Debate continues over vote against closing Walnut Avenue in St. Charles to traffic for outdoor dining program

It appears that Flagship on the Fox will not be able to use Walnut Avenue for its outdoor dining program this year.

At the St. Charles City Council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting on Monday, the majority of alderpersons voted not to allow the temporary closure of Walnut Avenue through Oct. 31 for outdoor dining.

The debate over whether alderpersons should continue to allow Flagship on the Fox to use Walnut Avenue for its outdoor dining program continued at the St. Charles City Council meeting March 20.

At the St. Charles City Council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting March 13, the majority of alderpersons voted not to allow the temporary closure of Walnut Avenue in downtown St. Charles through Oct. 31 for outdoor dining. St. Charles officials created the program in 2020 as a way to help restaurants comply with the state’s COVID-19 mitigation rules at the time.

We are going to continue to try and do what we think will be mutually beneficial for us and the community.

—  Developer Curt Hurst of Frontier Development

At the City Council meeting March 20, alderpersons unanimously approved the request of Pollyanna Brewing Company – which is in the same building as Flagship on the Fox – to again use the city-owned portion of the parking lot directly south of the Pollyanna building for the purpose of providing an outdoor dining patio.

Developer Curt Hurst of Frontier Development, which owns the building that houses Flagship on the Fox sports bar and Pollyanna Brewing Company, expressed disappointment in the vote not to allow the temporary closure of Walnut Avenue.

“We are going to continue to try and do what we think will be mutually beneficial for us and the community,” Hurst said in addressing alderpersons. “There will be disagreements about what that is. But our hope is that going forward, we will find a council that is more willing to collaborate with everyone in the community. We believe as elected officials, it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re communicating with everyone you represent, especially if you don’t agree with them.”

There had been public opposition to plans of Frontier Development, in partnership with Chicago-based The Prime Group and Architectural Wood Expressions, to build one six-story building and parking garage that would contain 107 residential units, four restaurants, 164 hotel rooms, a spa/fitness center and conference space. An 85,000-square-foot outdoor plaza, two rooftop pools and 750 lineal feet of public riverwalk also are part of the plans.

Frontier Development submitted the plans as part of its vision for the former police station along the Fox River. At the Dec. 19, 2022, St. Charles City Council meeting, alderpersons unanimously approved a motion to reject all the concept proposals for the former police station site. City staff have been directed to put together a request for proposals in order to engage a consultant to conduct a feasibility study for the property.

Flagship on the Fox is located in the 4th Ward. 4th Ward Alderpersons David Pietryla and Bryan Wirball both voted against allowing the temporary closure of Walnut Avenue for outdoor dining.

“The vote last Monday was not a vote about outdoor dining in general in St. Charles,” Pietryla said. “In fact, I strongly support and enjoy outdoor dining myself and think it’s actually good for the city.”

Pietryla said closing Walnut Avenue for outdoor dining was the right thing to do during and in the wake of the pandemic when “our residents and our businesses needed support.”

“Those were extraordinary times and we did what we could to promote local businesses and community morale,” Pietryla said. “But I just do not believe that means that a single business can use a public street forever. It’s a public street, not a patio, and not a plaza. The business may still offer an outdoor dining experience on the north and west sides of this building where there is sidewalk space per our ordinance. Closing a city street so that it can be used by a single business is bad policy and sets a precedent that will undoubtedly cause problems for the city in the future.”

In addition, he said construction on the River East Lofts project is expected to begin in a month or so and will last throughout the summer.

“So the residents in that east side neighborhood would face some real difficulties if Walnut Street is closed in addition to the construction in that area,” Pietryla said.

Frontier Development is the developer for that project. Wirball said he talked to the residents who live near Flagship on the Fox about their concerns in regard to closing Walnut Avenue.

“I don’t want to forget about them,” he said. “They’re important, too. It’s about striking the right balance. So, for me, I’m comfortable just using the option of outdoor dining on the sidewalk. It’s available now. Bring some different options in the future and let’s see what we can do.”

Voting in favor of closing Walnut Avenue were 2nd Ward Alderperson Rita Payleitner, 3rd Ward Alderperson Todd Bancroft, 3rd Ward Alderperson Paul Lencioni and 5th Ward Alderperson Ed Bessner. Voting against were 1st Ward Alderperson Ronald Silkaitis and 1st Ward Alderperson Bill Kalamaris along with Pietryla and Wirball.

Second Ward Alderperson Ryan Bongard abstained from voting, which created a tie vote. Bongard had to abstain from voting because his company, Twelve21, rents office space in the city’s tax increment financing district that also includes Flagship on the Fox. State law prohibits him from publicly commenting or voting on any item within the boundaries.

Fifth Ward Alderperson Steve Weber, chairperson of the Planning and Development Committee, broke the tie by voting against closing Walnut Avenue.

“I feel they can use the sidewalk to do outdoor dining,” Weber said after his vote.

Bancroft said he voted in favor of closing Walnut Avenue again this year because of the popularity of the outdoor dining program.

“It could have happened this summer and then we could have continued the discussion for a more permanent solution,” he said. “And I think that would have allowed people a lot of time to talk.”

St. Charles Mayor Lora Vitek said she is open to collaboration.

“I’m going to speak on behalf of the City Council right now and hoping everyone else is too,” she said. “Because that’s the direction I want to move the city. My door is always open.”