Some in Warrenville, Lisle want to annex to Naperville

This would be a rarity: at least a few residents of two suburbs are interested in being annexed by the large suburb next door.

Apparently spurred by the recent emphasis on government consolidation in DuPage County, residents in Lisle and Warrenville are circulating petitions to place referendum questions on the April 4 ballot to measure support for proposals to annex their communities to Naperville. A similar petition has been rumored to be circulating in Woodridge.

Officials in all four towns said Friday they don’t know what’s behind the effort and stress that the complexities and likely resistance to such consolidations make them extremely unlikely…

“I would oppose that proposal 100 percent,” Broda said. “Each town has unique characteristics that make them special. Longtime Lisle residents wouldn’t even want to think about it. We want to keep the uniqueness of our communities.”…

Naperville is a fine community, he said, “but we have a strong identity of who we are and we have no desire to be part of Naperville.”

The general idea is intriguing if you want to put some conservative ideals into practice. Illinois, in particular, has many local taxing bodies – over 6,000 – and reducing the number of these could streamline operations and possibly lower taxes.

But, why would these particular suburbs want to be part of Naperville? What would they gain? The only thing I could really think of is prestige: for a few decades, Naperville has impressed both with its growth and its amenities. However, that growth has slowed (and won’t significantly increase unless Naperville makes some big decisions about allowing denser developments) and to some the amenities might be outweighed by the downsides of being large (think more traffic, lots of outsiders, etc.). Leaders of nearby suburbs are very aware of Naperville’s growth and, like in this article, are quick to note that they do not aspire to be Naperville and their communities have their own strengths.

Generally, I can’t imagine many existing suburban communities would want to merge with another suburb. The only two scenarios I could imagine: one suburb goes broke and/or one suburb is so small and their infrastructure costs so high that annexation makes sense to spread the cost.

Just to note: the time to become part of Naperville was decades ago. Warrenville finally incorporated in the 1967 after several failed votes in order to help protect itself from Naperville’s expansion. Naperville and Lisle also had conversations in the postwar decades about where each wanted to expand.

How a growing suburb plans to remain “a small town at heart”

Many growing suburbs claim to still be small towns in spirit. Here is how the mayor of Warrenville makes this argument while explaining a new development:

At the September 21, City Council meeting, nearly unanimous preliminary approval was given to a new development that will occupy a 4.3-acre site adjacent to the Warrenville Library called Settlers Pointe. this moderate dense development will consist of 34 single-family homes, 14 two-story and 20 three-story units, selling in the $350,000 to $450,000 price range. I believe this project will be a wonderful addition to Warrenville on many levels, but there was a time when I would have viewed this development through a different lens, and because of its density, would have been adamantly opposed to it as “not in line with the character of Warrenville”…

In the case of Settlers Pointe, it will be good for Warrenville in many ways. It is an attractive development being done by an accomplished and quality developer (google David Weekley Homes) who knows the market. You have told us that a very high priority is economic development. Essential to that goal is “rooftops”. Businesses will not invest in areas without enough people to support them. these new homes will help spur the redevelopment of our downtown, something else you have given us as a priority…

Rural may no longer be geographically possible for our town, but we have resolved to remain a small town at heart. this is the “character” that you have consistently told us that is most important to you to enhance and preserve. It is independent of housing style or lot size. The people who choose to come to Settlers Pointe in Warrenville will do so because they see who we are and want to be one of us: small town folks enjoying the best of all possible worlds.

This explanation seems to me to be a bit odd given the relatively small size of the development – it is a small site though centrally located – yet the way it is made is similar to pitches I’ve seen in other suburbs in my research. Here are some key elements:

  1. Americans generally like the ideas of small towns. As this earlier post put it, American politicians push small town values in a suburban country. The vast majority of Americans live in urban areas – over 80% – yet they hold to older visions of community life. Appealing to small town ideals is a safe move.
  2. Broader social forces have pushed a community past its old identity and the community can’t go back. Once there is a certain level of growth or enough time has passed, “progress” is happening with or without us. (Of course, there are plenty of communities where they try to freeze things in time. See this example. But, those who support new development often say this can’t be done – and they’re probably right in thinking about the long-term.)
  3. New growth can be good, even as it contributes to change and a newer identity. Economic reasons are typically cited: business growth is good, an expanded tax base is good, new attention from potential new residents is good.
  4. The development under approval is not too different from what already exists. If there is a group fighting the project, they will argue otherwise.
  5. Even with change and growth, it is possible to hold on to the “character” or “spirit” of a small town. Local officials typically refer to the actions of residents and community groups, implying that people still know and care for each other. For example, Naperville leaders suggest their suburb with over 140,000 people still has this spirit.

Of course, these arguments are often challenged by residents who don’t see it the same way. NIMBY responses typically don’t want a community to fundamentally change; the way it is now is why those residents moved into town. But, some change is inevitable so perhaps these arguments are really about the degree of perceived change. Will this “fundamentally” alter the community? Is this a slippery slope? This can be the case with development decisions but significant change tends to come through a chain of decisions and these patterns are easier to diagnose in hindsight. (See Naperville as an example.) Residents can also feel relatively powerless compared to local politicians or businesses who have power to make decisions while local leaders tend to claim they are looking out for the good of the whole community.

Change is not easy in suburbs. And it is often a process that may look different in its physical manifestations even as the elements of the arguments made both for and against development follow some common patterns.

Behind the suburban scenes: Warrenville asks Naperville School District 203 to stop expensive lawsuit

I posted last November about a Warrenville newsletter where the mayor expressed his displeasure that a new Cantera business had invited the mayor of Naperville to its opening but not the mayor of Warrenville. I was surprised at the reaction, which was quite unusual to see in a newsletter to the whole community, but I wonder it might be tied to a eight-year expensive lawsuit over tax revenue from Cantera:

Warrenville officials are campaigning to end an eight-year court battle over taxes with a Naperville school district.

The case returns to court Thursday, two days after leaders of five government bodies in Warrenville presented the Naperville Unit District 203 school board with a letter saying the lawsuit concerning a special taxing district has cost all parties involved more than $803,000 since 2005…

The lawsuit was filed by the district in March 2005 over the use of funds from the Cantera tax increment financing district. The Cantera development now includes a theater, shops, restaurants and corporate offices and provides about $3.2 million a year in revenue to District 203. Dave Zager, the district’s chief financial officer, said the Naperville district will continue to collect property tax revenue from the development into the future, but the amount will vary.

However, the school district alleges in the suit it is owed more than it has received. Brummel maintains the funds from the TIF district have been distributed legally and at the advice of attorneys.

The case has been dismissed twice, but the school district appealed twice, and litigation has continued.

Warrenville, its park district, fire protection district, Wheaton-Warrenville School District 200 and the public library district have spent a combined $357,000 defending the case. Naperville Unit District 203 has spent about $446,000. Part of the Cantera site is in District 203, and part is in District 200.

On one hand, this sounds like a lot of money to spend on a lawsuit that has still not concluded, but, on the other hand, tax revenue is hard to come by these days and lots of school districts could use this kind of money. I wonder if the length of the lawsuit is also tied to the economic crisis of recent years; in better times, District 203 might be better able to lose this revenue.

This is the first time I’ve heard of this lawsuit. Large battles between suburbs or suburban governmental bodies are fairly rare.

When one suburban mayor gets upset with a neighboring suburban mayor

Interactions between suburbs can get interesting, particularly if a business opens with which two suburbs would like to be associated:

All that having been said, some things still stick in your craw. Some things keep happening again and again, and every single time they make you see red, and the sense of frustration just lingers. I was chatting with David Harding at the rededication of Kiwanis Park by the Warrenville Park District when he mentioned that he got an invitation to the grand opening of a new business on Weaver Parkway in Cantera, and the special guest of honor to cut the ribbon was George Pradel, the Mayor of Naperville. David was annoyed by this, as he knew I would be, and he was kind enough to email to me the information later. Sure enough, the Mayor of Naperville was welcoming a new business to Warrenville and the Mayor of  Warrenville had not even been invited to the event!

As you might imagine, as your Mayor, this kind of stuff really bugs me. It seems to be localized, and principally affects businesses in Cantera on our border with Naperville. Warrenville’s Cantera development is first class, so naturally businesses find it attractive and locate there. But, for marketing purposes, the Naperville name carries more weight, so people do their best to play up the Naperville connection and minimize the Warrenville address. I have seen hotel shuttle busses for Warrenville hotels with “Naperville/Warrenville” featured prominently on their sides. Of course, I think that should be “Warrenville/Naperville”, and it sets me off every time I see one, but I get it.  Business is about positioning for maximum success. You can’t blame a business, especially given current conditions, for trying to leverage, what is to them, every marketing advantage. And, bottom line, what is most important to the community is that our businesses prosper and stay around for a long time. If they find it necessary to fudge things a little to appear to be in what they see as a more lucrative market, I suppose that is a small price to pay.

But this new business still got a letter from me. I can assure you it was a respectful and polite statement that we were disappointed that they apparently didn’t feel it was inappropriate to invite the Mayor of another community to cut their ribbon as they opened their new business here in Warrenville, and a reminder that Warrenville is proud of who we are and we hope they are as happy to be here as we are to have them here. Thankfully, each time I have to write one of these letters, Ana talks me back from the edge, and proves to be a most prudent editor.

I won’t tell you the name of this latest new business. I’m sure they meant no disrespect, and that they are good folks. Also, I don’t think it would be a good idea if a couple hundred angry Warrenville citizens arrived at their front door some evening with blazing torches held high, bearing buckets of hot tar and sacks of feathers, loudly inviting them to relocate to the community that they apparently prefer with an offer of help to do so, although I must confess, this image is appealing. No, Warrenville will take the high road, as we always try to do. That’s who we are. Besides, what goes around comes around. Just the other day, I passed a shuttle belonging to a Naperville hotel that had “Chicago/Naperville” prominently featured on its sides.

I found this amusing. But, there are some deeper issues here:

1. Naperville is the big, successful suburb. Not only does it have lots of people, a vibrant downtown, and good schools,it has done so in large part because of a thriving business community that has provided a lot of good jobs. Warrenville, on the other hand, is a smaller community of over 13,000 people that has less wealth and prestige.

2. Warrenville finally incorporated in the 1960s to be able to control some nearby land and not have it all fall into the hands of Naperville.

3. It does seem a bit odd for the business to invite the mayor of Naperville and not the suburb in which it actually located. If they wanted to be attached to the idea of Naperville, why not actually locate in Naperville? There has to be a good reason they located in Warrenville.

4. I’m not sure what the mayor of Warrenville achieved in this statement to the public. That he is willing to stick up for Warrenville? That Warrenville deserves some attention as well? Warrenville is not going to become Naperville and would probably say it doesn’t want to…so what purpose does this serve?

ProCure proton therapy: you are not “close to downtown Chicago”

I’ve heard plenty of radio commercials for the ProCure proton therapy facility in Warrenville, Illinois and one thing gets me every time: the ad claims the center is “close to downtown Chicago.” A few thoughts about this:

1. The actual distance from Chicago to the facility is 30 miles. While the drive is relatively simple (Eisenhower to I-88 and then about 0.6 miles off the Winfield Road exit), this is not “close.” It probably wouldn’t even qualify as nearby. In no traffic, this drive would take at least 35-40 minutes and during the day would be longer. In my world, 10 miles or less would be close to downtown Chicago.

2. I’m not sure why the facility was built in Warrenville: the land is conveniently located near an interstate, close to Central DuPage Hospital (CDH), I assume the land was cheaper than in or near Chicago, and was able to be put up in “record time.” And there was competition: Northern Illinois University wanted to build a proton therapy facility in West Chicago and CDH filed a lawsuit against NIU that was withdrawn when a regulatory board gave the go ahead to the Warrenville facility.

3. One reason they might make this claim is because not too many people have heard of Warrenville. Going to Warrenville, a small community, doesn’t sound as good as going to somewhere “close to Chicago.”

4. Another reason they may have made this claim is that they want to win market share in the Chicago region. The ProCure facility has teamed with CDH which provides care to western DuPage County and has designs on a larger healthcare footprint (with a recent merger with Delnor Hospital) but may not be familiar to all of Chicagoland. Perhaps the claim of being close to Chicago is more about winning the PR battle against Chicago hospitals such as University of Chicago, Northwestern, Rush, and Loyola.

Reminder in Willowbrook mosque case: IL municipalities have zoning jurisdiction 1.5 miles beyond boundaries

As the Willowbrook mosque situation continues, the Village of Willowbrook clarified an important detail regarding Illinois municipalities and zoning:

Village consultant Jo Ellen Charlton said the village has decided to release a zoning map showing its area of influence for planning purposes after receiving questions from MECCA about whether it had the right to express its opposition.

A dotted line forming a box along 91st Street, just past the proposed location, is now shown on the map to indicate the village’s intention to exert influence over planning decisions in the area. Because the proposed location lies within 1.5 miles of a Willowbrook boundary line, it is considered within the village’s “planning jurisdiction,” officials said.

Even though the proposed site for the mosque is outside the boundaries of Willowbrook, Illinois law gives incorporated municipalities zoning control over land within 1.5 miles of their boundaries. This control was confirmed by a 1956 Illinois Supreme Court decision in favor of Naperville’s subdivision control ordinance, which said developers had to follow certain guidelines for streets and other subdivision features, extending to the 1.5 mile zoning boundary land. If two communities both could control the same land within the 1.5 mile boundary, either the two communities had to reach an agreement or the control would be set at a line in the middle of the two community’s actual boundaries. Land outside any community’s zoning boundaries is then controlled by the county.

This law has led to some interesting circumstances. For example, the suburb of Warrenville finally incorporated in the 1960s after many attempts because Naperville was expanding and would soon be able to control land around and possibly in Warrenville. At least several DuPage County suburbs have grabbed extra land through annexations in order to extend their zoning boundaries and therefore control land uses, particularly looking to avoid undesirable land uses.

This reminds me of a larger point: while zoning may seem arcane to the average citizen, it is a key tool communities can use and they (officials and residents) will fight hard to utilize these powers rather than let other people decide what “their land” will be used for.