The St. Charles Plan Commission this week continued its review of the 2013 draft Comprehensive Plan, with commissioners appearing to be leaning toward a slow, deliberate look at the document that already has garnered intense scrutiny.
How long that will take is uncertain. The commission’s next meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in the Council Chambers. But it s reviewing a document that took the Comprehensive Plan Task Force 16 months to compile as it worked with the St. Charles Planning Department and the city’s consultant, Houseal Lavigne Associates, to draw up the draft plan.
Several factors appear to be coming into play as the commission wades through the 113-page document.
One is a desire to maintain flexibility in the document, which will set policy and act as a guide for development throughout St. Charles for the next 20 years. But there is tension between the desire to be more specific about the types of developments that would be or would not be encouraged in some areas, and the need for flexibility.
Commissioners noted during their discussion Tuesday that conditions in St. Charles, as well as the marketplace for developers overall, will evolve during the plan’s 20-year cycle. Setting guidelines that are too specific on how some areas should be developed might discourage future consideration of certain kinds of projects that have yet to be envisioned but which may be good fits for such areas.
Overshadowing their deliberations, however, is the controversy surrounding recent developments that created a “grueling” process for both residents and developers. One is Lexington Club, whose approval earlier this year bitterly disappointed its critics and left residents who opposed it wondering if their voices were even considered. Equally controversial was a proposal, since withdrawn, to add high-density housing to the Corporate Reserve business park development.
The latter fight highlighted opposition residents have voiced, both during public hearings and in a survey of city residents, to the addition of high-density, multifamily apartment housing in St. Charles.
The process on Lexington lasted years, proving frustrating to developers and residents alike, by many accounts.
Commission members are wondering if there is a way to make that process less arduous in the future, and if the 2013 Comprehensive Plan might have a role in easing potential conflict down the road.
Another issues commissioners are grappling with relates to some of the terminology the task force adopted as its standard while putting together the report. Discussions among the commissioners have pointed to potential confusion, for example, on the choice of terms applied to difference types of housing.
Scattered throughout the draft plan are references to multifamily housing vs. single-family housing. Task Force Chairman Mark Armstrong told commissioners the task force used the term multifamily housing with the idea of tall apartment buildings.
Yet one type of single-family housing — called single-family attached — represents townhomes and/or condominiums, which also fall under the broader definition of multifamily housing, although it is not associated with the high density typical of apartment buildings.
Complicating that discussion further is the idea of specialized multifamily homes, such as housing for senior citizens or the disabled, which resident and 5th Ward aldermanic candidate Kim Malay said there is a need for in St. Charles and which residents support.
Armstrong, who referred to such developments as adaptive housing, said the task force attempted to use standard terminology — for consistency — throughout the document. But perhaps greater clarity is needed, he said, particularly when it comes to distinguishing between the types of multifamily housing.
Another issue overshadowing the commission’s deliberations was touched on by Commissioner Brian Doyle, who wondered if the new comprehensive plan will help to forestall some of those types of controversies, like Lexington Club, the city has faced in the past four or five years which created “grueling” processes for both developers and residents.
Doyle voiced his desire to review the plan slowly and deliberately, saying he wants to ensure the document the commission eventually hands over to the St. Charles City Council is as complete as possible, without need to go in later to “clean it up” as weaknesses are identified.
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