The proposed 5th Avenue Development project has been discussed, debated and analyzed for years. At the October 1, 2019 City Council meeting, the proposed project was rejected by a 6-3 Council vote. A modification of the proposed development was issued January 31, 2020. The Steering Committee met on February 15th, with a workshop scheduled for March 2nd.
Around that time, the City disclosed that it had received financial information from the developer, Ryan Companies, which it would disclose shortly, after City staff review.
Per the City’s website:
“Ryan Companies continues to work on the financial information related to the revised baseline concept. To provide City staff with the opportunity to analyze the financial data presented, present Council with options, and allow the public ample time to view the financial information and staff analysis, the March 2nd 5th Avenue workshop was canceled and was slated to be rescheduled to April 6, 2020. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the April workshop date was also canceled.”
“…allow the public ample time to view the financial information and staff analysis…”
Cancelling the workshop doesn’t mean the information can’t be disclosed.
The proposed project has multiple complex, interwoven aspects, from number of parking spots, residential units, affordable units, and square footage of commercial and retail space, entrances and exits from parking decks, nearby schools, safety concerns, traffic issues, financial aspects, etc.
So, at the May 5th 2020 City Council meeting, Councilman Coyne asked if City staff should be directed to research language on a referendum on the 5th Avenue project. Councilman Coyne noted there could be up to three questions on the possible referendum.
Mayor Chirico’s reaction:
…I think it’s brilliant…”
Wow. Mayor Chirico thinks Councilman Coyne’s ‘question’ is “brilliant”! Who would have guessed?
City Attorney Michael DiSanto noted that “…referendum questions must begin with shall, they have to be answered yes or no, and they can only be one sentence.” He also said he believed that Councilman Coyne was correct, there could be up to three referendum questions.
Several Council members noted that the multiple issues of the proposed 5th Avenue project were too much for a one sentence, yes or no question. But Councilwoman Brodhead’s enthusiastic support along with Mayor Chirico was enough to advance Councilman Coyne’s “brilliant” question.
So, as a result of Councilman Coyne’s question, the agenda for the June 2, 2020 City Council meeting includes a vote for the following proposed referendum language:
“Shall the City of Naperville proceed with a 5th Avenue development plan that is substantially similar to the concept presented at the February 15th Steering Committee meeting and borrow approximately $_0,000,000 to pay for improvements to commuter parking, stormwater detention, and additional municipal infrastructure substantially similar to those improvements outlined in said concept plan?”
If the purpose of the proposed 5th Avenue project is to pay for commuter parking improvements, stormwater detention and additional infrastructure, the City can do that without borrowing tens of millions of dollars and transferring City-owned land to an insider, private developer chosen behind closed doors for a no bid mega-development. What would be the cost of the improvements on a stand-alone basis?
If the City is going to propose a referendum on 5th Avenue, arguably an issue too complex for a one sentence yes or no question, the wording should not as be a public works project, which happen every year without a referendum.
The one thing conspicuously absent throughout this entire process:
The cost to the taxpayers.
What about “…allow the public ample time to view the financial information and staff analysis…?”
Why has the City not done that?
The suggested language implies a price tag of tens of millions of dollars of our money. Level with the taxpayers: What was the projected cost of the project, pre-COVID19, before the economy took the biggest decline since the great depression?
The proposal is a mixed-use development, with residential, commercial and retail centered on a commuter train station. Has the outlook for commercial real estate improved since the economy cratered, with huge unemployment and people working from home? Has retail improved since March? Will train station residential be in demand, with commuter ridership expected to be down for years, perhaps never recovering to pre-COVID19 levels?
Still missing is the information we would have “ample time to view”:
The cost to us residents for the underlying project of the referendum Mayor Chirico calls “brilliant.”
Written by Mike Marek.