DeKALB – Enough to turn heads and baffle onlookers, the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting Wednesday night saw rampant support for the Annie Glidden North Revitalization Plan while stamping down on a second attempt by owner and developer Pete Occhipinti for redevelopment of the former Campus Cinemas building at 1015 Blackhawk Road.
Annie Glidden North Revitalization Plan
The public hearing for the AGN revitalization plan along both sides of Annie Glidden Road was met with overwhelming praise. A task force has been conducting community listening sessions over the past few months.
Jo Ellen Charlton, community development director for the city, presented the commission with a comprehensive plan created by combined efforts from the task force as well as Camiros, the consulting firm hired by the city to help guide development and revitalization efforts for the AGN neighborhood.
“The ideas in the plan really emerged from both community and task force members,” Herb Rubin, AGN task force chairman, said. He also said the plan is “explicitly concerned with implementation,” a point many commission members echoed.
The plan includes 45 projects that can be broken down into four parts: transportation, infrastructure and open space; community services; neighborhood safety and security; and housing and commercial development.
Through those findings, 10 core transformational projects were recommended, Charlton said. Notable recommendations include: a community food and education center; a Community Development Corp., which would steer development in the area; implementation of safety improvements focused on lighting and surveillance; creation of a Community Center; creation of a walk-in clinic or urgent care facility; identifying local transportation improvements; developing streetscape and gateway improvements for Greek row along Northern Illinois University’s campus; and redesigning Welsh Park as a local and regional destination.
“There are really good ideas here,” said David Castro, commission vice chairman who also was a member of the task force. “I am really happy to be here and supporting this effort.”
The commission voted to recommend City Council approve the AGN plan, which Charlton said could be up for a formal vote before the council as soon as Nov. 26.
Campus Cinemas special use petition
The commission recommended the City Council deny the application for a special use permit for the former movie theater based on a slew of compliance issues that were not properly addressed in the petition.
During the hearing, allegations were made by city officials as well as Occhipinti and his lawyer, Mark Johnson, directed at one another regarding an Oct. 2 email and lack of meetings regarding the petition.
City Attorney Dean Frieders and Johnson traded pointed words throughout the hearing.
“Frankly, I’ve never run into anything like this,” Johnson said. “It’s frustrating [for my client] to go to a city, be willing to put his own money in, and get turned away time and again.”
Johnson alleged the city did not willingly put forward its staff response documents to the petition until Friday, thereby giving Occhipinti and his team an inadequate amount of time to go back to their architects and make adjustments according to the city’s Unified Development Ordinance before Wednesday’s hearing. He said his Oct. 2 email to Frieders requesting a followup meeting to discuss the city’s response to the petition was denied. Johnson also alleged the city had denied his request for a meeting “numerous times.”
Frieders said he received and responded to the Oct. 2 email meeting request, and did not receive a reply from Occhipinti’s team until Friday, when they indicated they would be approaching the commission to seek a continuance. He also said it was “incorrect that they requested more meetings.”
Johnson said city officials should have brought up the project’s Unified Development Ordinance compliance issues before Friday so Occhipinti’s team could have more time to amend the application.
“Mr. Johnson saying the city should educate him on UDO requirements is not correct. Particularly because [these compliance issues] are the same deficiencies that were brought to us before,” Frieders said, referencing Occhipinti’s first petition attempt in September 2016, which was denied by the City Council in December 2016. He also said the city’s principal planner had requested additional detail and Occhipinti “very clearly indicated his intent was to have the plans submitted be reviewed as he submitted them.”
The commission addressed Occhipinti directly at one point, urging him to resubmit the application for the zoning change with proper conformity, saying redevelopment is needed in the area.
Occhipinti responded directly by standing up and saying, “Every time we do it, the city denies it.” He also said the city doesn’t “follow rules.”
Charlton presented at length numerous factors in Occhipinti’s application which do not comply with existing Unified Development Ordinance and special use permit regulations, siting parking concerns, questionable structural integrity (the part of the roof collapsed in November 2017), neighborhood compatibility, exterior building materials, landscape buffers and other factors.
The new application to revamp the existing single-story 15,200-square-foot building into a mixed-use space included the addition of commercial retail on the first floor – with a grocery store – and kept the existing 22-unit apartment complex planned for a second and third floor addition.