Micro-unit apartments help sell Naperville council on CityGate West plan

  • The Naperville City Council has approved development plans for a $200 million mixed-use campus, designed to blend residential, retail, dining, hospitality and entertainment components -- and now also micro-unit rental apartments.

    The Naperville City Council has approved development plans for a $200 million mixed-use campus, designed to blend residential, retail, dining, hospitality and entertainment components -- and now also micro-unit rental apartments. Courtesy of CityGate West

 
 
Updated 5/19/2021 8:58 PM

The Naperville City Council has granted its support for revised development plans that add an attainable housing component to a $200 million mixed-use campus slated for the city's northwest gateway.

Planned near the Route 59 and I-88 interchange, CityGate West has been touted as a "unique live, work, play environment" blending entertainment, shops, residences, dining, recreation, offices and hospitality. Project leaders have been adjusting their vision for the 60-acre development during the last several months to address concerns related to its two hotels, accompanying banquet facilities, construction phasing, housing options and other elements.

 

Council members on Tuesday praised the willingness of Inter-Continental Real Estate and Development to compromise, leading to an 8-1 vote in favor of rezoning the property, approving preliminary site plans and allowing various conditional uses and code deviations to move the project forward.

For several elected officials, the selling point was a last-minute offer to create 82 micro-unit apartments within the development's two mixed-use residential buildings. At 431 square feet each, those rental apartments would be considered affordable by state standards -- $970 a month -- based on the current market rate, officials said, bringing the city closer to its housing goals.

The project is not government-subsidized, and there are no guarantees in the city ordinance to ensure the rent meets affordable housing requirements by the time the units are built -- a primary concern of Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor, who voted against the proposal.

But even if the monthly costs fluctuate slightly based on market conditions, Mayor Steve Chirico said, the housing mix helps to close the affordability gap and offer alternatives for the project's target audience, including young professionals and empty-nesters.

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"Housing affordability is not a red line," Chirico said. "At the end of the day, this is helping a lot for people who need housing in this category."

CityGate West developers initially proposed constructing the two buildings with lower-level office and retail uses, and a total of 410 residential units ranging from studio to two-bedroom apartments. That plan included a $200,000 cash contribution toward city initiatives aimed at increasing attainable and affordable housing, rather than adding such units to the mix.

But city officials have expressed a desire for a more diverse housing stock, especially in large-scale developments, leading to a recent iteration of the proposal that substituted the donation for a pledge to build 41 apartments as "upscale micro-units," said Michael Roth, an attorney representing Inter-Continental.

Newly elected Councilman Ian Holzhauer then suggested developers take those efforts further. The plan approved Tuesday doubles the number of micro-units and reduces their size so the monthly rent aligns with the state's affordable housing standards.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Micro-units are a lot more affordable than some of the other housing products on the market right now. We can help fill an area which is seriously deficient in Naperville," Holzhauer told the Daily Herald. "I feel like the city council is sending a message that we take housing affordability seriously."

Downsizing the micro-units creates more space within the buildings to add 10 studios, bringing the total apartment count to 420. The council invoked its home-rule authority to approve that change without sending the plans back to the planning and zoning commission, a process to which Bruzan Taylor also objected.

The proposed campus also includes seven restaurant sites, a multi-tenant retail and restaurant site, 19 acres of open space and a medical office building.

The uses are designed to complement one another and the existing Topgolf and WhirlyBall game centers, Roth said. And the dormant Odyssey Fun World site, recently cleaned up for aesthetic purposes at the council's request, is expected to be repurposed into an event venue.

"There are compromises here," Councilman Paul Hinterlong said. "I think this would be a terrific gateway into Naperville from the north. ... It's got that 'wow' factor."

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