ST. CHARLES • Bob and Cindy Messmer moved to the New Town area three years ago, drawn by modern homes of various sizes and price tags on an old-style street grid with easy walking to shops, restaurants and recreation.
Now the Messmers and many of their neighbors are fighting a suburban-style subdivision proposed for New Town’s southeast edge along Boschertown Road.
The City Council would have to remove the 93-acre tract from the “new urbanist” district it authorized in 2003.
“To diminish that vision at this point … would be a big step backward,” Bob Messmer, an architect, told the council Tuesday night.
Another resident, Lindsay Sutton, was more blunt. “Please don’t let our land be sold off to make another everyday ordinary subdivision,” she said.
The proposed builder, Tom Hughes, says New Town is a wonderful place but not for everyone. He says there’s also consumer demand for a more conventional, lower-density development in the immediate vicinity.
“We believe folks need to have a choice of a different type of lifestyle” in the area served by Orchard Farm public schools, he said. A current suburban-type subdivision nearby, Charlestowne, will be sold out in a few months, he added.
He pointed out that several hundred other lots in other parts of New Town will still be available through two other builders.
The Hughes project, Charlestowne Crossing, would have 234 single-family homes plus a new elementary school planned by the Orchard Farm district.
New Town has about 1,300 dwellings with approximately 3,000 residents. The original New Town developer, Greg Whittaker of Whittaker Builders, had envisioned as many as 5,700 homes going up there over 15 to 20 years.
Home building has continued although the pace slowed with the recession that took hold in 2008.
After Whittaker Builders encountered financial difficulties in the recession, a consortium of banks — WBI Resolution LLC — took over ownership of much of New Town as well as the Whittaker firm’s role as overseer of the New Town plan.
Greg Whittaker is still involved in the project through NT Home Builders, a company he manages and that bought some New Town land from WBI Resolution, said NT attorney Brad Goss.
Goss also represents Hughes’ group, which last year purchased 305 acres from WBI Resolution, including the 97 it now wants removed from the city’s New Town zoning rules.
Last month WBI removed the tract from its internal New Town regulations and said it no longer considered the area to be part of the development.
Opponents worry that allowing the conventional subdivision could set a precedent.
“In the next few years, you’re going to find more young families that want to build and there’s not going to be any more room in New Town,” said resident Ariane Cameron.
Goss said, however, that Hughes had made no decision on what to do with the rest of the New Town land his group bought.
“He’s willing to sit down and talk to people” about it, Goss said.
Hughes said the 234 lots he wanted to remove from New Town were offset by the addition last year of 236 residential lots on land originally slated for warehouse-type uses.
Critics also say that removing the tract would reduce the potential pool of homeowner fees that fund some New Town amenities and hurt current and future residents. Fewer areas for businesses in the mixed-use development also will be available, they warn.
More than 100 people, most of them opponents of the plan, packed into the council hearing on the issue. A vote is expected on Sept. 23.
Kim Higgins, who lives in the conventional Stable Ridge area nearby, was among a handful attending who supported Hughes’ request.
“I hate to see it sit empty year after year and no progress,” she said, referring to the vacant tract. She added that people in her area have a strong sense of community just as New Town residents do.
“We walk our dogs, too; we talk to our neighbors,” Higgins said. “We watch out for our children just the same.”
Supporters of Hughes’ request may have the upper hand politically, because six of the 10 council members are listed as co-sponsors. Seven votes are needed for passage.
A two-thirds majority is required because the city’s planning and zoning commission voted 6-2 last month to recommend against council approval.
A commission report said some members believed removing the tract would have a negative impact on New Town. The report also cited “incompatibility” of the Charlestowne Crossing home design with those in New Town.
Mayor Sally Faith, a planning commission member, was among those voting against Hughes’ proposal. However, she hasn’t said if she would veto or sign the bill if the council passes it. Veto overrides require seven votes.
Council President Dave Beckering, the bill’s sponsor, told the crowd Tuesday night that the vote was about the best use of the land.
“Nobody else wanted to buy it to build anything on it, let alone New Town-style homes,” he said.
Moreover, he said, it’s St. Charles’ only viable option for large-scale residential development inside the city limits. He said there was also little land available for annexation.
Herrmann, whose ward includes New Town, sides with opponents. He said the original developer “had a dream and a vision, and these folks here believed in it.”
“They know it could take 15 or 20 years, and they’re willing to wait,” he said.
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