu, to revise a design to include the current diagonal parking and to eliminate a median in the path.

Stark on Tuesday argued that Altamanu had instead presented a whole new concept for the path. The design suggested installing landscaping islands and trees in the middle of the path to slow down bicyclists coming off the Fox River Trail.

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"It is not what the council asked to be done. We asked Altamanu to clean up the design that we had ... I feel like this is an end run," she said, adding that the firm trying to turn Batavia "into their town." She suggested firing the firm.

Altamanu has won three awards from architectural, transportation and planning associations for the design it did for North River Street, turning the road in to a woonerf for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers to share.

Aldermen Dave Brown and Michael O'Brien, as well as city administrator Bill McGrath, disagreed, saying it was not a total redesign.

Alderman Lucy Thelin Atac liked the concept presented.

"This is by far in my mind the best. I think this is fantastic," she said.

Two residents asked why the design focused on slowing down bicyclists.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This is a pretty grandiose idea, and what I see is more congestion," Michael Micheli said. "What is the return on investment? Are there safety concerns? Are there accidents occurring? ... What are you solving for?"

Alderman Marty Callahan said he wanted more time to review the design, and he and two other aldermen said they wanted more information about potential costs.

Callahan posted the design to his Facebook account last week.

"I have been blasted by people who just want us to be done with it -- just pave it and be done with it," he said.

McGrath said Altamanu might be able to estimate general costs, but the true costs wouldn't be known until the design is actually engineered.

To do that, the council needs to give the engineers a design.

The path work is part of the rebuilding of Houston from Island Avenue to Batavia Avenue. The whole project was estimated, several years ago, to cost about $3.2 million. Of that, about $500,000 is for the path work and some work near a fountain and a corner plaza.

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