The attorney for Lexington Club developer 333 North Sixth Street LLC, chastised the St. Charles City Council Planning and Development Committee after its 7-2 vote on Monday rejecting the tax increment financing component considered a linchpin to financing the $45 million development.
Attorney Hank Stillwell warned aldermen they were sending a strong message that St. Charles is among the most anti-development communities in the western Chicago suburbs.
Visibly angry, Stillwell laid out for the council that he and his clients and worked hand in hand with the city, making concession after concession to ensure the project was palatable to the city. Every stop of the way, he said, the council had indicated its support for those efforts — until Monday night.
Stillwell said the process has gone on and on at a considerable expense to his clients.
“We did what you asked us to do. We said, ‘What do you want?’” he told the aldermen, reminding them the developer made concessions each step along the way. “In each step, it was understood that a TIF component was essential to make this work.”
Stillwell said as a result, his clients have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project already, not to mention the time over the past several years working with the city staff.
“You voted in favor of the (TIF) entitlements seven months ago. That plan is what you said you wanted on the site … You people agreed! You did,” he said.
He called the council’s decision a political decision, not a business decision — apparently referring to the perception that the council was bowing to political pressure from residents opposed to the project.
After the meeting, 5th Ward Alderwoman Maureen Lewis pointed out that both she and 4th Ward Alderwoman Jo Krieger consistently have voted against the Lexington project. She said Stillwell’s comments seemed to be directed at the entire council, when prior council support for the project has never been unanimous.
Still, even prior to the vote, there were indications that aldermen were concerned about the city advancing another tax increment financing district, or TIF, particularly in light of the city’s experience with the districts so far.
St. Charles Economic Development Director Chris Aiston started the discussion by trying to reassure the aldermen that while some numbers related to the TIF had changed as the development has been realigned, the bottom line really has not.
The budget for the project did show an increase in the amount of reimbursable costs for the developers activities on the site for demolition, environmental remediation and site leveling.
In the project’s original budget request totaled $4.96 million, with a total TIF cost of $5.25 million. That was revised to $6 million, with a total TIF cost of $6.29 million. The difference, he said, was due to an increase in the gap between anticipated revenues and costs for the project.
The city’s Joint Review Board, which includes representatives of those taxing bodies that would be affected by a TIF, looked over the project on Dec. 5, after this latest Lexington Club revision, and approved the change.
Despite Aiston’s explanation, 3rd Ward Alderman Bill Turner questioned the wisdom of the city embarking on a residential TIF district when similar efforts in town failed to be productive.
He pointed to the old St. Charles Mall site as one example of a TIF still waiting to be developed, as well as the city’s 1st Street project, in which two buildings were supposed to have been built along the Fox River on a site that remains bare.
“We don’t have a real good track record on residential TIFs,” he said. “This does not look good to me and I am not willing to risk this.”
Aiston said the Lexington Club project is significantly different in that the city will incur no debt, describing it as a pay-as-you-go effort.
“... The developer incurs the debt, the developer incurs the risk … They take the risk,” he said. “The city will have no financial risk in this project. Worst-case scenario: The developer ends up owing $6 million.”
Alderman Raymond Rogina of the Third Ward also expressed skepticism about the project — not because of the land-use issues, but because of the financial concerns related to the TIF. His remark sparked agreement from 1st Ward Aldermen Dan Stellato, who also said he was reluctant to discuss the land-use aspect of the project.
The use of the site to develop multifamily homes is a land-use issue.
Still, committee Chairman Cliff Carrignan, also a 2nd Ward alderman, said the committee should consider the risks and benefits. Specifically, risking $6 million on a project that would increase the property’s value tenfold.
The site has an equalized assessed valuation of about $4 million, yet the developer is planning a $45 million project. Still, Carrignan found himself in a situation where he could speak in support of the project but could not vote for it. The committee chairman votes only when there is a tie.
The environmental remediation on the site remains a key concern if the project does not advance. Aldermen were told the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency would be in charge of ensuring environmental compliance on the site if it is not developed.