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…

New “Dry City Brew Works” reminds Wheaton of its dry past

A new brewery in Wheaton has a name that highlights the community’s past stance toward alcohol:

Exposed brick walls, metal accents, a wooden ceiling and plans for local musicians to regularly perform give Dry City Brew Works the feel of an urban coffeehouse…

The name, of course, is a reference to Wheaton’s history of being a dry city until the mid-1980s.

“A lot of people, especially from the Wheaton area, are telling us, ‘Wow, finally, it’s so good to have something like this in Wheaton.’ They love the name and the play on Wheaton and the reaction to the actual product has been good,” Jessica said.

Friends, family and strangers helped the brewery raise $15,000 through a Kickstarter.com campaign to help with some of the startup costs. The owners are now in the process now of rewarding the backers with Dry City-stamped T-shirts, glasses and other items.

A bit of a change for a community which voted for its own prohibition after the Federal prohibition ended. Read an earlier post about Wheaton’s dry past and reactions to Ale Fest a few years ago. The ban on alcohol sales was revoked in part because of arguments that such sales would help the downtown: enhance the downtown experience, attract businesses and restaurants, and thus boost tax revenues. A brewery downtown would seem to contribute to all this though it remains to be seen how successful a brewery in Wheaton can be.

“Road diets” improve safety

The US Department of Transportation is recommending “road diets” – limiting the width of roads and reducing lanes – to improve safety on the roads:

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced an 18-month campaign to improve road safety across the country. One of the things DOT plans to do is create a guide to “road diets” that it will distribute to communities and local governments. DOT says that road diets can reduce traffic crashes by an average of 29 percent, and that in some smaller towns the design approach can cut crashes nearly in half…

The result was a much safer road. In small urban areas (say, populations around 17,000, with traffic volumes up to 12,000 cars a day), post-road diet crashes dropped about 47 percent. In larger metros (with populations around 269,000 and up to 24,000 daily cars), the crash reduction was roughly 19 percent. The combined estimate from all the best studies predicted that accidents would decline 29 percent, on average, after a four-to-three-lane road diet—DOT’s reported figure.

These benefits alone would be enough to merit more road diets, but there were plenty of others. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic tends to soar at these sites, as the recaptured road space gives way to bike lanes or street parking that provides a sidewalk buffer from moving traffic or crossing islands, and as vehicle speeds decline (especially for high-end speeders going more than 5 miles per hour over the limit). Traffic volumes, meanwhile, typically stay even in such a corridor: some drivers diverted to other parts of the street network, while the rest quickly soak up any vacated space.

Best of all, these kinds of changes don’t cost much. When timed with regular road maintenance and re-paving, road diet policies require little more than the paint needed to re-stripe lanes. They’re about as cheap and cost-effective as infrastructure improvements get, which has led some to wonder why the technique isn’t used more widely.

This is counterintuitive: many people would guess that adding lanes to roads makes driving better. I would guess many people fed up with traffic in their community wouldn’t immediately support road diets. Yet, evidence consistently suggests that adding lanes attracts more traffic and that narrow roads prompt drivers to pay more attention and reduce their speed.

The City of Wheaton introduced this years ago on Main Street. The road used to have two narrow lanes in each direction between the railroad tracks and Cole Avenue but this was changed to two lanes in each direction with a median/turn lane. Traffic today seems to move just fine and the median/turn lane helps isolate turns and limit situations where big vehicles in small lanes presented hazards.

Convincing suburban drivers that downtown parking is available

The Chicago suburbs of Wheaton and Glen Ellyn are looking for ways to convince residents that there are plenty of parking spots in their downtowns:

For years, officials in Glen Ellyn have been hearing from residents about a lack of parking in the downtown, despite studies showing plenty of spaces available for customers…

“It dawned upon us that it isn’t a lack of parking, but addressing the perception of the lack of parking,” Glen Ellyn Police Chief Phil Norton said at a recent village meeting. “We’re going to shift our focus and start working on addressing the perception. You can go anywhere and be within a block or a block and a half of convenient parking.”…

The changes include creating 12 “Customer Only” parking spots where parking meters were removed in the Main Street and Pennsylvania lot. It also includes making the Union Pacific lot at Crescent and Main customer parking only, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and making Schock Square customer parking only, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays…

In Wheaton, parking was one of the issues addressed in the final draft of a downtown strategic plan and streetscape plan recently released by the city’s consultants. A parking analysis shows there is enough parking in the city’s downtown, despite a perceived parking issue reported by residents who participated in the survey, officials said.

In the plan, consultants recommended the city consider adding differentiated time limits on certain spaces such as 15 minutes, 1 hour and two hours. That will encourage employees to park in other areas and free up spaces for customers, consultants said.

It would helpful to know why exactly residents think there isn’t much parking. Is it because the parking isn’t right in front of the store? Is it because the parking is more difficult to get into, say angled or parallel parking, than a large parking lot? Is it because the streets or narrower or they can’t perceive they can walk to multiple stores? Some of these issues might seem plausible yet people are willing to endure walks in large, crowded parking lots for big box stores or malls.

The interesting thing to me is that this is a decades-long problem for these downtowns. It dates back at least to the 1950s when downtowns had to start competing with new strip malls and shopping malls which offered multiple stores as well as free parking (as opposed to having parking meters). Even though downtowns might offer plenty of stores within a short distance, I suspect suburbanites perceive that it is more congested and more difficult to get to, even before they know whether parking is available.

Another creative solution: apps or websites that display available parking spaces downtown which gives people real-time information as well as combats percetions that parking isn’t available.

Wheaton joins other communities in zoning medical marijuana dispensaries in manufacturing and industrial zones

Similar to Naperville, Wheaton wants to restrict medical dispensaries to manufacturing and industrial zones, near the city’s downtown:

City council members Monday gave their preliminary approval of zoning changes that would limit any dispensing operations to the industrial and manufacturing zones immediately south and west of the city’s downtown…

“[State law] pretty much excludes all property in Wheaton from having a cultivation center. The dispensing organizations have slightly different restrictions,” said James Kozik, director of planning and economic development. “It seems to be the trend that the locations where a community is permitting them seems to be in the manufacturing or industrial area.”

The state also prohibits businesses that will dispense medical marijuana from being within 1,000 feet of the property line of a school or day care, from opening in any type of residence or residential area, and from referring patients to a physician.

Under the state statute, Kozik said, without city action, dispensing operations could also be located in the Danada shopping area, East Roosevelt Road, portions of the Wheaton College campus and portions of the DuPage County Complex along County Farm Road.

City Manager Don Rose said he believes law enforcement officials would prefer to have dispensing facilities limited to the manufacturing district. Most council members agreed.

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out in Wheaton, given the community’s conservative political and religious character, as well as in other suburban communities.