DECATUR — New commercial development could soon fill the northwest corner of Mound Road and U.S. Business 51 after the Decatur City Council agreed on Monday to rezone the 3-acre site.
The project, which includes two buildings totaling nearly 18,000 square feet, would be the latest addition to an area on the city's north side that has recently attracted increased attention from developers looking to bring business to Decatur. It is across the street from Mound Center, which includes Target, Olive Garden and Starbucks, and could soon feature a new tenant in the building with Ashley Furniture.
Just down the street, the city of Decatur plans to invest $2 million in a fire station near Greenridge Drive. About half a mile north, a development anchored by Chipotle Mexican Grill is planned at West Ash Avenue and U.S. Business 51.
“From a developer’s standpoint, I guess they still see a need for retail, commercial, office type of usage in that area,” said Raymond Lai, the city's community economic development director. “It’s a high-traffic area, with a large customer base nearby. Those may be just some of the reasons.”
Location was key for one potential tenant of the development approved Monday, said Mary Cave, an engineer with Chastain and Associates who is representing the project. She described the tenant of the 13,000-square-foot building as a medical office, but said its representatives did not yet want to be identified.
"They need a location in northern Decatur or Forsyth. They're looking in Decatur," she said. "They don't want central, they don't want southern, they want northern Decatur and this is available."
After half an hour of discussion, the council voted 6-1 to approve the rezoning. Councilman Bill Faber voted against the measure, saying the development on West Mound wouldn't be good for the community. "The last thing this community needs is another medical building," he said.
The second, smaller building is not explicitly billed as a restaurant, but the plan calls for a drive-thru as part of its total 4,800-square-foot layout. No specific restaurants or retail businesses have been identified, Cave said. “We’re hoping to have that all developed soon,” she said.
The council also approved an amendment to prohibit the use of video gaming terminals. Other prohibited uses include tattoo or piercing parlors, video gambling parlors and gas stations.
The possibility of a new restaurant down the street was exciting for Justin Hayes, 22, and Lena Rotramel, 21, who live in the Prairie Hills apartments on Mound Road.
"It's always cool to see new businesses pop up," Rotramel said. "It will be a nice addition to the neighborhood."
Not everyone agrees. Zach Jones, 30, lives north of the development site on Newcastle Drive. "Well see," he said, referring to the new development. "Restaurants don’t stay around here very long. It will probably end up being just another empty building."
He also isn't looking forward to constant sirens with construction of the new fire station, plans for which the council approved in January. It will replace Station 5 on East Christine Drive, currently the northernmost of the city's seven fire stations.
"The traffic is going to be terrible there," Jones said. "All the people at Target come through. And on top of that, it is residential."
Still, the rezoning on West Mound did not draw nearly as many concerned neighbors as in January, when the council voted to rezone 1.6 acres at the southwest corner of U.S. Business 51 and West Ash Avenue for the development including Chipotle. Residents had strongly objected to the move, citing worries about heavy traffic and the potential that their property values would decline.
That development is overseen by Northbrook-based GMX Real Estate Group. Representatives previously said they hoped to finish work by the end of this year, but as of Monday afternoon no construction has begun at the site.
Lai said Monday that he believed plans were moving ahead for the development and that GMX was looking to finalize tenants for the space.
GMX co-manager Andrew Goodman did not return a message left Monday afternoon on his cellphone. He has not returned multiple messages seeking updates left at his office or cellphone since January.
Another area set to open soon for potential businesses is the space next to Ashley Furniture in Mound Center.
About 6,800 square feet adjoining the furniture store was designed for retail and restaurant use. When the store opened in 2016, owner John Harrison said he hoped to fill the space “as soon as possible.”
But in a phone interview Monday, Harrison said he ended up expanding the furniture store and using that vacant space to keep clearance items and other inventory overflow. A new distribution center to store that furniture is set to open in the next 90 days, he said, meaning the spot in Mound Center will be open for potential tenants again.
“From day one, we’ve had a long list of companies that want to go in there,” Harrison said.
The only hurdle, he said, could come in the form of a previous agreement between the city of Decatur and the nearby Target. Harrison said it prevents service businesses such as a hair salon from setting up shop in the building, and limits the space that could be made available for a restaurant.
“Chipotle wanted to come in here at one point, but we can only allow 1,100 square feet for restaurant usage,” Harrison said.
In posts on social media and comments at past city council meetings, some residents have questioned why developers continue to target the north side of Decatur for new construction, rather than occupying vacant buildings in other parts of the city.
Speaking in general, Lai said there are a number of factors driving the trend: nearby businesses, availability of land, high traffic counts and overall cost.
The only time the Decatur City Council weighs in when projects require rezoning, Lai said, such as changing an area designated for residential use to one that allows commercial projects.
“If the property is available, then it comes to whether the owner is willing to sell and for how much,” Lai said. “It’s something the developer will have to keep in consideration, because they will want control of the site.”