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Irongate plan faces many challenges

DeKALB – The Irongate housing development proposal has been a juggling act for ShoDeen Construction President Dave Patzelt.

“It’s a difficult process,” Patzelt said, who has to cater his development to the requests of the DeKalb City Council, DeKalb School District 428, and the DeKalb Park District.

Ultimately, it’s the DeKalb aldermen who will decide the future of a new residential community with more than 1,000 new homes at the corner of Bethany Road and First Street, just north of DeKalb High School.

Six aldermen need to vote “yes” on annexation, and the neighborhood cannot be built unless it’s annexed into DeKalb. One of the key issues in any annexation agreement are impact fees.

The city’s development code contains an ordinance dictating how impact fees are paid to other units of government. Impact fees are payments developers make to a unit of government to cover the estimated cost of public infrastructure in a new neighborhood, such as roads and street lights.

DeKalb’s ordinance allows the developer to pay the school and the park districts in both cash and land. City Manager Mark Biernacki said the complicated formula for calculating how much in impact fees is owed includes the number of units in the development and a set value of the land.

Irongate is still in the planning stages, but the school district is looking to acquire land from ShoDeen, while the park district is looking for land and cash.

Patzelt said his current discussions with the school district would have them acquire 16 acres north of DHS, and another seven or eight acres within Irongate for a future elementary school.

Cindy Capek, the park district’s executive director, said the district is entitled to 48 acres in Irongate. About 30 to 34 acres would become park space, with the park district receiving cash for the remaining acres.

Speaking at a Jan. 29 special meeting on Irongate, D-428 Superintendent James Briscoe asked the council to consider lowering the impact fees for part of the Irongate community. Briscoe said the district needs property value growth more than impact fees.

No agreement on impact fees was reached at that meeting, as some city leaders were unwilling to accept half the amount of impact fees as their portion is small compared to the school and park districts.

As its president, Tom Matya said the school board has not made a formal recommendation on whether it wants lower impact fees or not.

“We want to make sure we look at all financial implications for the district,” Matya said.

Patzelt favors reducing the impact fees, as he said those costs are passed onto the potential home buyers. Another proposal discussed Jan. 29 was halving the impact fee rates only until ShoDeen builds 300 houses or seven years have elapsed.

Meanwhile, Patzelt agreed that, in this case, property value growth is more important than impact fees.

“If home sales are moving at a brisk pace and the market can pay those fees, I have no problem paying those fees,” Patzelt said. “But what does impact fees give them? ... Would you rather have fewer homes paying all the impact fees? Or would you rather have more homes paying less fees?”

According to plans from November, Irongate will feature 1,053 single-family homes on lots ranging from 50 feet to 80 feet wide.

“Due to the economic conditions, people are living different ways than they used to live,” Patzelt said. “The McMansions are gone.”

The Irongate proposal also includes housing for senior citizens and 248 townhouses, although some aldermen want to reduce the number of townhouses to about 130 townhomes, or about 10 percent of the total number of units in the development.

Patzelt said he is reluctant to do so because the council’s wish is arbitrary.

“They are literally pulling numbers out of the sky,” Patzelt said.

City leaders also are concerned Irongate will become a rental community, similar to ones located around Northern Illinois University. Patzelt said it is not economically feasible for him to build rental houses.

“I can’t make homes and have them rental,” Patzelt said. “People don’t pay enough [to rent in DeKalb].”

Patzelt acknowledged some resistance to his development, but he argued that projects like Irongate create economic development.

“Change is difficult, we have to face it to move forward,” Patzelt said.

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