O'Fallon, Illinois, Part II
As I noted in my previous post on O'Fallon, one of the city's comp plan policies is to promote small-scale, well-designed commercial development in newly developing residential areas at several identified intersections.
Planning Director Ted Shekell pointed out what this means by showing me some planning maps. The northern half of O'Fallon -- above State Street -- is almost purely residential, except for some institutional uses (like the new YMCA, the new city public safety building, and some churches). Commercial development is absent. This means more driving, as people have to get in their car and travel five or ten minutes to get to the nearest store.
And guess what was on the planning commission's agenda tonight -- action on the first commercial development proposal for one of these locations. (Technically, the action required is a rezoning to "commercial business district" and, for the undeveloped portions of the site, agriculture).
In O'Fallon the planning commission's action is to make a recommendation to the city council on the rezoning request. On the plan maps the intersection nodes where neighborhood commercial is desired are the areas shown circled. The one on the agenda is the most northwesterly circle you can see. You can click on the map to see it a bit larger; its the northern of the two on Lincoln Avenue.
The project is called Creekside. It would include five buildings, for small retail, a bank, a drug store, a bakery/cafe, and similar uses. Here's a view of the site.
The project would be located in the field to the right. There's an existing residential development off to the right behind the tree line, on the other side of a creek. You can download, run & view a full panorama of the intersection (when the panorama starts moving to the right, you'll be viewing the site; the nearby residential Nolin Creek development is on the other side of the tree line).
The site is on the northwest quadrant of the intersection. The southwest quadrant is land owned by a church. The eastern half of the quadrant (actually a T, not a full intersection) is farmland, with a conservation easement.
The city's regulations for neighborhood commercial calls for planned developments up to 8 acres and/or 40,000 square feet of total floor area. While maximum development in any one quadrant is usually limited to 4 acres and/or 15,000 square feet, because the other three quadrants were not planned for commercial development, the staff report to the planning commission concluded that "staff believes it is reasonable to allow the development credits from the other three quadrants to be consolidated into the Creekside Promenade site, given the development limitations on the other three quadrants."
Since I mentioned that there's already a nice residential development just to the north of the proposed commercial development -- Nolin Creek Estates -- you'd be right to guess that there might be at least a bit of opposition to the project.
And, yes, some thirty or so polite -- but angry -- homeowners showed up (and one brave soul who came to support the project).
Here's just some of what I jotted down:
-- "There's plenty of retail elsewhere in O'Fallon ... we don't need it here."
-- "Sure it's a nice looking building being proposed, but call it what it is, a strip mall."
-- "I'm facing a loss of $15,000-$20,000 on my house with this next door."
-- "We'll have rank smelling dumpsters, noise, and trash from this ... how can you guarantee we won't."
-- "You need to listen to us ... a whole bunch of people here are telling you we don't want this."
-- "You're inviting crime into our neighborhood."
-- "It's not going to be a 'mom & pop' store it, we'll have a CVS or Walgreens."
-- "This is a residential neighborhoods, that's why I moved here, and that's the way it should stay. Let's put a nail in the coffin on this."
[photos below: developer presentation on left; neighboring resident with petition signed by fifty residents opposing the project]
The planning commissioners listened intently and asked clarifying questions during the two hour hearing. Several commissioners made clear that their job was to evaluate whether the project was consistent with the comprehensive plan, not to get into "the politics" of it. They also invited the neighbors to contact their aldermen and attend the city council hearing to express their concerns (three O'Fallon aldermen attended the hearing; I'm sure they'll be looking forward to acting on this rezoning request!).
The six members of the planning commission at the meeting did vote unanimously to pass the project on to the city council -- with a number of recommended conditions on issues ranging from lighting and signage to hours of operation.
But whatever the ultimate outcome, the hearing did make three points quite clear to me:
1. many residential homeowners -- at least in O'Fallon -- just don't want commercial development nearby, unless it's for professional offices;
2. it's very hard to insert commercial into an area that already has residential development in place; and
3. those who turn out a public hearing are those who feel most threatened by a project, not those who may receive some modest benefits.
And there's one other important point I want to make about the hearing. But that needs to wait till my final post from O'Fallon -- stay tuned!