Like most young boys, Germaine Van Der Heyden’s oldest son Dana would go play in the dirt not far from their Cedar Street home.
Van Der Heyden, 70, recalls that several neighborhood boys also played in the “muck” practically every day. Decades later, as adults, those children developed cancer or other debilitating illnesses.
“It’s unusual for one block to have that many boys that seriously ill that early," Ver Der Heyden said.
Two had died before the age of 40, Van Der Heyden said. Doctors diagnosed her son with cancer at the age of 36.
Just a few streets away from the Van Der Heyden home is the former Allied Composites industrial site. Allied closed down in 2005 and has remained vacant since. The 28 acres, at least part of which has served as industrial property for 100 years, is spotted with contaminated areas and is in need of cleanup.
A developer, who first approached the city in 2008 about reclaiming the space for residential development, is again before the St. Charles Plan Commission.
Representatives from developer of the proposed Lexington Club site they intend to clean up the contaminated land and build more than 100 houses and townhouses.
Some residents who attended a recent public hearing on the proposed development voiced objections, citing concerns about the density of the housing plan and the impact it would have on their old neighborhood.
A second go-around
Lexington Homes is proposing construction of 28 single-family detached units in the northeast part and another 114 attached units—mostly two-story townhouses and a dozen three-story row houses—to fill out the rest of the property.
The Chicago-based developer actually submitted two concepts plans in 2008 and 2009 for the property site north of State Street between 5th and 12th streets.
An attorney for Lexington told members of the Plan Commission on Oct. 4 the developers ran into pushback from the community and city officials year ago. Revisions were made between 2008 and 2009.
Now, they’re asking for amendments that would change the zoning from manufacturing to residential. This latest plan includes fewer houses that proposed in 2008, but significantly more than the 2009 plan called for.
Industrial development site was occupied by industrial businesses during a 100-plus year period, according to city documents outlining the development.
“Some of these businesses are known to have used materials or processes that have the potential to contaminate the ground if not properly contained,” the document states.
Lexington hired an environmental engineering firm to investigate the site. It identified 11 Recognized Environmental Conditions—areas that contain or likely contain hazardous materials or petroleum products. As a condition before any residential development could proceed, Lexington will have to receive a letter from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency which states that no further remediation of the property is needed.
The proposed plan would remove about 8,000 to 9,000 cubic feet of contaminated dirt.
Residents speak out
One particular concern among some residents—those who spoke at the Oct. 4 Plan Commission hearing—is the effects that could come from having a housing development with the density proposed.
“We chose to live there to get away from this kind of stuff," said Cedar Street resident David Amundson. He also serves on the St. Charles Housing Commission but said she spoke last week solely as a resident.
The Thompson Middle School neighborhood, which includes the Lexington site, is one of the oldest in the city.
While some neighboring homeowners see potential problems with the added housing, most, if not all, see the benefit in cleaning up the site.
Van Der Heyden acknowledges that while she believes it is unusual for so many to get sick in one area, she couldn't say for certain that the cause had something to do with the industrial area.
"Who is to say that their cancer or whatever they had was caused by [the contamination]?" Van Der Heyden said.
But she is certain about one thing: residents want to see the contaminated land fixed.
"Until it’s cleaned up, I don’t think anything should be built there," Van Der Heyden said.