Naperville anxious about next steps in 5th Avenue redevelopment
The prospect of development along 5th Avenue near the Metra station in Naperville has people anxious.
For some, it's a feeling of excitement. For others, it's a feeling of dread.
Those excited about the project say they're eager for the developer the city engaged in October to begin creating designs. Designs, they say, will take discussions about land use, stormwater, traffic, parking, commuters and pedestrians from conceptual to practical and get the project ready to move forward.
"It's time to put out a picture and a plan that people can react to," said resident Jim Hill, a member of the steering committee that's working to set a vision.
But some neighbors say it's not too late to start over or seek outside input -- other than direction from Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies.
Selecting Ryan before allowing residents to share what they want -- or don't want -- on 13 city-owned acres wasn't the right course, neighbor Sandee Whited says. But because the city has no contractual agreement with Ryan, Whited said officials still can regain a blank slate and make residents feel like they're being heard.
"Ideally, a multimillion-dollar development with city-owned property ... would start with someone asking the owners of the property what they want done," Whited said.
Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership, said that's happening now as Ryan leads group discussions about what should be built and how construction could improve flooding, parking or traffic.
Although the process began last year with a selection committee choosing Ryan as the most suited out of eight companies that replied to a request for qualifications, Jeffries said the firm is gathering plenty of neighbor input now.
"This project is so different. It requires huge community engagement. We are getting that from Ryan Companies," she said.
Whited's request to start over isn't the first time a resident has asked the city to put the brakes on its decision to work with Ryan to develop a plan for the underused land along 5th Avenue near Washington Street.
Last fall, several residents asked the city to hire a third party to conduct the visioning process, saying they feared they won't have any real voice if a firm with a financial interest is in charge.
The council responded by putting conditions on its approval of Ryan's request to complete a four-phase community engagement process toward potential development at the sites, which include four parking lots, a former public works building, a water tower, an office building and the property of the DuPage Children's Museum.
The main condition requires Ryan to gain approval to continue every two months. The next time it must check in is June 19.
"Ryan might ask to get direction from the council on where they have authority to go next," Mayor Steve Chirico said. "My guess is that means drawings."
Whited said she is not interested in drawings from Ryan, which has an office in Naperville and is leading the project through Jim McDonald, vice president of real estate development and a St. Charles resident. She said the firm is discussing up to 400 apartments in a first phase and eventually 300 more, and she doesn't like the sound of it.
"They're talking about a development here that will certainly not respect the character of this neighborhood and will overwhelm the streets surrounding the train station," she said.
McDonald said that's not true. No one is proposing 700 apartments, he said, although a market study conducted last year determined the area could support up to 400 apartments, up to 50 townhouses and up to 50 condos.
Other residents who have concerns about the project say they mainly want to make sure it's competitive.
Ryan was chosen without having to put a price to anything it could build, so steering committee member Thom Higgins said the city should see the firm as "an advisory group to create the vision, then go out and bid for it."
Marcie Schatz, deputy city manager, said the council could seek bids for public improvements, such as roads and parking lots or garages.
Chirico and council member Kevin Coyne said that's how they envision proceeding.
Council member Becky Anderson said her concern is the large number of unanswered questions -- what will be the limits on height, density? Who will pay for parking and improved streets? What type of buildings will go where?
Fears for 5th Avenue boil down to the unknown, council member Paul Hinterlong said.
"I don't have concerns," he said. "I think it's mostly just people are antsy to see what's coming."