Naperville panel unanimously supports redevelopment plans for Little Friends property
A plan to preserve the Kroehler mansion and redevelop the Little Friends property into 45 townhouses has received unanimous support from a Naperville panel, despite resounding opposition expressed by neighbors in the city's historic district.
After a roughly four-hour public hearing Wednesday, the planning and zoning commission voted to recommend approval of a conditional use for the controversial Heritage Place project, and code variances related to density, front-yard setbacks and building height.
The development proposal presented by contract purchaser Ram West Capital calls for constructing 11 new townhouse buildings and repurposing Kroehler mansion to create 45 total residential units on the Wright Street property.
Deemed worth saving by preservationists and city officials, the historic mansion serves as the centerpiece of the project and has been a driving force in the developer's efforts to balance financial viability with public good, attorney Russ Whitaker said. A public park, rear-loaded garages, landscaping and open space are among the other community requests addressed in the plan.
But a majority of the more than 30 people who spoke or submitted comments Wednesday voiced concerns over the size and density of the development, saying it does not fit with the character of the neighborhood. If given the choice between moving forward with the townhouse proposal or tearing down the mansion in favor of a new plan, several neighbors said they'd choose the latter.
"We have come to what I believe represents the historic district's Sophie's choice," said resident Mark Urda, who also sits on the city's historic preservation commission.
That panel voted 6-2 last month against the proposed conditional use and variances. A certificate of appropriateness for the development also was shot down 5-3, though Ram West Capital is appealing the denial.
Leaders of Naperville Preservation Inc. and the East Central Homeowners Organization also have issued statements of opposition, saying single-family houses or another housing plan with a lower density would be more suitable for the area. If the Heritage Place proposal is not economically feasible without being awarded variances from the city, the ECHO statement said, "the demolition of Kroehler mansion may be a better long-term solution."
But planning and zoning commissioners contended razing the more than century-old house would rid the property of its historic value. The city council has expressed its support for the mansion, offering Little Friends a $450,000 incentive to sell the campus to a developer willing to save it.
Though sympathetic to neighbors' concerns, commission Chairman Bruce Hanson said, he believes Ram West has created a "beautiful development" that accommodates the community's desires and the constraints of the mansion. To reverse course and say the structure's preservation is no longer a priority would be inappropriate, he said.
"It can't continue that way," Hanson said. "I think the developer has done a fantastic job of addressing those needs and honoring our city's history with the mansion."
The conditional use and variances, and the certificate of appropriateness, now go to the city council for a final decision.
City approval of the development plans is a critical step in Little Friends' plans to sell its legacy campus and relocate to a new facility in Warrenville. The disability services agency has spent roughly 18 months and millions of dollars trying to ensure the future of the Naperville property meets the desires of the community, President and CEO Mike Briggs said.
"(Wednesday's) vote was affirmation that the spirit of compromise is still alive and well in Naperville," he said, "and that responsible redevelopment plans to move the community forward can attract widespread support."