Decision time looms for Water Street project
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 17, 2012 8:04PM
Updated: November 17, 2012 10:55PM
With a crucial vote coming up on the proposed Water Street development, opponents of the project are not backing down.
“Whatever we build there will be there for the next 100 years,” Thom Higgins said Saturday at the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation monthly meeting.
The final plan, a conditional use permit for a hotel and parking and sign requirements are scheduled to be voted on by the City Council Tuesday.
The project includes 2.4 acres bounded by the DuPage River, Aurora Avenue, Main Street and Webster Street and includes a 131-room hotel, a 544-space parking deck and more than 65,000 square feet of office/medical/ retail space.
The sheer size of the project — particularly the fact that the tallest point of the hotel would reach 88 feet, which exceeds the 60-foot height limit for the downtown district — has sparked much of the opposition.
Higgins stressed that he was only rendering his personal opinion, but the confederation is officially on record as opposing the development.
Higgins said that he personally wasn’t opposed to development, nor was the confederation. But he cited potential traffic problems, noting that further downtown development was in the works, especially in the north end of the district.
He said the development would adversely affect the crown jewel of downtown Naperville.
“The size and scale we believe is wrong for the (nearby) Riverwalk,” he said.
John Krummen, slated to run in the April 2013 race for one of four City Council seats, has other reservations.
He said he was still “weighing the pros and cons” of the proposal and noted that the height did not bother him as much as the overall size and density of the development.
Krummen said that the proposal includes several different parts, including the hotel, retail/office/restaurant space, and 62 apartment units.
“I’m bothered that we may build something that big and if any one piece doesn’t work out (it could hurt the whole project,)” he said.
Several Council members were present, including Judith Brodhead, who declined comment on what her vote would be Tuesday. But she has openly questioned the wisdom of a development that shot past the downtown 60-foot height limit by 28 feet.
Currently, a potentially divisive five to four council decision on the issue seems not out of the question.
Council members Grant Wehrli, Paul Hinterlong and Doug Krause have voiced strong opposition to the project in its current form.
With Mayor George Pradel, Steve Chirico, and Kenn Miller thought by many to be in favor of the development, the decision may come down to the votes of Bob Fieseler and Joe McElroy.
Contacted by telephone, Fieseler noted that he had previously been inclined to support the project, but wasn’t a firm yes because there were still some design “tweaks” that were being worked out between the developer and other Council members.
Fieseler also pointed out that, aside from design issues, there were also financial issues to be considered.
If Marquette Properties looks to replicate the deals of Hotel Arista and the Marriott Chicago/Naperville, where both developers received about $7.5 million in a combination of retail sales tax and hotel tax rebates, the Council may look at the design concessions already made and decide it has been generous enough.
“Those of us who are inclined to bend a little on design issues will probably be somewhat resistant to bending on finances,” Fieseler said.
Assuming Fieseler goes with his inclination to support the development, the deciding vote may very well be McElroy’s.
Also contacted by telephone, McElroy indicated that the prospect of the Riverwalk being in the shadows of a big development was less than appealing.
But he noted that he saw a wedding couple celebrating on the Riverwalk Saturday and thought how nice it would be to have couples who get married at Naper Settlement be able to stay downtown.
“A hotel would be a huge plus for downtown,” McElroy said.
Moreover, he said it would be a “huge plus” to have the Riverwalk improved in that area as called for in the proposal.
“There are strong arguments on both sides,” he said. “But I haven’t made up my mind.”