August 25, 2013
Honorable Steve Morley
Honorable City Council Members
Delivered via Email
RE: Citizen Advocacy Center Commentary on Addison Street Project Development
Dear Mayor and Aldermen:
Thank you for convening a Committee of the Whole discussion on the Redevelopment of 135-149 N. Addison (Addison LLC Redevelopment). The Citizen Advocacy Center has monitored the Addison LLC Redevelopment project since inception in 2009 and has provided extensive commentary.
It is my understanding that Alderman Gutenkauf and now-Alderman Deuter were the only public officials to attend any portion of the Zoning and Planning Commission (Commission) Public Hearings on Addison Street and therefore are the only public officials who saw first-hand the significant number of concerned citizens and business owners who attended and spoke out against the project as proposed and considered before the Commission. Indeed, by way of reference for those Aldermen who have been on the Council for less than a decade, this hearing was one of the most widely attended since the Block 300 Development.
While the Citizen Advocacy Center has a multitude of issues with the Addison Street project, we find it particularly significant that the Commission, considering only the land use components of the application as they are required to do, unanimously rejected the proposed six-story development. In doing so, they issued a comprehensive set of findings and commentary. I encourage the Mayor and all Aldermen to take the time to read or re-read the report personally, rather than rely on a staff summary. The reason is because the report is multi-tiered and multi-faceted. The Commission summarily rejected the application’s compliance with all mandatory criteria, and in addition, generally commented on the extensive need for holistic planning of the Addison Street Corridor prior to any development being proposed.
The reason for this suggestion is painfully obvious but warrants highlighting: piecemeal development is counterproductive to maximization of use. Additional concerns identified in the Commission report and during the deliberation were:
The Citizen Advocacy Center agrees with the Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce and the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission that redevelopment of the Addison Street parcel is important to tax based development. However, the question of what should be built on this parcel of property remains to be answered in a suitable public process. It is unknown, despite asking, to what extent comprehensive planning has been considered for the Addison Street Corridor, who participated, and how the contract to build on the site in question furthered that planning.
Prior to moving forward with further consideration of this particular project, we ask that the City engage in a subarea comprehensive planning process that 1) discloses any previous planning for Addison Street Corridor and 2) seeks authentic public input. Although the City may be in a difficult position because of the contract already entered into for a four-story parking deck project which can be built without the need for a specific zoning process, taking a pause for subarea planning would address the holistic planning failure identified by the Commission.
The City of Elmhurst is fortunate that numerous business owners and citizens have expressed concerns about what happens on this parcel of property. Planning, done properly, provides an opportunity to bring together diverse viewpoints to work collaboratively. In referencing diverse viewpoints, I mean more than those of the City’s business development institutions. The Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, City Centre, and the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission each serve their own purpose, which is far broader than land use development for a specific subarea of downtown. Bringing together these institutions (some of which have recently submitted general resolutions in support of proceeding promptly with a redevelopment project but none of which provided testimony at the public hearing) along with the several specific business owners (acting on their own behalf), residents, and other members of the public who testified at the Commission hearing, would be a valuable endeavor yielding a result that all members of the community could buy into.
To help facilitate the process, the Citizen Advocacy Center offers to assist City Staff in developing a meaningful public process that involves the institutions referenced above as well as business owners and residents who attended the public hearing, and others. If the City concludes that the Citizen Advocacy Center’s offer is undesirable, I would suggest that City Council direct the City Manager to contact Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, Davenport Institute. It is a program specifically designed to inform municipal government entities in how to engage the public in policy development, far beyond public comment opportunities. While most of their hands-on work and grant making is restricted to California public bodies, I am confident that their Executive Director, Pete Peterson, can provide guidelines for facilitation.
Thank you for your consideration.
Ms. Terry Pastika
Citizen Advocacy Center
Also posted on the Elmhurst Patch at: http://elmhurst.patch.com/groups/opinions/p/cac-asks-elmhurst-mayor-aldermen-to-take-a-very-close-look-at-addison
Citizen Advocacy Center Applauds Elmhurst Zoning Commission for Its Thoughtful and Comprehensive Denial of Addison Street Private Development / Public Parking Garage Project. Development, Zoning and Planning Committee Should Heed Recommendation.
The Elmhurst Zoning Commission has unanimously rejected a proposal to build a private-public mixed-use building on Addison Street. The now City-owned property has been the subject of much controversy: illegal closed meetings as determined by the Illinois Attorney General, City financing to the developer to purchase the property, and a request for increased building height to accommodate two additional floors for office space (including a private athletic facility) in an already saturated office market – just to name a few.
A civics lesson: The approval process for development projects requiring exceptions to the Zoning Code has three steps: 1) The Elmhurst Zoning and Planning Commission, a group of appointed (non-elected) officials, holds a public hearing wherein the applicant must prove why and how a project meets City standards for conditional use or variance from the Zoning Code; interested parties from the public have an opportunity to submit their opinions about the proposed project for the official record during this hearing; the Zoning Commission then deliberates and issues its specific “findings” and recommendations indicating if the applicant has proved its case; 2) The Zoning Commission’s recommendation then goes to the City’s Development, Planning, and Zoning Committee, a standing Committee of the City Council composed of three Aldermen selected by the Mayor. The DPZ Committee reviews the Commission report and makes a recommendation in turn to the full City Council which has the ultimate vote. The recommendations of both the Zoning Commission and the DPZ Committee are advisory and may be overturned by City Council. A vote of two-thirds of the aldermen then holding office is required to approve a project contrary to the recommendation of the Zoning Commission.
The Citizen Advocacy Center has been opposed to the Addison Street Project, not because we dispute the need for more parking, but rather because the public process around this project has been anti-democratic from the start, resulting in a proposal that was fatally flawed in several respects. While the Zoning Commission was able to consider only the information before it as submitted by the developer and signed off on by the City, we applaud the Commission’s recognition and rejection of the fatally flawed application based on the following:
• The Traffic Study included in the application identified several engineering and safety issues that were not addressed.
• The three buildings identified in the central business district as examples of buildings higher than 45 feet were distinguished individually and collectively as different from the proposed Addison Street project.
• A recent City Consultant report identified excessive unoccupied office space in downtown Elmhurst.
• It was unknown how much public parking would be lost due to a required loading dock, the addition of bike parking, and the revisions needed to accommodate engineering and safety issues, none of which were in the application.
• Safety issues identified as ‘very problematic’ were not addressed related to lot-line to lot-line development, and narrow alleys vis a vis truck/ car/ pedestrian traffic.
• The inability of the City to implement creative new pedestrian amenities in the immediate area if the requested zoning relief were allowed.
The commission further rejected the application on grounds of the plans being, as stated by the developer, “fluid and subject to change.” Approval must be based on what was submitted by the developer and commented on at the public hearing process. Altering or changing the development plan would necessitate a new application and a new public hearing.
The Citizen Advocacy Center asks that the DPZ Committee, and eventually the full City Council, concur with the recommendation of the Zoning Commission: the application as submitted should be unanimously rejected. Furthermore, the Zoning Commission report raises questions about the advisability of going forward with this project even at a building height that does not require zoning consideration.
Executive Director/Community Lawyer
Citizen Advocacy Center
182 N. York St.
Elmhurst, IL 60126