'This is it': Developer tweaks Naperville townhouse plan in hopes of gaining support

  • A revised plan to redevelop the Little Friends property in Naperville includes a new "pocket park" along Columbia Street, as well as additional trees, increased property setbacks and a reduction of townhouse units from 47 to 45. The proposal calls for constructing 12 new residential buildings and repurposing the historic Kroehler mansion, which serves as the project's focal point.

    A revised plan to redevelop the Little Friends property in Naperville includes a new "pocket park" along Columbia Street, as well as additional trees, increased property setbacks and a reduction of townhouse units from 47 to 45. The proposal calls for constructing 12 new residential buildings and repurposing the historic Kroehler mansion, which serves as the project's focal point. Courtesy of Ram West Capital

  • A proposed redevelopment plan for the Little Friends campus in Naperville calls for constructing 12 new buildings and repurposing the Kroehler mansion to create a total of 45 townhouse units. The new residential structures, as shown in this image, would pay homage to the historic mansion, which acts as the project's centerpiece, attorney Russ Whitaker said.

    A proposed redevelopment plan for the Little Friends campus in Naperville calls for constructing 12 new buildings and repurposing the Kroehler mansion to create a total of 45 townhouse units. The new residential structures, as shown in this image, would pay homage to the historic mansion, which acts as the project's centerpiece, attorney Russ Whitaker said. Courtesy of Dan Kittilsen, DJK Custom Homes

 
 
Updated 9/14/2020 5:17 PM

Plans to transform the Little Friends property into a townhouse complex within Naperville's historic district have been tweaked in an attempt to bridge the gap between the development team's proposal and the community's desires.

The number of residential units has been reduced from 47 to 45. Open space has been added along Columbia Street. Buildings are now a minimum of 22 feet from the property line -- much closer to the city's 25-foot code requirement than the 15-foot setbacks proposed in previous plans, attorney Russ Whitaker said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At the center of the plan remains the historic Kroehler mansion, repurposed into three townhouse units and serving as the focal point of the Wright Street property.

Saving the more than century-old house has been deemed a priority by preservationists and city officials, driving contract purchaser Ram West Capital's efforts to develop a financially viable project while also addressing the community's concerns, Whitaker said. Other requests that have been fulfilled include a public park, rear-loaded garages and additional shade trees, he said.

The most recent adjustments are a last-ditch attempt to strike a compromise ahead of Wednesday's planning and zoning commission meeting.

"We're at a point now where this is it," Whitaker said. "This is what we have to have in order to be able to accommodate all the public good coming out of this project."

Neighbors have criticized the size and scope of the proposed development, saying the 12 new townhouse buildings, at three-and-a-half stories tall, don't fit with the surrounding single-family homes.

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A majority of historic preservation commissioners agreed, voting 6-2 last month against a conditional townhouse use and proposed variances related to height, density and property setback. Those measures, adjusted in accordance to the developer's revisions, will now be considered by the planning and zoning commission before they are brought to the city council for a final decision.

In an email Monday, representatives of Naperville Preservation Inc. said they fear the proposal would impact "the character of a significant footprint" within the historic district. They encouraged community members to voice their opinions before or during Wednesday's meeting.

The historic preservation commission also voted 5-3 to reject a certificate of appropriateness for the townhouse development. Ram West Capital filed an appeal with the city last week, meaning the city council will now have final say.

Little Friends has been trying to sell its nearly 4-acre legacy campus so it can relocate to a new facility in Warrenville. Naperville's approval of the redevelopment plans is a crucial step in that process, spokesman Patrick Skarr said, as the agency cannot afford its new home without completing the transaction.

The city council has offered Little Friends a $450,000 incentive to sell the property to a developer who would save the Kroehler mansion, rather than clear the site and accept an offer from a higher bidder. The agency has spent roughly 18 months and millions of dollars trying to fulfill the community's requests, Skarr said.

"It's time that this go from concept to reality," he said. "We really need this one to move forward, or we'll be stuck in a really hard place."

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