Position on DJK Homes development concept for Little Friends property

The ECHO board met via teleconference on Saturday, May 16 to discuss the business terms and concept plan that are before the City Council for feedback, and to consider the resident input we have received.

Little Friends continues to seek the entire $562,000 incentive for preservation of the Kroehler Mansion, despite the fact that the difference in highest offers for the property with and without the mansion is $450,000. Disbursement of any portion of the incentive should be contingent upon a development proposal that is respectful of both the mansion and the neighborhood. If the purpose of the incentive is to promote preservation of the mansion, any development concept should include the mansion as the architectural centerpiece.

Alleys are a key design characteristic of our neighborhood. ECHO respects and concurs with the willingness of City staff to consider a dead-end alley in order to accommodate preservation of the Mansion in its current location, and to preserve the detached alley-loading garage design visible throughout the Historic District.

Regarding existing garages, Naperville’s Historic Building Design and Resource Manual states the following: “Most historic garages in Naperville are detached structures accessed from alleys and are typically constructed with the same materials and detailing as the main house.” Regarding new garages, the manual states, “In general, garages in Naperville’s historic neighborhoods should be detached and be located at the rear of a lot. Access to garages should be achieved through the alley, except for garages on corner lots that can have access onto the secondary (corner side) street.” In both cases, adding new driveway access from the street adjacent to the front yard of a lot, or constructing an attached garage, are discouraged by the design manual. The manual clearly states that anything considered “discouraged” is not likely to be approved for a Certificate of Appropriateness. As presented, the concept is not consistent with the neighborhood.

The creation of an appropriate design guidebook will be critical to the success of new residential development on this block. While the Community First Workbook for Successful Redevelopment is laudable, it is merely a set of guidelines which are often not followed in new construction, and does not address all issues specific to our neighborhood. Additionally, Ram West and DJK’s intention to “sample architectural elevations” is concerning. It leaves the potential to combine elements from a variety of periods, creating a hodgepodge design that does not truly fit within the neighborhood. This has already been seen with the new construction that has stalled at 26 N. Sleight, originally started by DJK but now being finished by another builder. This design was inaccurately called “vernacular” during public hearings, and was denied by the Historic Preservation Commission for not being consistent with Historic District guidelines before being overturned by City Council. The Historic Building Design and Resource Manual, not the Community First guidebook, should be the primary governing document used in determining the appropriate architecture and design for new residential development in the Historic District.

ECHO cautions against allowing administrative approval for new construction in the Historic District. If DJK wishes to avoid obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness for each building permit, all designs and elevations should first be presented to the Historic Preservation Commission and granted a COA before any construction commences. The HPC approval process should not be short-circuited.

City staff are correct that there are no unique circumstances meriting waiver of required school and park donations. The intent of impact fees is to require development to pay for itself, recognizing that new property value alone does not fully accomplish this. Earlier this year, Little Friends chose to terminate its lease with the Naperville Park District; this decision on their part required that College Park be demolished. This decision was made without advance notice to residents. It has resulted in the loss of a valuable playground and green space, with a corresponding reduction in quality of life for our neighborhood. No replacement park is being proposed. Any new development is likely to generate additional children attending Ellsworth School. ECHO residents are not in favor of required school and park donations being waived under the current proposal.

ECHO also concurs with City staff opinion regarding stormwater requirements and utility improvements. We expect that any developer will be held to standards required by code.

One point not addressed by Ram West and DJK, but that is of concern to ECHO, is how and when construction will commence. Our nation is in a recession which may continue for quite some time. During the last economic downturn, some new subdivisions in Naperville remained unfinished for years, with completed homes dotting a largely empty landscape, and vacant parcels being inadequately maintained. New construction is always an inconvenience, even in a best-case scenario. ECHO residents do not want to see a partially-finished development languishing in the middle of an otherwise mature neighborhood. We hope that once construction commences, it will be accomplished in a single phase, without delays affecting neighbors’ quality of life.

The redevelopment of an entire city block within the Historic District is unprecedented. It presents a remarkable opportunity for creativity and preservation-minded thinking. ECHO residents are very interested in participating in the development process. To date, the ECHO board has not heard directly from DJK or any of their representatives. Regardless of the developer’s approach, we will be heavily involved as this process moves forward.