New Naperville leaders say the suburb is in “maintenance mode”

With little open land to develop, several new Naperville officials discussed what the city can do:

Chirico said that one of the highest priorities for the new council will be to find a way to ease the burden on property taxpayers.

He said that, with the city essentially built out, smart economic development is needed to maintain revenue to keep the city operating at its current level.

Chirico said that a good first step toward that smart development would not necessarily be new projects, but rather concentrating on existing structures that are either empty or not suited to modern commerce…

Chirico used the example of the former Kmart on Ogden Avenue, and the nearby intersection of Ogden and Naper Boulevard, as areas that could be ripe for redevelopment.

“We may have to rethink the entire area,” he said.

Hinterlong agreed, saying “We are at build out…we’re in maintenance mode.”…

Chirico acknowledged the [affordable housing] problem, saying that “it might take some political will” to address it.

On one hand, this is not too surprising. Naperville likes to think of itself as having small-town charm and this is enhanced by a high quality of life, lots of single-family homes, conservative fiscal policies that don’t take too many risks, and developments that don’t rock the boat too much.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it is possible to simply go into “maintenance mode.” Here are three reasons why this may be difficult:

1. Trying to maintain a certain quality of life plus rising costs (inflation, pensions, less funding from the state of Illinois) without significant new sources of revenue may be difficult.

2. While Naperville touts its small-town charm, the suburb is where it is today partly because of aggressive growth with annexations for subdivisions and businesses as well as working to build a vibrant downtown. Retreating into a protective shell doesn’t seem to suit Naperville’s desires to be a leader.

3. Other communities, from Chicago to other growing suburbs, will not hesitate to pursue different strategies for growth. If Naperville doesn’t want to do much, other places may. Just because Naperville has this current level of population, wealth, and jobs doesn’t mean this is guaranteed several decades from now.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Naperville suddenly has to approve high-rise condo and office buildings – I don’t think it would be too difficult to find developers for such projects. Yet, “maintenance mode” can mean stagnation, something that businesses and local politicians really don’t want.

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