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St. Charles Plan Commission Braces for Comprehensive Plan

The formal comprehensive plan process actually begins with the commission, whose members already recognize the volatility of the draft plan among St. Charles residents.

The St. Charles Plan Commission is bracing itself to take on the politically sensitive 2013 draft Comprehensive Plan once the task force which has been crafting it for the past 18 months delivers it up for the next step in the process.

The Comprehensive Plan Task Force is scheduled to meet a final time on Dec. 12, when it is expected to hand off the 2013 draft Comprehensive Plan to the City Council, which then would pass it on directly to the Plan Commission.

The task force could delay its final action, but a postponement is considered unlikely. That means the plan would be presented to the City Council during its Dec. 17 meeting. The Plan Commission expects to take up consideration of the draft plan during its first two scheduled meetings of the new year — Jan. 8 and Jan. 22, 2013, although additional meetings to review the draft could be scheduled beyond that.

St. Charles Planning Division Manager Russell Colby on Tuesday outlined for the Plan Commission the process that has been ongoing to prepare the draft plan. Rather than focus on specifics of the actual 2013 draft Comprehensive Plan, he told commissioners, “I just wanted to make sure the Plan Commission understood how we got to this point in the draft and why.”

The city’s existing comprehensive plan was drafted in 1990, with updates in 1996 and 2003, Colby said, adding that there are a number of reasons for preparing a new plan. Among them are such elements as how the city has developed since the 1990 plan was adopted, differences between the plan and the city’s zoning ordinance and policies adopted by the City Council since 1990.

The benefits sought in a new plan, he said, include a 20-year vision for the city’s future that are consistent with city policies, programs, community consensus, among other factors.

The city has been working with Houseal Lavigne Associates for about 24 months on the project, the past 18 months of that working directly with the Comprehensive Plan Task Force to gather public input and to draft the document.

The task force’s work was geared toward getting the public involved in the process, Colby said, but the formal comprehensive plan process does not actually begin until the 2013 draft Comprehensive Plan is directed to the Plan Commission, which by law must review the draft prior to City Council approval.

“The Plan Commission is expected to analyze that and provide feedback,” Colby said. “It’s meant to be an opportunity for the commission to get into the information, and makes some decisions about how to go forward.”

After the Plan Commission signs off on the plan, it would go before the City Council for a final public hearing prior to formal council adoption.

The public interest in the comprehensive plan process has been high, Colby said in response to questions from commissioners. “A lot of the attendees have been interested in some of the properties where developments are being or have been proposed in the last few years,” such as the Lexington Club and St. Charles Mall sites, among others, he said. “A lot of attention was paid to those properties because of the visibility of the development projects. But we also have had attendees who were interested in other aspects ...”

Much of the most vocal concerns raised have been in opposition to any possibility for the development of multifamily housing around the old St. Charles Mall site.

Plan Commissioners Curt Henningson and Tom Schuetz both noted there has been some very vocal groups participating in the task force meetings. Schuetz noted a lot of attention has focused on the old St. Charles Mall, the Shodeen project which another commissioner said “is dead,” the Lexington project, and the Charlestowne Mall area.

Brian Doyle, who has been the Plan Commission’s contact with the task force, blamed much of the controversy, at least in part, “on a lack of clarity” about what kinds of development will or will not be allowed on specific areas. Adding to the confusion are past actions that have reflected an inconsistency within city government, where one body approves a development in the belief it reflects the comprehensive plan and another barring the same development as inconsistent with the plan.

Doyle suggested the commission, when it begins its review of the draft, consider density numbers of some kind for the more controversial areas to reassure residents and provide more specific guidance for future commissions.

Subdivision Map Amendment Hearing

Separately during an earlier portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the Plan Commission heard testimony during a public hearing on an application for a map amendment request by the Lannert Group for Delnor Woods subdivision. The change would affect that portion of the property remaining after the Collins family sold 19 acres of its planned unit development site to the St. Charles Park District. The application requests that zoning for the remaining portion of land be changed from BL Local Business District and RM-1 Mixed Medium Density Residential District to RE-2 Single-Family Estate District.

The only questions raised during the public hearing came from Joyce Cregdier, a North 5th Avenue resident, who asked about the size of the lots along Route 25 and whether trees on the site marked with red tape are scheduled for removal.

A spokesman said the Route 25 lots will measure about 140 feet by 310 feet, and the trees marked with red tape indeed are scheduled for removal.

“They’re ash trees and they’re in poor shape,” said John Collins, a trustee of the property. The St. Charles area has been dealing with emerald ash borers, a beetle that infests ash trees.

Cregdier also asked that neighboring property owners like herself be kept abreast as the site is prepared for development, and in particular asked to be included in discussions about grading the site for development due to drainage concerns.

The commission ended the public hearing but took no action on the issue.

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Editor's note: Two paragraphs summarizing comments by Plan Commissioner Brian Doyle originally were attributed mistakenly to another commissioner.

Ted Schnell December 05, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Brian, thank you -- I shall fix those now. I apologize for the errors.
josephine s. December 05, 2012 at 06:15 PM
If the purpose of this Task Force Dec 12th meeting is to review the resident response sheets from the final Open House, are they getting a document summary like the one for the West Gateway prior to their meeting? Will it be on the public document page? It should be. At the meeting prior to the Open House, there were many last-minute errors, minor spelling errors and omissions that took up most of the discussion, and the draft was only available the night before the meeting. Reviewing 125 pages in 24 hours is a tall order. If they'll be seeing these comments for the first time, how will they "digest" them into the nuances or the omissions of the current Plan draft? Willl they rush to follow the deadline? I think there are a few more objective heads on the Panel, independent of favortism or appointment, and I hope and trust their instincts and cautions will prevail, along with the guidance of Mr Lavigne.
Ted Schnell December 05, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Just a point, because this question has been raised before re: the rush to deadline. A final decision has to be made by the task force at some point, and public comments can come at any/all its meetings. Since the task force is not the end-all and be-all of the process, when it does pass the baton, the plan must be forwarded -- even with the public comments that come in on the day it makes its recommendation. That has been the process for public hearings for decades. Just a point of order, as it were, because the task force has formulated a draft that will not be finalized until/unless it is adopted, and there are still legal hurdles to pass before that happens.
Henry James December 05, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Ted I understand where you are coming from, but the Task Force should and normally would be the one to do the hard work and the other bodies would then determine if they agree or recommend changes. This is how it has always been done but it was joint meetings between the Council and the Plan Commission. This plan is being rushed. There are several properties that should have a deeper review that are not being looked at and they should be taking into consideration public comments. Yes in the end the Council will be the deciding factor but this document is no where ready for them to approve or deny in one meeting by far. I say do the job right the first time to save the time of all involved including the residents.
Ted Schnell December 05, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Henry, I agree the job should be done right the first time. The task force process has been ongoing for 18 months. From what I've witnessed since August, it seems to me that the task force is reluctant to be too specific in many areas. The reasoning seems to be that the comp plan is intended as a guide, not a rigid, set-in-concrete road map, which would be in line with my experience watching other communities go through this process. Also, knowing how the process has polarized some interests, I wonder if the level of satisfaction with the plan that you would like to see will ever be there -- and I wonder if it was there for the original plan adopted in the 1990s. I have seen this kind of polarization unfold before. Each side raises legitimate concerns, and in the end, I've seldom seen either side fully satisfied with the outcome. And I for one do not know where the solution falls -- I can't claim to be an expert in this arena, just someone who, as a journalist, has watched the process unfold elsewhere. The similarities are striking, even if the specific issues of concern vary from community to community. Regardless, I will continue to watch the process unfold. I monitor the comments folks post to these stories as well, since they help me understand the viewpoints of those involved.

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