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Despite objections, DeKalb commission votes 3-2 to rezone lot for hotel proposal

Despite objections, DeKalb commission votes, 3-2, to rezone lot

DeKALB – Despite strong vocal opposition both last month and Wednesday to a proposed new hotel site, the DeKalb Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday voted, 3-2, to approve a measure so that a four-story, 90-room Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel could eventually be built.

Commissioners Katharina Barbe and Chairwoman Christina Doe opposed the measure, while commissioners Vicki Buckley, Max Maxwell and David Castro voted in favor. Commissioners Deborah Nier and Jerry Wright were absent.

About 10 of the two dozen residents who attended the meeting received applause when voicing their criticisms. The meeting needed a commission vote to extend the meeting past the normal 9 p.m. cutoff.

The proposed hotel site is a 2.87-acre lot on the southwest corner of South Annie Glidden Road and Knolls Avenue South. It would feature an indoor pool, meeting room, kitchenettes and use sustainable materials and power supplies.

Now that the hotel has commission approval, the project heads to the DeKalb City Council, which will probably take up the matter in about a month.

Perhaps residents’ chief concern was what resident Jill Skinner termed the “visual pollution” the new hotel would bring. Each resident who spoke Wednesday was adamant that they don’t want to see a four-story hotel whenever they leave and enter their homes. Furthermore, they maintained that adjusted plans for a taller fence, better landscaping and other improvements would not allay those concerns.

“I don’t know what could be more visually polluting than a four-story hotel in a residential neighborhood,” Skinner said.

Visual pollution was not residents’ only objection to the hotel. They also disputed the findings of the required traffic study that concluded the new hotel would not be a traffic impediment. Resident Christine Sokolowski said she waited three minutes Wednesday to turn left onto Annie Glidden from Mason Street. Residents said Northern Illinois University football games and Convocation Center events, as well as DeKalb public school traffic, create much worse traffic congestion than the traffic study, which was conducted on a Thursday in February, would indicate.

Another significant point of disagreement is how residents and the commission interpret the property designation zoning of “light commercial.” Although building codes for light commercial technically allow several dozen different types of businesses, residents said they envisioned small shops, not large hotels.

“Nobody who lives in this neighborhood would have conceived of a four-story hotel,” resident Steve Brown said.

Then there were environmental concerns, despite a new letter of support from the DeKalb Park District. Resident Dawn Flippin said, “I keep hearing wetland and floodplain, and what is not being discussed is how much blacktop is going to be added,” she said. Cars that leak fluids, and parking lots that must be salted in winter, will eventually create hazardous runoff, she said.

Flippin also noted ambiguity in the hotel’s targeted clientele.

“A lot of the information the developers came back with were conflicting in nature,” she said.

She noted that developers said that the hotel is needed to attract corporate traffic such as Nestle and 3M, but they also said the hotel is needed to satisfy NIU needs.

Regardless, Flippin said, echoing other residents’ concerns, the hotel “just doesn’t seem to fit with the neighborhood.”

Despite objections, Principal Planner Dan Olson said the commission’s task is to rule based on developers’ satisfaction of the city’s building code requirements, which, he said, they fulfill.

“I believe our position is to rule on the facts presented,” Buckley said. “At this point, based on the facts, I would be in favor.”

Commissioner Max Maxwell, a longtime resident in The Knolls neighborhood, said residents have always known the property is commercial. “This is a commercial transaction,” Maxwell said.

Pramit Patel, who owns the Hampton Inn on Annie Glidden Road, would manage the new hotel. Patel said Wednesday that if the proposed location was not approved, the hotel would not be built anywhere.

The reason for the ultimatum, Patel said, is that Hilton Hotels must ultimately approve locations, and of locations shown to Hilton, the only location Hilton approved is the one proposed.

Patel said that while other establishments could come into that location, none of them are going to generate revenues of $350,000 annually, of which $140,000 would go to DeKalb School District 428. He also said that the project would not use any tax increment finance district funds, that no tax abatements were requested, and local banks would be used.

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