Despite outcry, Naper Commons subdivision plans move ahead in Naperville

Housing developers have received Naperville City Council approval to build a new subdivision that neighbors and environmentalists fear will disrupt wildlife habitats in surrounding forest preserves.

City council members largely embraced the project to turn a 67-acre swath of the former Nokia property into a mix of single-family homes and townhouses at the northwest corner of Naperville and Warrenville roads. The property is open land except for a crumbling parking lot.

Councilman Patrick Kelly, the lone dissenting vote, objected to the lack of affordable housing in the 227-unit development, a "missed opportunity" that could have helped efforts to diversify the city's housing stock.

State law requires 10% of a town's housing supply to qualify as affordable. Naperville falls shorts at an estimated 7.5%.

Kelly, though, said he was pleased that the developer, Pulte Homes, had made concessions that eased many of the concerns raised by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

Pulte added buffers between properties, incorporated native plants into landscaping plans and pledged to use "dark sky-compliant" lighting at the boundary to forest preserve land.

Still, in a March letter to city officials, Ed Stevenson, at that time the district's executive director, said it's unknown what impact a subdivision would have on a communal nesting ground for great blue herons at the Danada Forest Preserve.

"As such, we are compelled to acknowledge and conservatively maintain our concern that the development could be detrimental to the continuing habitation of the rookery by herons," Stevenson wrote.

The revisions also failed to appease neighbors in the unincorporated Fairmeadow subdivision who contend that the project is too dense and out of character with the rural feel of the area. Environmental stewards worried the development, called Naper Commons, could harm ecosystems in the forest preserves. An online petition against the project also amassed more than 9,000 signatures.

"The amended plans have not lessened the overall negative impact of a subdivision of this size," said Deborah Venezia, who lives on Danada Court. "Should this project be approved, we will still be facing a high-density housing development that will compound traffic problems, destroy local wildlife habitat, kill countless mature trees, cause stormwater issues, and drive down the property values in the existing neighborhoods."

But an attorney for the developer countered that the site is adjacent to the I-88 corridor, an area with some of the most intensive land uses in the city.

"I think we've done an extraordinary job finding compromise and finding a way to try to serve as a transition," Russ Whitaker said.

Plans for Naper Commons call for 66 townhouses in the southernmost portion of the site, 118 "Meadows Series" houses, 43 larger homes in the "Estate Series" and a central 2-acre park.

The townhouses will be priced from the $300,000s. While the project doesn't provide, by definition, affordable housing, Councilwoman Judith Brodhead said it "does fit the category of attainable housing."

"Certainly, there's not new construction, anything that you can find in north Naperville, in that kind of price range," Whitaker said.

The project, he said, comes as Naperville experiences record housing demand.

"Naper Commons' park amenities and design will seamlessly complement the neighboring forest preserve, providing families with another great neighborhood to call home in Naperville," Whitaker said in a statement after the council's approval. "We're grateful for the council's vote in favor of a balanced compromise that allows this subdivision to move forward consistent with their vision for this property."

The city council in Naperville has approved plans for a housing subdivision on a portion of the former Nokia campus. Daily Herald file photo
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