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A rezoning proposal set to come before the Decatur City Council in the next few months would allow development of a shopping center at U.S. Business 51 and West Ash Avenue. The center would be anchored by a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant. Neighbors are passionately opposed to the proposal, which they say will increase traffic and hurt their property values and quality of life.

Here’s a breakdown of the issues:

What do we know about the development?

It would be 10,400 square feet, on a site that is 1.6 acres. It would have space for two restaurants, one of them Chipotle, and two retailers. The developer has not identified other potential tenants but described them as “family-friendly mix of national and regional restaurant, retail and service-related users typically found in 'first-class' shopping centers.” If approved by the city council, it is expected the shopping center would be completed by the end of next year. The shopping center's drive-thru would be used by Chipotle.

The developer is Deerfield-based GMX Real Estate, LLC. Its other projects have included a Portillo’s restaurant in Homewood, McDonald’s in Danville and Downers Grove, and shopping centers in Homewood and Palatine.

Why can’t the developer put the shopping center someplace else?

The corner is desirable to developers because of its high traffic count and location near other retail. Walgreen’s, Panera, Walmart and other businesses are across the highway.

GMX’s co-manager Andrew Goodman said there likely is a reason the empty strip malls and undeveloped land in Decatur have stayed that way: Their locations are no longer appealing for potential businesses.

Goodman reiterated after Thursday’s meeting of the city’s plan commission that Chipotle officials have directed them to the corner site and have not said whether they would be interested in building at any other Decatur sites.

What kind of tax breaks or incentives would the city give Chipotle to come here?

None. The developer and Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus say that the city hasn’t offered any and the developer has not asked for them. Goodman put it this way: “We’re proposing to invest a lot of money into this, and it’s going to be our own money.”

What is the city’s role in all this?

Though city staff has talked about possible locations with GMX and other developers who want to move into the city, Tyus said Thursday that the city has not played any role so far in GMX looking to build at the intersection. So far, he said it has been a “private transaction” between the developer and the residents who currently own property at the desired spot for the commercial development. He said it will be up to the city council to determine whether this development is the best use for the land.

What about the people whose houses will be torn down?

Goodman confirmed in an email Friday morning that GMX has agreements in place with the property owners at the site of the planned development. The 1.6 acres currently has four homes and an empty lot.

How many jobs will this create?

GMX told the Decatur Plan Commission that the shopping center would create 15 to 30 full-time jobs. It has also said it is willing to commit to use local subcontractors to handle construction.

Any other economic benefits to this project?

Developers told the plan commission that they estimated the shopping center would create between $3 million to $4.5 million in annual sales tax revenue, as well as between $20,000 to $30,000 in annual real estate taxes.

What are the neighbor’s concerns?

The west side of U.S. Business 51 has long been a residential site, with neighborhoods and many residents who have lived there for decades. Dozens of neighbors have attended a public hearing on Nov. 27 and Thursday’s meeting of the plan commission to express their concerns about the redevelopment. Among the concerns are the increased traffic that will come with a popular restaurant like Chipotle, loss of ten to twelve street parking spots along Ash Avenue, a decrease in their property value and a general skepticism that another restaurant will draw the business that developers expect.

What will the developer do to address the neighbors’ concerns?

Developers say they will use landscape buffers around the property to alleviate concerns about “noise” pollution and create a buffer between the development and the neighborhood. Lighting and fixtures will be positioned with a “90 degrees down lighting” to prevent light spill over into neighboring properties. Developers hope that restricted right-in and left-in movements directing traffic away from the neighborhood, along with traffic signage directing vehicles, will address concerns about increased traffic through the neighborhood.

How will the council vote?

Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe and council members Chuck Kuhle, David Horn and Dana Ray have all said they are undecided. Councilman Pat McDaniel will vote against the rezoning, and we don’t know about council members Bill Faber and Lisa Gregory.

All seven council members have been hearing from neighbors for weeks, and it was residents’ passionate opposition that stopped development of an Aldi grocery store on the same site two years ago. But this council also just passed a budget with a $3.2 million deficit and potential sales tax revenue may play a role in their decision.

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Staff Writer

Government-watchdog reporter for the Herald & Review.

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