The southeast corner of Washington Street and Hillside Avenue is part of a gateway intersection to downtown Naperville — and a tough site to develop.
The Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday voted 3-2 to deny a positive recommendation to a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts on the site.
The site now is taken up by an inactive Citgo gas station.
“I don’t think we are quite there yet,” Commission Chairwoman Patty Gustin told the petitioner after a lengthy presentation and discussion of the merits of the proposal.
The same parcel of land was the subject of extended debate in 2012 over a proposed McDonald’s restaurant. The Plan Commission issued a positive recommendation on that proposal, only to see the full City Council reject the plan.
The main reason for the commission turning thumbs-down Wednesday was the same that the City Council gave for rejecting the McDonald’s plan — traffic concerns.
The Dunkin’ Donuts proposal is for a 24-hour business with a right-in, right-out exit on Washington that would force motorists wanting to go west on Hillside to either turn right on Hillside so they can turn around somewhere in the residential neighborhood, or try their luck cutting across two lanes of traffic on the Washington side to access Hillside.
Since much of Dunkin’ Donuts business takes place in the early morning rush hour, it could add traffic to an already congested intersection, especially during the school year when the street is busy with traffic heading to Naperville Central High School, some commission members said.
“The traffic westbound to the high school is the worst,” Bruce Verhaaren, a nearby homeowner, said.
Another resident, James Butler, said that a 24-hour operation would be a magnet for not only nearby students at North Central College, but also those wandering out of downtown drinking establishments.
“This is a destination (business), and it will be a destination when the bars close,” he said, predicting the nearby Riverwalk area would be trashed by late night revelers.
Resident Dick Page was also concerned that the underground tanks from the Citgo station might cause an environmental hazard to the surrounding residential neighborhood when any redevelopment disturbs the site.
Deputy City Engineer Amy Ries noted that any remediation needed for the site would be done at the owner’s expense, and Planning Manager Allison Laff pointed out that the site had already been tested for any issues concerning the tanks.
Architect Eric Carlson made the case for his client.
“We’re not a McDonald’s,” he said. “It will be a entirely different clientele.”
He also presented evidence that the sound coming from the drive-up window — located on the east side of the building facing toward the nearby residential neighborhood — would not be a problem, based on the company’s testing and the fact that the nearest residences would be about 200 feet away.
Traffic issues, however, seemed to be the deal-breaker.
Commissioner Kevin Coyne was struck by the inherent problem of a business on that particular corner, saying, “traffic is a concern and there’s no way to make that go away.”
Commissioner Tim Messer also expressed concern about the traffic problem, but joined Coyne in voting for a positive recommendation.
But their colleagues had serious doubts, even with the petitioner agreeing to limit the ours of operation to 4 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a traffic nightmare,” Commissioner Bob Williams said.
Williams was unhappy with the design of the east wall of the planned structure, calling it “dreadfully unattractive.”
Commission members Stephen Frost and Gustin voted with Williams and killed the recommendation.
“This parcel is a difficult parcel,” Gustin said about developing the site.
The petitioner is free to make his case to the full City Council without a positive recommendation, but Carlson wouldn’t say when the petitioner would bring the issue to Council members.
“We will try to address as many of these concerns as we can,” he said.