When Naperville leaders decided last spring not to permit a high-end auto shop to join the mix at the Naperville Crossings shopping center at 95th Street and Route 59, they resolved to take a fresh look at the zoning regulations for what could be allowed.
This week, council members chose to change the land-use designation for two still-vacant sites in the development, which initially was planned in 2004. The area has a movie theater and several restaurants and small shops, but some say it has failed to achieve the vibrancy of the "second downtown" it was intended to become.
So after 14 years of efforts to get the sites to develop into businesses, which even included a student marketing competition in 2014 and 2015, city council members decided to try a different tack.
Instead of continued patience in hopes of a commercial use for the affected sites, the city now will allow medium-density residences such as townhouses or apartments to be built there.
The owner of the properties, First National Bank of Brookfield, gained unanimous approval Tuesday of its request to rezone the 3.2- and 2.1-acre lots to R3. The city describes this classification as a "medium-density multiple-family residence district."
The residential zoning could allow a use to be found soon for the land, which lacks direct frontage on either 95th Street or Route 59, but has entrances from Showplace Drive and Anna Marie Lane, said Vince Rosanova, the attorney for First National.
Council members gave medium-density residences the green light over the objections of five south Naperville residents, who said they wanted to continue waiting for a commercial use to boost property tax receipts for local governments.
"Taxpayers on the south side of Naperville, we need a break," said Julie Berkowicz, a Will County Board member representing Naperville. "We need a healthy commercial market on that corner."
Residents also said they opposed residential zoning because they want to avoid placing an undue burden on Indian Prairie Unit District 204 schools through the addition of new students.
But council member Benjamin White, a former board member in District 204, said the main capacity and class size issues in the district have been occurring on its north side, far from the intersection of 95th and 59.
Rosanonva confirmed White's memory, saying the schools where students from the land would attend -- White Eagle Elementary, Still Middle School and Waubonsie Valley High School -- all have capacity, according to a recent demographic study.
A future project of townhouses or apartments could include up to 58 units on the roughly 5-acre combined site, leading to an estimated maximum of 11 new students, he said.
Council member Judith Brodhead, a longtime south Naperville resident, said she was not surprised by opposition to new housing.
"If it were up to residents, most of the subdivisions you live in would never have been built because there were protests or objections to those as well," Brodhead told residents who voiced concerns. "I'm not too worried about something that is small and is this size."
The fact Naperville Crossings was imagined as a "second downtown" of sorts for south Naperville is part of the reason council member Patty Gustin said she supports more housing to add to the existing Tapestry apartment complex.
As is the case in Naperville's historic downtown, Gustin said she hopes housing and shopping can work in harmony at 95th and 59.
Council member Kevin Coyne agreed, saying residents of future townhouses or apartments -- once a developer is identified and a plan is drawn up and approved -- could become new customers for nearby businesses.
"Hopefully," Coyne said, "it will spike development in that area."