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Our View: DeKalb council needs plan for future

Question for the DeKalb City Council: How is the city supposed to grow without adding homes?

In light of Monday’s 4-4 vote that led to the demise of a subdivision plan that would have added more than 1,200 homes to the city over 20 years, its obvious there’s no consensus among council members on that question.

Some council members said the timing was wrong to approve the development proposed by ShoDeen Construction for 458 acres near DeKalb High School.

In that, perhaps they are right. After all, council members seem to have no consensus on a plan for the future. It doesn’t align with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for a development similar to what ShoDeen was proposing for the area.

Interim City Manager Randy Espiritu seemed as confused as anyone Monday, at one point asking the council, “what do you want your staff to do?”

That’s a question that the aldermen and Mayor John Rey will have to figure out how to answer, especially if they’re looking to hire a quality leader to be their next city manager.

The city has seemed focused on attracting new commercial development, in part through its focus on creating new tax increment financing districts and offering incentives to commercial developers.

However, one fundamental truth they might be forgetting: Businesses of all kinds need workers and customers. They follow the people.

Some point to the fact that developer ShoDeen has yet to make any move on the property it owns on Lincoln Highway near downtown DeKalb. The planned “NB&T Square” was supposed to be a mixed-use development with businesses and condominiums. Today it’s an attractive new bank building that anchors an ugly empty space.

Why allow ShoDeen to build anything else if they haven’t made any progress there?

For one, it’s not the same kind of development. For another, shooting down one development plan doesn’t guarantee any progress on another. As ShoDeen President David Patzelt said, he would not be making any moves on Irongate or any other development in the city – ahem – without some direction from the City Council.

Others say there already are 300 vacant lots in DeKalb, proof there is no demand for new housing. That’s not in line with what experts say. A housing study conducted by the city and Northern Illinois University released this year showed the city has a need for houses priced higher than $241,000, presumably where many of the single-family homes proposed by ShoDeen would fit.

Data on the state’s housing market shows a rebound, too. The Illinois Association of Realtors reported that home sales increased 14.9 percent in June over previous levels. Median prices were up 9.7 percent. There have been two full years of year-over-year sales increases. The inventory of homes for sale in June was down 27.4 percent from the previous year.

Must every available house and lot in the city be occupied before any new ones can be built? If that never happens, should DeKalb stand still forever? That might please some, but it’s not a formula for the long-term health and success of the community.

The project proposed a roughly 20-year build-out, a very gradual schedule that wouldn’t threaten to overwhelm the city overnight.

It is an alderman’s prerogative to reject plans they feel would not benefit the city in the long-term. But unless they advocate DeKalb standing still, they ought to present a vision for how the city should grow, if Irongate is not the way.

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