Monday night’s unanimous vote to reject the Corporate Reserve project must have come as a sharp blow to a developer that has made a number of concessions to the city since late 2011, upon shifting the proposal from a business park to include a residential component.
Corporate Reserve received approval as a business park four years ago, which included rezoning 29.8 acres of the 37.8-acre site as an office/research planned-use development and another eight acres as a community business planned-use development.
But the project since had evolved into a plan that included hundreds of apartments on about a third of the site, a change many residents in the area opposed and which, on Monday night, the St. Charles City Council Planning and Development Committee ultimately decided it could not accept.
The business park’s approval came in 2008, the same year the nation entered the Great Recesssion. Th economic downturn saw stock prices crash, the housing market collapse and most developments come to a standstill as companies cut back, jobless rates skyrocketed with layoffs and business closures, and consumers tightened their belts out of economic uncertainty or financial necessity.
As the recession drew to an end and signs of modest recovery appeared, developers saw greater potential in developing multifamily housing, such as apartment complexes, and Corporate Reserve Development LLC shifted its strategy, coming to the city in the fall of 2011 with a proposal to changes its business park concept into a plan to include apartments.
The proposal drew immediate criticism from nearby residents who feared the impact of high-density housing on the surrounding residential area, as well as increased traffic in their neighborhoods from what at first was proposed to be a 407-unit complex of high-end apartments.
But public resistance was strong. By June, the developer had cut back the project to just 331 homes, then dropped that to 317 in August, and to 231 by Monday night. There were other concessions by the developer as well, including the removal of plans for four apartment buildings and reducing the size of the housing site from 29.8 to 14.62 acres, as well a a $1.3 million contribution to the city’s Housing Fund Trust or the development of 13 on-site affordable housing units.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, 2nd Ward Alderman Cliff Carrignan, the committee chairman, accepted two more pages containing 19 more signatures for a petition opposing the housing element on the site.
Paul Robertson with JCF Real Estate, spokesman for the developer, highlighted the concessions during Monday night’s meeting and expressed belief that the reduced housing element would drive need for the project’s office space, as well as add traffic to a portion of the site that would house a restaurant.
But 4th Ward Alderwoman Jo Krieger questioned whether the project is financially viable, noting that the property has been the subject of a tax sale due to unpaid taxes. Robertson acknowledged that is the case, but he said that Corporate Reserve Development LLC intends to repay them in full in May, when the 2012 taxes “are up again.”
“Land is expensive to maintain, and tax is just one of the compenents — we do have interest and operating expenses, and other things out there,” he said.
Rents for the apartments is based on $1.45 per square foot, with the average apartment having about 960 square feet, which would be about $1,300 a month.
Several residents stepped up to speak against the proposal, including Near West Neighborhood Association President Kim Malay, who spent part of her time criticizing the city staff for downplaying the level of opposition to the Corporate Reserve and Lexington Club projects and mischaracterizing the intent of those opponents. Malay noted the critics of both projects have been active throughout the processes for each, taking the time to learn about the issues and to pass around three petitions she said have garnered 1,000 signatures from opponents to the projects.
“We have never said don’t build anything … yet some choose to minimize our voice and our efforts,” she said.
Malay also cited numbers from a 2011 city survey of residents that she said showed overwhelming opposition to multifamily developments. But 2nd Ward Alderwoman Rita Anne Payleitner questioned the numbers Malay was using, pointing out specific, significant differences
While Malay cited 83.2 percent of residents not wanting apartments and 80.3 percent not wanting townhomes, Payleitner said the numbers she saw on that survey were significantly lower — more in the range of 56 percent.
Malay, referring back to the survey, said the number of people who were “undecided” on an issue had to be considered in opposition to it.
Third Ward Alderman Raymond Rogina said he agreed with Payleitner’s view of the numbers — that the council has to interpret how the “undecided” respondents should fit into the equation and that they are neutral, not pro or con.
Payleitner expressed concern that rumors and misinformation being used to criticize these projects may even have tainted the petition process.
That brought an expression of concern from Vanessa Bell-LaSota, the vice president of the Near West Neighborhood Association, who questioned the wisdom of interpreting whether or not a petition is tainted.