Wheaton's Planning and Zoning Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to recommend against City Council approval of a developer's request to build senior housing at Courthouse Square in downtown Wheaton.
Courthouse Land Development, LLS is requesting approval of a special use permit to build a six-story, 167-unit senior housing development at Courthouse Square, where developers originally planned to finish a condo development. The project remains incomplete as a result of the housing market crash in 2008.
The zoning board has held eight public hearings , with testimony from the developer and objectors of the development, including residents and property owners of the existing Courthouse Square homes.
Zoning Board Commissioner Scott Weller casted the only "yes" vote in support of the recommendation to Council to approve the request.
"I sympathize with the existing residents at Courthouse Square... But, it is my opinion that this application meets the standards (required)," Weller said.
Commissioner Mark Sargis said the proposal initially seemed "attractive," but the development is on a "tight envelope" of a site. He said senior housing could be a compatible use in the area, but he didn't hear information proving the development would be successful.
"I'm not interested in seeing an experiment that doesn't work out," he said.
Chris Derrick, who was appointed to zoning board in April, said the Courthouse Square issue has been a "tough item."
He said the development would normally require about six acres—significantly more than the Courthouse Square property, and the applicant's criteria was "too narrow" to put together a complete view of how the development would affect existing properties.
Commissioner Suzanne Fitch said she would not support the request because she believes it did not meet the city's special use standards of proving the development would not hurt neighboring property values, or minimize traffic congestion.
Under one of the city's standards for special use approval, she said the applicant must show the development would not be "injurious" to neighboring properties or diminish values.
"This (development) would be 30 feet from neighboring condos and townhomes... (The) lack of sufficient space within the PUD makes this too dense for this type of use," Fitch said.
"This senior housing development will be staffed with 52 employees, there will be a commercial-size kitchen and facility that would be open to the public... All of these would contribute to diminished property values... Disruption to neighborhood properties and likely downward pressure on neighboring property values," she said.
She added the developer's traffic study did not take into account parking and traffic at the neighboring , the , the incoming or the across the tracks.
Commissioner Scott Shorney said he agreed with Fitch, and that the proposed development is too big for such a small piece of land.
Commissioner Pat Schwarze said she thinks the opposition "muddied" the situation in the public hearings, and that neither side made a case for how the development would affect property values.
She said the development is "a little too large" for the property, but she would still like to see senior living in downtown Wheaton.
Zoning Board President Laura Christensen said she thinks the development would have "adverse" effects on the surrounding location and neighborhood, due to its heavy density, lot coverage, lack of building separation and commercial aspects.
She said residents' testimonies "opened our eyes" to issues that could arise from the commercial use of the property, including frequent deliveries and staff changes.
She said she thinks the development would not add to the "synergy" of downtown Wheaton. With an average age of 84, most residents are not mobile. They would take most of their meals at the facility and would not frequent downtown shops and restaurants, Christensen said.
"I feel that it's very important that, on the limited land we have for residential uses in the downtown, that those be for residents that will support our downtown uses, so we continue to have a viable downtown area," she said.
Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk said the Courthouse Square proposal has gone through a "rigorous, if not torturous" process. He said the city went out of its way, taking the "unusual" step to move the proposal off the public hearing agenda, to make it an "attorney-represented" issue. "We know it's that important to our city and our residents," Gresk said.
The Council will need to "injest" the 6-1 directive from the zoning board, Gresk said. "If developments can come in there, this is an occasion where we can do this," he said.
Wheaton City Council will vote on the proposal at its 7 p.m. meeting Monday, Sep. 17 at .
Other Courthouse Square articles on Patch:
- (Resident's letter to the editor)
- (Former city councilman writes about development proposal)