Rethink Rezoning, Save Main responses share similar concerns – Part Two

Yesterday, I summarized the redevelopment plans for the East Roosevelt Road Corridor in Wheaton and the Giesche Shoe project in Glen Ellyn. Based on online sources, I will summarize the concerns of residents. There is a common theme: they perceive the character of the community is at stake.

In Wheaton, here are some of the stated concerns:

“We are a residential city, and our city planning should reflect that,” she said. “A forward-thinking city understands that pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and bike lanes are what attract new homebuyers, keep residents, increases equity for current homeowners and subsequently increases city revenue based on increased home value and an increased tax base.”

Nancy Flannery, the chairwoman of the city’s historic preservation commission, worries about the possible demolition of another Jarvis Hunt-designed house, now converted into offices at 534 Roosevelt. Built in 1896, the house was one of the first summer cottages constructed for members of the private Chicago Golf Club.

And a few more representative comments from the same May 28, 2019 meeting:

expressed concern that the proposed changes would build up retail, contribute to congestion and be detrimental to neighboring residents. He stated there are already vacancies and the report is not clear on what types of businesses would be interested in Roosevelt Road…

stated he thinks the plan as presented harms the neighborhood in terms of traffic, safety, noise, light and visual aesthetics, and he doesn’t think there is a problem on Roosevelt Road that needs fixing…

stated she does not want developers to be able to build commercial businesses on lots behind Roosevelt Road. She stated she does not want to see 4- or 5-story buildings being constructed right near residential areas.

In Glen Ellyn, some representative comments from an online petition:

Local congestion, size out of proportion (too large and bulky), traffic pattern near local churches & private school, etc…

It’s going to ruin the quant village that we choose to live in. We want to live in a village not a city with large structures – we would have chosen to live in Wheaton Or Naperville ( village is the key word – we are not a city Or town. We are the Village of Glen ellyn )…

a number of villages used to have charms that brought shoppers and new residents (e.g. elmhurst, arlington heights, mt prospect). their boards allowed developers to build in violation of existing codes and these charms were lost. don’t let that happen here…

My husband and I moved here because the town was still lovely, quiet, and mostly unmarred by the huge, unsightly, commercial behemoths scarring most of the surrounding suburbs. Glen Ellyn still has charm and an organic feeling of development. This development does not fit in at all with the feeling and aesthetic of the town. Say no!

In both cases, the concerns residents voiced are consistent across hundreds of development and redevelopment projects in suburbs across the United States. Having studied this in multiple ways (several of my projects address similar issues including “Not All Suburbs are the Same” and “‘Would Prefer a Trailer Park to a Large [Religious] Structure’“, residents generally bring up the same concerns: increased traffic, lights, and noise; a change in scale (particularly when it comes to height); and threats to residences (usually single-family homes) and the character of a suburb.

In Wheaton, the character issue is not stated as clearly but it is present. This major road is one of the primary ways people see the suburb. How should it look compared to the stretch of Roosevelt on Glen Ellyn which is more like the strip mall approach and Winfield to the west which is more green and residential (and not coincidentally they are fought their own battles over taking advantage of possible business opportunities on such a busy road)? This is not just about a busy roadway or the homes that back up to this stretch; this is about signalling what kind of place Wheaton is. One that values businesses or homeowners, one that prioritizes vehicles or pedestrians, one that celebrates its history or is looking to simply make money?

Interestingly, Wheaton comes up in the Glen Ellyn comments as a place that some Glen Ellyn residents do not want to become. Since the late 1990s, Wheaton has pursued downtown condos and office buildings. Other suburbs come up in the comments including more lively downtowns like Naperville and Arlington Heights. These Glen Ellyn residents have some similar concerns that most redevelopment projects engender – traffic, noise – but this particular project seems to be a step too big for their downtown. Can five stories “fit” with the existing downtown? This is not just about seeing the building from a distance: it is about a sense of scale for pedestrians, how the building might tower over nearby businesses and residences, and what this portends for the future of the downtown. Let this big development in and Glen Ellyn will become just another suburban downtown chasing after tall buildings and money to the detriment of residents who liked to feel they live in a small town.

Perhaps the big question here is this: are these concerns from residents valid? Are these just NIMBY responses? Who should control what kind of development occurs in a suburban community? Americans like suburbs in part because they feel like they have access to local leaders and can influence local decisions. From my own research on suburban communities, I am fairly convinced there are some suburban residents who move into a neighborhood and community and desire to freeze the place in that exact configuration. Indeed, they moved to the suburb for particular reasons. On the other hand, cities and suburbs are encouraged to grow (stagnation or population loss is failure) and development or redevelopment opportunities do not always come along easily or in forms that local officials or residents will like. If these communities do not act now, will they lose economic opportunities to other suburbs and in the long run shoot themselves in the foot by not upgrading when they can?

If local residents are vocal enough, they can likely slow down or nix these redevelopment projects. How many residents have to voice displeasure is not clear; few suburbanites are invested in local politics even if they count on the opportunities to voice this displeasure to protect their own investments. Local officials do listen and will encounter difficulty down the road if they just ram through projects.

Here is what I suspect will happen in the long-term in these two cases (and in suburban disagreements over development and redevelopment generally): few communities are so anti-development that they keep out all changes. Suburbs generally hope to keep growing and this becomes more difficult in more mature suburbs like these two which cannot add new subdivisions. There are only so many ways Wheaton and Glen Ellyn can add businesses and residents. If these changes do not happen now, they will probably happen eventually as the opportunity costs are too steep: local leaders will have a hard time turning down these chances when the possible consequences are lost money, vacant properties, and eyesores. Some local residents will dislike the changes and some might move away. But, the very conception of suburbs may be evolving as well: outside of moving to exurban areas, many suburbs are pursuing more density and vibrant downtowns. This may make suburbs all the more complex in how they are understood and experienced and in how residents think of their community’s character.

 

Rethink Rezoning, Save Main responses share similar concerns – Part One

The suburb in which I live and the neighboring suburb both have proposed redevelopment ideas and each has attracted opposition from residents. Both sets of opposition have yard signs to voice their displeasure and residents have spoken at public meetings.

Part One of this analysis involves the basics of the proposed projects and how this fits into what suburbs generally try to do.

The Rethink Rezoning group is responding to a study commissioned by the city of Wheaton to improve development along the busy Roosevelt Road corridor that runs east-west through the center of the suburb. From the Daily Herald:

Wheaton’s East Roosevelt Road corridor has a hodgepodge of businesses and housing, obsolete office space and no consistent sidewalk network that encourages pedestrians to walk from one end of the nearly 2-mile stretch to the other…

Consultants propose a “Horizontal Mixed-Use Zone” from Carlton Avenue to West Street/Warrenville Road, currently a mix of low-intensity offices, houses and residential structures adapted into offices. In that subdistrict, the city should expand the palette of permitted land uses, including limited retail and “personal service establishments,” the report states.

Farther east, a “Commercial Core Zone” between West and President streets could concentrate new development of significant size — greater than anywhere else along the corridor — taking advantaging of proximity to the downtown and the Mariano’s grocery store. The Mariano’s intersection has traffic congestion when cars queuing up in the west turn-lane from Naperville Road to Roosevelt.

A “Mixed-Use Flexible Zone” from President to Lorraine Road “should encourage a broad range of uses, including retail, service, office and multifamily residential,” according to the report.

See a more complete draft report from earlier this year.

The Save Main group is opposed to a mixed-use five-story building to be built on the southern edge of Glen Ellyn’s downtown. Here is a 2018 description from the Daily Herald:

A new redevelopment plan for an old shoe store in downtown Glen Ellyn would replace the long-vacant building with an apartment complex that would rise above neighboring restaurants and shops…

Larry Debb and John Kosich are the two principals for the project that would demolish the Giesche store to make room for a five-story apartment building with about 5,360 square feet of first-floor commercial space. The footprint would include what is now the village-owned Main Street parking lot…

But in a letter to village planners, Kosich and Debb said they’re proposing a “condo quality” building with 107 rental units. A two-level parking garage would provide 147 public parking stalls on the first floor, with access off Main Street, Hillside Avenue and Glenwood Avenue. The garage’s second floor — reserved for apartment residents — would contain 142 stalls…

Such a mixed-use development with parking would align with the village’s 2001 comprehensive plan and 2009 downtown strategic plan, Hulseberg said. The latter recommends the village add at least 450 new residential units downtown.

Neither of these projects are unusual for suburban communities. Indeed, they both attempt to take advantage of unique traits already in the suburb.

In Wheaton, the Roosevelt Road corridor has been an area of interest for the city for decades. With tens of thousands of cars passing through each day, it presents an opportunity, particularly since it is just south of the downtown (and traffic does not necessarily turn off Roosevelt to go downtown) and north of the other major shopping area at Danada (along the busy Butterfield Road corridor). But, Wheaton has generally been conservative about what development they allow along this stretch. Compared to Glen Ellyn to the east or the Ogden Avenue corridor in northwest Naperville, the Roosevelt Road stretch in Wheaton is relatively void of strip malls, fast food restaurants, car repair places, and rundown facilities. Again: this has been an intentional effort to maintain a certain level of quality.

The proposed changes would build on this by updating some uses (most suburbs utilize single-use zoning but this can be restrictive in certain areas) and try to encourage some cohesiveness across stretches. What is now a hodgepodge of offices, some older houses, some more recent office buildings, could have a more uniform character and present a more pleasing aesthetic. I don’t know how many people will walk along such a busy road but it certainly does not lend itself to that now. All of this could help improve aesthetics and bring in more revenue from taxes in a revitalized district. Having a more uniform plan could help bring in more money for the city which then helps relieve local tax burdens.

In Glen Ellyn, such a project both fits with the village’s own goals and echoes what numerous suburbs in the Chicago region have tried to do: encourage mixed-use buildings in downtown areas near train stations and existing restaurants and shops. This new project would add to a fairly lively restaurant and retail scene while also adding more residents (and probably wealthier ones – this is not about suburban “affordable housing”) to a suburb that has little greenfield or infill development available. The new residents would patronize local businesses, utilize the train, and contribute to a density that could make the downtown even livelier. Again, one of the benefits would be increased tax revenues: the vacant property would have a more profitable use, the first-floor businesses would add sales tax monies, and the new residents who probably have limited numbers of children would bring in tax dollars.

If these projects are in line with suburban plans – let alone the long-term plans for each community – what are the residents objecting to? More on that in Part Two tomorrow.

Who owns large apartment complexes in downtown Wheaton?

The national and international flow of capital in real estate is a well-established phenomena in the biggest cities but it is recognized less in suburbs. Here is an example of this in Wheaton, Illinois:

In the bigger deal, San Francisco-based FPA Multifamily acquired Wheaton Center, a 758-unit property in downtown Wheaton, from Edge Principal Advisors of New York, according to a statement from HFF, the brokerage that arranged the sale.

It’s unclear how much FPA paid—the statement did not include a price and FPA and Edge representatives did not return calls—but the property was expected to fetch about $135 million, according to Real Estate Alert, a trade publication. At that price, the sale would generate a big profit for Edge, which paid $44 million for Wheaton Center in 2014 and invested about $40 million in a major renovation.

The seller of the other property might want to forget about Wheaton altogether. Invesco, an Atlanta-based pension fund adviser, sold Wheaton 121, a 306-unit apartment complex that opened in 2014, for $72 million, according to Connor Group, the Ohio investment firm that bought the property. That’s nearly 25 percent less than the $95.8 million Invesco paid in 2015 for the complex, 121 N. Cross St.

The main culprit: property taxes. Wheaton 121’s taxes rose so much after Invesco bought it that the added expense significantly depressed the property’s value, according to people familiar with the complex. A jump in the property’s assessed value pushed Invesco’s 2018 tax bill up to $2.0 million, a whopping 47 percent increase from 2016, according to DuPage County records.

I suspect most suburbanites know little about who owns major pieces of land in their community, let alone who owns large apartment buildings (which may be more or less common depending on the suburb). Unless the owner makes a big deal of their ownership with signs or presence in the community, daily life just moves on.

But, this infusion of money from far away could have a significant influence on a suburb. Local developers may not be interested in sizable projects or may not be able to access the same amounts of capital. At the same time, a local developer may be more attuned to local conditions. Presumably, all the owners of nicer properties want to be seen as good actors in the suburb but they may have varying levels of involvement and commitment to the exact community.

The first control center Cold War bunker opened in 1958 in Wheaton

If the Soviet Union had unleashed nuclear weapons on the United States, perhaps the country would have gotten up and running again from a bunker in Wheaton, Illinois:

A Cold War bunker in Wheaton — hailed as America’s first Nuclear Age Civil Defense control center — is scheduled to be razed in the coming months, taking with it some of the last pieces of evidence of the tense geopolitical standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The $500,000 bomb shelter, built inconspicuously underneath a one-story highway office on DuPage County’s government campus, was constructed to house up to 60 civil defense workers to keep operations running for weeks post-atomic blast.

Its ribbon-cutting was held almost exactly a year after the USSR launched Sputnik, the man-made satellite that orbited the earth in October 1957 and heightened fears of a Soviet attack on U.S. soil. It was also a time when schoolchildren practiced “duck and cover” drills to protect themselves from nuclear explosions and women’s home magazines included tips for furnishing bomb shelters…

An entrance can be sealed off in the event of a blast and the bunker features a ceiling of 36-inch-thick reinforced concrete and 18-inch cinder block walls. Moving from room to room, I found decontamination showers, a “war room” of sorts designed for tracking Soviet attacks and a secure landline, which at one point could have connected workers to the White House.

It would be interesting to consider how the leaders of DuPage County – quite conservative politically in the decades after World War II and open to suburban growth – might have responded uniquely to the use of nuclear weapons. If the major centers of the United States were knocked out, could the county officials from suburban Chicago be counted on to get the country on the right track?

Data on Chicago area mosques through 2010

In 2010, Paul Numrich published data on the 91 mosques in the Chicago region as part of the Pluralism Project at Harvard:

Before 1960, only five mosques could be found in metropolitan Chicago, all within the city limits. From research conducted in the late 1990s, I estimated that there were 67 mosques in the six-county region (cf. Numrich 2004). In a 2010 research project, I verified the locations of the 91 mosques shown on the accompanying map. This essay describes my research methods and findings for the 2010 project and discusses some implications of Islam’s growing institutional presence on Chicago’s (and America’s) religious landscape…

53% of the mosques (48 of 91) are located in the city of Chicago, 47% (43 of 91) in the suburbs. Notable clustering of mosques can be found on the city’s north and south sides (due to residential patterns of immigrants and African Americans, respectively) and in suburban Cook and DuPage Counties, the latter one of the wealthiest counties in the nation…

77% of the mosques (70 of 91) have adapted their facilities for use as a mosque. These include several former Christian churches, such as Islamic Community Center of Illinois on Chicago’s north side (see photo on map, courtesy author). Two mosques meet in functioning churches, including Batavia Islamic Center in the western suburbs (see map), which is featured in my book, The Faith Next Door (Numrich 2009: chapter 4)…

Nearly two-thirds of the mosques (58 of 91) have some exterior indication of their Islamic identity that would be recognizable to the average American passerby, such as domes, minarets, Islamic symbols, or English signage. All but two of the 21 newly built mosques have such recognizable Islamic markers, such as Masjid Al-Faatir on Chicago’s south side with its impressive dome and minarets (see photo on map, courtesy Frederick J. Nachman).

As Numrich notes, the number and locations of mosques is fluid and thus might have changed by 2015. Still, there is good data here (involving driving more than 2,400 miles to check out the locations) and the page includes a Google map with all the locations.

Come to think about it, I haven’t seen many stories recently about new mosques or communities objecting to proposals for mosques. Back in the early 2010s, this was a hot topic: see earlier posts here, here, and here. But, given the number of mosques within the Chicago region as well as some of the reaction to these high profile cases, it seems as though this is now normal. Even Wheaton, the “Protestant Vatican,” saw the opening of a mosque in late 2013.

Mosque spokesman Abraham Antar said he and his fellow congregants are excited about their new home, which he said is Wheaton’s first Muslim community.

“Wheaton is a city of faith, and we’re very privileged to be able to establish an Islamic community for Wheaton and especially for the western suburbs,” he said. “There are a lot of Muslims in Wheaton and the surrounding towns. It’s unfortunate for the (First Assembly of God) church that they lost their opportunity to stay there.”

Antar also said Islamic Center of Wheaton leaders are looking forward to getting to know other religious institutions in the area.

I don’t know how those conversations with other religious institutions are going but it would have been hard for Wheaton residents decades ago to imagine seeing a mosque within city limits.

Allowing suburban residents only two garage sales a year

Suburban homeowners must protect their interests, from policing Halloween decorations to limiting the number of garage sales at one address:

Wheaton residents may soon be limited to hosting only two garage sales per year, each for a maximum of two days.

The Wheaton City Council reviewed a proposed ordinance Monday that would modify the city’s existing garage sale regulations.

“There are some homes in the city where people have stuff out on their lawn every weekend throughout the year, or at least throughout the summer months,” said Councilman John Prendiville. “The neighborhoods are becoming a little bit upset with that, they think it is hurting the enjoyment of their property.”

City Manager Don Rose added that this summer has been “different,” with the number of “almost continuous garage sales, taking up the name of hoarder sales” becoming problematic in several neighborhoods.

What exactly does “hurting the enjoyment of their property” mean? Perhaps it is referring to enjoying nature on the front lawn, whether through using the space or having a clear sight line from house or porch to other areas. Perhaps this is generating some extra noise and blocking sidewalks or parking along the street. But, what it really probably means is that homeowners are worried about their property values. What does it look like if neighbors consistently have things for sale in their driveway or front lawn? It looks lower class and less desirable. It is suggestive of commercial establishments or of neighbors who constantly need money. All of this could translate to less value.

At the same time, I’d be interested to hear how a suburban community would enforce this guideline. Will people have to officially register their garage sale? Will police officers start a database? Will neighbors be able to take time-stamped photos of illegal garage sales and turn this in as evidence?

Wheaton’s walkable shopping center…surrounded by parking lots

Renovations are coming to the Town Square Wheaton shopping center yet the picture of the complex shows it may just be as auto dependent as any shopping center:

It features 160,000 square feet of retail space, much of it filled with chain stores such as Banana Republic, Gap, Joseph A. Bank, Starbucks, Yankee Candle and Talbot’s. The property also includes two professional buildings that house medical offices.

Tucker Development plans to enhance the seven buildings arranged in a walkable loop primarily through signage and facade improvements.

Town Square Wheaton, a shopping center on the south side of the city, recently was sold for nearly $57.3 million. The new owner, Tucker Development, has plans for $1 million in renovations.

This shopping center embodies a lot of the features of newer lifestyle centers or New Urbanism-inspired shopping centers: it features a central plaza with a walkable loop around it, the scale is not huge, there are office spaces on the second floor plus numerous eateries (mixed uses), and it borrows from a local architectural style (Prairie School).

Yet, the overhead view highlights one of the problems that plagues numerous New Urbanist developments: they are often plopped right into car-dependent areas so that even if they are pleasantly walkable, one needs to drive there first. Walking or biking there is not easy; there are apartments adjacent to the center but there is not a permeable boundary between the spaces. You could walk or bike to the center from several nearby single-family home subdivisions (I was just biking near here recently) but that typically requires traveling along and/or crossing busy Naperville Road which funnels a lot of commuter traffic through south Wheaton (the primary path to Naperville and I-88) and isn’t exactly lined with beautiful structures.

Hence, just another shopping center surrounded by parking lots…