Lockport — The Lockport City Council granted approval for a new concept plan that changes the zoning of the Lockport Square development to include residential property, but without apartments.
The council voted Wednesday on the plan that would develop a now empty area south of 159th Street near the Interstate 355 interchange.
Jancko Group, the developer working on the Lockport Square property, initially had created a concept plan that included a second hotel for the development along with space for some additional commercial space, a large restaurant, and two housing areas: a 116-unit townhome development and 310 apartments in two buildings.
The proposed change required city approval to re-zone a portion of the property for residential instead of commercial use, and the request had caused significant debate during the council’s last two Committee of the Whole meetings.
Alderman Darren Deskin has been strongly in favor of the plan, arguing that while it was not the commercial powerhouse the city had once hoped to create on the parcel, it was better than leaving it vacant and would help the city and schools by increasing the property tax-base.
On the other side, Mayor Steven Streit was opposed, suggesting that to rezone the property was sacrificing a future opportunity for commercial development and sales tax revenue in what he believes is the last large, viable commercial property in the city.
Other members of the city council fell between the two opinions, or expressed uncertainty.
While Jancko representative Jim Purinton said that his company’s research showed there would be a demand for the housing, concerns remained about the necessity of building more apartments at the current time and sacrificing potential commercial opportunities.
Several aldermen suggested creating another plan option for the board to consider, but that was deemed impractical and overly time-consuming.
When the issue was raised on Wednesday, Alderman Joanne Bartelsen proposed a compromise plan, which would allow for part of the area to become residential, while retaining some undeveloped space for potential future commercial development.
The new plan gave permission for the southeast, back corner of the parcel to be developed for the townhomes, but eliminated the new apartment buildings, leaving 10 acres of land undeveloped for the time being.
The other portions of the plan, including the restaurant slot and the space for the extended stay hotel, something Jancko Group deems practical to differentiate it from the already built Holiday Inn Express, were untouched by the amended proposal.
While the compromise seemed to satisfy most of the council members, Streit was still unconvinced and began to question if the layout should be changed.
“If you get rid of that center chunk with the apartments, is this now the right configuration for this to work, considering this was planned specifically?” he asked. “Before we say yes to this, should some things be shifted?”
Streit’s objections centered around the hotel, which he proposed moving to be closer to the existing hotel, something Purinton objected to, saying it should remain closer to the main streets.
“Obviously I think the consensus on the board is that some residential here is all right, I don’t agree, but I’m only one voice,” Streit said. “I think taking this out shifts the dynamic though, so I’m wondering if it should be reconfigured to keep the integrity of what this property is.”
Alderman J.R. Gillogly said he was in favor of the plan as presented, calling the layout “very smart” and pointing out that it left a large opening in the center for future commercial development.
He also pointed out that the rest of the parcel is still zoned commercial, so the hotel could still be moved as planning continued if it was deemed necessary, even if the council gave preliminary approval.
The approval of the plan only cements the position of the townhome development, because it can only be built in the sector zoned for residential development.
“I just think if we approve this with the two apartments out, this is exactly what we’re going to get because we’re not asking them to do anything else,” Streit said.
“It’s not perfect, it’s a compromise,” Alderman Jonathan Pugh said. “I was very against it. I don’t have objections about it any more.”
More questions about what small alterations could still be made to the plan once it was voted on started being asked by members of the council, which Director of Community and Economic Development Lance Thies said could be addressed later.
“We’ve beaten this to death and we’re just doing what-abouts,” Deskin interrupted as Streit continued to push the matter. “It’s a concept plan. It’s a concept plan. It’s a concept plan. It’s not a final plan. It’s not a preliminary plan. It’s not a final build-out. We’re not cutting the ribbon tomorrow. What the motion is, is to approve townhomes in this area. All the questions about the number of townhomes and which way they’re facing, that’s not what this is about.”
“I’m just trying to clarify,” Streit interjected.
“Well, you have clarified it to the point where you have confused everybody. It’s time to vote,” Deskin continued.
When the motion did move to a vote it passed 7-1, with only Alderman Patrick Sheehan voting no.
While it is not impossible that a future plan could once again ask to rezone the property proposed as apartments in this proposal, for now, the city hopes more restaurants or larger stores may express interest in the ten-acre space.
Bartelsen also said she does not believe future commercial development next to the townhomes would be a deterrent for homeowners potentially looking to move into the development.