To the Editor:
As a 25-year resident of DeKalb’s Ellwood Historic Neighborhood, I am very concerned about what lies ahead for this beloved cluster of older homes and majestic trees burrowed between NIU and downtown DeKalb.
The fate of about 40 properties in the John Street area of this neighborhood will be determined at the upcoming DeKalb City Council meeting on Monday.
This meeting will include a public hearing on the city of DeKalb’s portion of a proposed countywide Enterprise Zone. If approved by the state, tax breaks and incentives could be given for commercial and industrial development in this zone.
The city proposes to include the John Street area in the enterprise zone map, reflecting its long-term plan to zone the area for commercial use. The homes in this area, built in the late 1800s, are currently zoned multifamily residential. Some are boarding houses, others are single family. The city estimates that 100-200 boarding rooms would be lost in demolishing these properties.
The west side of John Street is in a flood plain. Therefore, NIU has a plan to dredge its crown jewel, the beautiful east lagoon. By turning the lagoon into a huge dry basin with a small stream, it will absorb overflow from the Kishwaukee River in the event of an extreme flood and John Street can be removed from the flood plain.
What is the city planning for this area? The DeKalb 2020 plan proposes a 40,000 to 50,000 square-foot pentagon-shaped conference center hotel, 6-10 stories high, with 180-230 rooms and a 2-story parking structure.
The cost to DeKalb taxpayers for the DeKalb 2020 plan would be exorbitant. The plan estimates that taxpayers could end up paying for a $20 million bond over 10 years.
Or the city could opt to turn the 9-acre area into a collection of lower-end, mixed-use businesses with apartments on top, similar to properties in the west Hillcrest-Annie Glidden area.
Why not use tax increment financing and other funds to make low-interest loans available to property owners, re-cobble the streets, improve parking, create a beautiful river walk and park area, and restore a historic flavor to the John Street neighborhood?
It is very important that residents of this neighborhood and greater DeKalb express their opinions on this issue. The John Street neighborhood is a significant part of a larger historic neighborhood. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.