Naperville moving forward with proposal for influential mixed-use Water Street development

An important new development proposal in Naperville is back up for discussion:

Plans to develop the Water Street area of Naperville’s downtown are being revived after five years and now include a 130-room hotel.

However, the latest proposal will have to overcome concerns from city officials and residents about issues of height, density and traffic congestion.

Marquette Companies, under the name MP Water Street District LLC, presented its revised plan to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission this week. The 2.4-acre site is bounded by Aurora Avenue on the south, the DuPage River on the north, Main Street on the east and Webster Street on the west…

The current proposal calls for a 130-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites; 61 to 65 apartments; retail, restaurant and office spaces; and a 550-space parking garage. There also would be a plaza and connection to the Riverwalk.

The tallest portion of the development would be the hotel, which has a tower that reaches just above 90 feet…

Bob Fischer, vice president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation, said the plans will “canyonize Water Street.”

“Allowing this kind of height and density along the Riverwalk will forever diminish it as the crown jewel of our downtown,” he said.

I think there are two big points about this that are not mentioned in the article:

1. One important feature of this mixed-use development is that it is south of the DuPage River. In other words, this development would firmly move the downtown across the river. This is no small matter: while there is development on the south side, it is primarily smaller and single-family home. Naperville’s downtown is popular (see the parking issues) but it is not clear that a majority of Naperville residents want the downtown to expand into more residential areas.

2. This development speaks to a broader issue: is Naperville ready for denser development? While the community added about 100,000 people between 1980 and 2008 as it expanded primarily to the south and west, there is really no open land left in the community. Thus, to grow, the city must approve denser development. The downtown is the logical place to start: it is near a train station, it has a number of restaurants and stores, and seems to be quite popular. Yet, projects like this could push Naperville into a new era of mixed-use and denser development as opposed to the primarily single-family home development that characterized the post-war era.

I’ll be tracking what happens with this proposal as both of the issues I cited above are likely to generate a lot of public discussion and comment. This could be a turning point in Naperville’s history: should the downtown expand in a big way and should the city pursue denser development in desirable locations?

UPDATE: I wouldn’t be surprised if the project is approved but the height is limited to something like fifty or sixty feet (five or six stories). Ninety feet would be quite high for downtown Naperville though approving that height could indicate some willingness to to pursue taller projects in the future.

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