|By Melissa Jenco, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 10, 2012--A proposed development supporters and opponents alike say will have a major impact on Naperville's downtown cleared its first hurdle early Thursday morning.
The Water Street project, which features a hotel, apartments, retail, office and restaurant space, won approval from the city's Planning and Zoning Commission following five hours of discussion.
Chairman John Herzog called the development "a game-changer for Naperville."
"We need the continued economic growth, we need those additional jobs, we need the additional residential, and we certainly need the downtown hotel," he said.
But some commissioners and residents expressed concerns about the development's height and density, and potential parking problems and traffic congestion.
The development proposed by Marquette Companies is targeted for a 2.4-acre site bounded by Aurora Avenue on the south, the DuPage River on the north, Main Street on the east and Webster Street on the west.
The City Council gave preliminary approval to a smaller version of the plan in 2007, but the work never got off the ground.
Planning and Zoning Commission members discussed a revised plan in June, then received further tweaks this week before casting a vote.
The latest plans call for a 130-room, seven-story Holiday Inn hotel with a rooftop restaurant, 62 to 66 apartments, restaurant, retail and office spaces, a 551-space parking deck, and Riverwalk, streetscape and plaza improvements.
Kathleen West, attorney for Marquette Companies, told commissioners the project would "expand the vibrancy in the area and secure the economic vitality of downtown Naperville."
Marquette Companies tried to ease height and bulk concerns by reducing the size of a decorative tower on the hotel to 88.5 feet from ground level, down from 90.2 feet. Two other towers on the hotel are now proposed to be 65 feet, down from 79.3.feet, and upper floors have been set back.
The project has won the backing of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and nearby North Central College and Naper Settlement. However, developers have had trouble convincing some residents of its merits.
"It's almost like taking a big white elephant and putting it next to our little historical village commercial center," resident H. Tom O'Hale said.
The commission voted 5-2 in favor of the project with an added stipulation the hotel sign would be no larger than 7 feet tall and consist only of an H. Commissioners Herzog, Patty Gustin, Kevin Coyne, Robert Williams and Janet Trowbridge voted to recommend the proposal.
Williams said he struggled with his vote, but did not want to miss out on the opportunity to develop the site.
"I really, in a way, really do not like this project at all," Williams said. "It's absolutely magnificent, but maybe that's the problem. It's like wanting a very expensive sports car. You just can't take your eyes off it and your hormones are going ... but you know it's not good for you."
Commissioners Patricia Meyer and Timothy Messer voted no.
"I feel this takes a big step into turning the Riverwalk from what is, essentially a park, into a commercial area," Messer said.
The proposal now moves on to the City Council.
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