Why Naperville said no to a car repair shop on south side development
The proof was in the patience for a bustling north Naperville dining development, where more than a dozen restaurants now attract so many customers on a typical evening that it's tough to find a parking spot.
Citing the success of Freedom Commons along the I-88 corridor just west of Naper Boulevard, Naperville City Council members said they hope the same approach can bring about completion of a slow-developing dining and entertainment district on the city's south side.
Naperville Crossings gained initial approval in 2004, meant to be a walkable, entertainment-centered area to serve as a "second downtown" for residents near 95th Street and Route 59.
While an AMC movie theater long has anchored the development, and several restaurants give moviegoers dining options they can walk to, four sites within the property still sit vacant, despite the fact some approved uses -- apartments and a day care -- already have veered from initial plans.
The high-end auto repair shop sought a variance from Naperville Crossings plans to build a 5,500-square-foot, brick-and-stone store between Naperville Fire Station 10 and the Andy's Frozen Custard on 95th Street.
But nearby homeowners associations weren't in favor of it, and city council members didn't go for it, either. By a 6-3 tally, they voted down the shop's request for a conditional use, saying the business isn't what they envisioned for the area and they're willing to wait for something that is.
"I'd like to give this some time and fulfill the dream of what we intended this to be," council member Paul Hinterlong said.
The fear wasn't so much that a repair shop would be a bad presence, just that it wouldn't add anything to the mix of stores, services and restaurants that complement the movie theater.
Jonathan Wakefield, development director for Houston-based Christian Brothers, said the shop would play well with its neighbors because people need somewhere to go or something to do while waiting on car repairs. The shop would have run shuttles to work, school or Metra stations, but he predicted some customers would stay and shop or grab a bite to eat.
Council member Kevin Coyne still was hesitant, saying a car repair business doesn't blend well next to a day care, a fire station and a frozen custard shop.
"What of any cachet will want to move in next door to an awkward mix of business uses?" Coyne asked.
Mike Reilly, president of the nearby White Eagle homeowners association, predicted "the start of a downward trend for Naperville Crossings" if council members were to abandon the original goal and allow the repair shop.
"We believe that it is too great a departure," he said.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, a pro-business leader who says economic development is one of his main goals, worried more about undeveloped land than an odd assortment of shops.
"Having vacant property in a business district is very unhealthy for the other businesses," Chirico said. "We need to start voting on things that are going to bring commerce to the area, not keep these lots vacant."
Chirico, along with council members Patty Gustin and Judith Brodhead, voted in favor of allowing Christian Brothers to set up shop in Naperville Crossings.
"It pains me to see so many empty spots over there and that they have been there for so long," Brodhead said. "It doesn't mean we put any old thing in that spot. But if we have an attractive, and what seems to be compatible use, I think it is probably acceptable."
But those in favor of the patience approach won out, meaning more marketing and more waiting are likely in store before more stores make their way to 95th and 59.
"We really do have high hopes for the plaza," nearby resident M.D. Skeet of the Signature Club townhouse association said. "We just do not see automotive repair as a good fit in that spot."