Naperville is considering a new project, the Water Street Development, but the developer’s son is not happy with the opposition to the project from the Naperville Homeowner’s Confederation. In a recent email, here is how he made his case:
In his email, Bryan Bottarelli said the council has been “politically intimidated by a group of old-economy thinkers who call themselves the Naperville Homeowners Confederation.”
“This group claims to represent all the homeowners associations in Naperville. But in reality, it consists of a handful of older residents who are bored — and who have nothing better to do than to try keeping Naperville the same exact way it’s been since the 1950s,” the younger Bottarelli wrote. “They’re afraid of change — and they’re using fear tactics to red-light this project. And be honest — what they’re doing has been working. They know how to work the local political system to their advantage.
“And, since they have so much extra time on their hands, they’ve committed their days to bombarding city council with emails, letters, and phone calls in complete opposition to this deal.”…
“The confederation is disappointed at the tone of the email by Mr. Bottarelli’s son,” President Bob Buckman said in a written statement. “This is not in keeping with the tradition of respectful public discourse in Naperville that we all value. It is unfortunate that his description of us does not in any way represent the confederation’s members, or our many contributions to civic life in Naperville. Since 2006, the confederation board and its members have carefully studied, dissected, looked for alternatives, met with the developer, submitted a comprehensive report in 2007 and testified at plan commission and now at city council on this proposed development.”
Here is the problem with his argument: regardless of what current residents want, Naperville can’t turn back the clock to the 1950s. Naperville is little like what it was in 1950 and residents have been part of the process in changing Naperville. I know Bottarelli mentioned the 1950s but a number of the changes to Naperville started occurring at the end of this decade so I’ll make a comparison to 1950. Indeed, my research on the topic suggests Naperville, leaders and residents, have made numerous decisions over the decades to pursue growth.
Here is how Naperville was different in 1950:
1. It had a population of 7,013 in 1950. Today, Naperville has around 142,000 residents. This means the population has expanded by a factor of 20.
2. Along with a significantly larger population, Naperville has significantly increased in land size. Today, the city is over 39 square miles and it can take a while in certain traffic conditions to drive from one end to another. The size is large enough that the city added a second city hall-like facility, it now has two commuter railroad stations, and the city has sought ways to create social space and a community feel on the southwest side because it is a distance away from downtown (for example, planning for a commercial node at the northwest corner of Route 59 and 95th Street).
3. Basically none of the post-World War II subdivisions had been built by 1950. Harold Moser, the local developer who was responsible for a large percentage of the subsequent growth, was just getting started. The homeowner’s associations Battarelli is disparaging didn’t even exist in 1950.
4. Naperville’s downtown is quite different today. There is a renowned Riverwalk. There is a municipal center and Naper Settlement. The downtown has a number of national retail stores. There are plenty of restaurants and bars. There is a new performing arts center (in conjunction with North Central College) along with a carillon tower. In short, the downtown is a suburban entertainment hub. Even if the Water Street development gets turned down, it is not because Naperville hasn’t wanted to have a successful and vibrant downtown.
5. I-88, the highway that runs alongside the north side of Naperville, hadn’t even been built yet in 1950. It opened in the late 1950s and the first major facility, Bell Laboratories, was built near to the Naperville Road interchange in the mid-1960s. The moving of this facility near town helped kicked off Naperville’s rise as a white-collar job center which also helped fuel some of the other changes.
6. The Naperville of 1950 was not known for being one of the best places to live (Money in the mid 2000s), having a top 10 library, or the other accolades Naperville has accumulated in the last ten years or so. In 1950, the community had a small liberal arts college, a swimming pool converted from a quarry, the Kroehler furniture plant, and was known as the community that was once the county seat of DuPage County before Wheaton took the honor in the 1860s.
In other words, the Naperville of 1950 bears little resemblance to the Naperville of today. The cow is already long gone out of the barn on this one. Over the years, Naperville has consistently chosen to annex land, approve development, and grow even as it tries to retain its small-town charm. So if this particular project doesn’t succeed, this doesn’t mean Naperville residents or leaders want to live in the Naperville of 1950: even with some heated discussions over the decades about how much Naperville should grow and whether the new changes would irrevocably change the character of the community, Naperville has consistently pursued growth and change.