Decision delayed on Little Friends land in Naperville

Posted6/19/2019 5:33 AM

The fate of the property now owned by the nonprofit Little Friends in Naperville won't be decided until at least next month.

North Central College wants to buy the land within the city's historic district at 140 N. Wright St., demolish the buildings that are there now -- including a 1909 house built by prominent Naperville manufacturer Peter Kroehler -- and build a facility for a new graduate health sciences program, President Troy Hammond said Tuesday night.


But to do so, the college would need the land to be rezoned to a designation as a college and university district.

Instead of seeking a city council vote on the potential rezoning, Hammond and Little Friends President and CEO Mike Briggs asked for a delay until July 16 to develop more precise plans for the future buildings and parking the college could construct on the site.

The college intends to build "a modest facility," likely three stories with a basement, that would be permitted without any variances in an area zoned for college and university use, Hammond said.

Meanwhile, Little Friends, which serves people with autism and developmental disabilities with a school on the Wright Street block, intends to move to a larger building in Warrenville in order to expand.

But the college's proposed use of the Little Friends site has generated concerns from neighbors about parking, light pollution, preservation of a park and preservation of the Kroehler mansion.

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The mansion, described by one neighbor as "the flagship of the historic district," is a Craftsman-style building that once was home to the president of Kroehler Manufacturing Company. According to the Naper Settlement, Kroehler Manufacturing employed more than 500 people in Naperville, making the city essentially a "company town," as the firm became the world's largest furniture manufacturer and a military contractor during World War II.

Resident Dominic Nugent called Kroehler, who also was a two-term mayor and one of the founders of the Naperville YMCA, "one of the most significant figures in our town's history," and said the house should be maintained.

Hammond said the college would commemorate Kroehler by displaying some artifacts from the house, such as the tile floor in the foyer, and by working with the Naper Settlement to offer other artifacts for museum display.

But Hammond and Briggs said their organizations intend to seek a certificate of appropriateness from the city's historic preservation commission to demolish the Kroehler house and the other buildings on the property.

Because of a separate move the council approved Tuesday to amend its historic preservation regulations, the organizations would have to submit an independent structural analysis in order to seek permission to demolish. Allison Laff, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development, said the analysis then would be weighed as part of the decision-making process of whether to allow the structures to be removed.

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