The City of Crest Hill zoning code/closing library
Per our friends at Crest Hill 2010
At the July 12th City Council work session the location for the new Crest Hill branch of the Des Plaines Valley Public Library was announced. The library board is preparing to buy a parcel of land just north of the Menards along Kubinski Dr. several hundred feet east of Weber Rd. The library is looking to buy this land as soon as zoning issues can be resolved and then hope to begin construction so that the new library opens in May or June of 2012.
This proposed location has a number of weaknesses and does not appear to be the best site for the new library. At a minimum a number of issues need to be addressed before the land is rezoned by the city and purchased by the taxpayers of the library district.
The City of Crest Hill zoning code currently allows for libraries only in areas zoned as residential, there is no provision for a library to be built in the middle of a commercial development. This may simply be a relic of the good old days when no one conceived of a library anywhere besides a residential area. Or it may be based on some good principles of having a community facility such as a library easily accessible to our citizens and for it to be possible for school children to get to the library without needing to take a car ride.
The library is also looking at a location that is currently planned for commercial development within a major commercial corridor. This is a property that is meant to generate both property and sales taxes for the city in amounts greater than most other areas of the city. The library however will generate zero tax dollars for Crest Hill and will cost the city the opportunity to get a revenue generating business into the location.
The third problem is that the library has no plans for the building that it is vacating on Theodore Street. The City does not need another vacant building along Theodore. And the library will be a very difficult building to reuse due to the fact that it is not handicap accessible with many steps to the entrance, has not been well maintained, and has very limited parking.
I think all of these issues need to be addressed and can be addressed before the library project moves forward. The Plan Commission and City Council need to make sure an eager to build library and a cash starved developer do not steam-roll them into ignoring what is best for Crest Hill.
The biggest drawback to being placed in the middle of a commercial development is the lack of non-vehicular accessibility. Weber Rd. and Caton Farm Rd. have no sidewalks near this development and there are no sidewalks within the development. Before the zoning code is changed to allow the library to be built here this accessibility issue must be solved. While I think a library belongs near a residential area, the next best thing is to at least create access to residential areas. The city needs to require the developer or the library to extend sidewalks or walking/bike paths from the library site to the nearest residential developments in each direction.
The loss of tax revenue from this prime commercial property can be addressed through a Payment in Lieu of Taxes being made by the library. The lost property taxes at a minimum should be recovered for all of the taxing entities losing out due to the loss of the ability to attract a taxpaying entity to this prime development. The sales tax loss can probably be assumed to be covered by the library being an attraction that makes people somewhat more likely to shop at nearby stores. This affect may not even cover the sales tax loss, but it could be a compromise gesture to take sales tax off the table of the library or developer will cover the property tax loss or at least a portion of it due to this being higher than usual value property.
The library can address the Theodore St. property by making some guarantees as to its future status. They could possibly guarantee that it will be sold to a user who will occupy it within 12-24 months of the closing of the old library. And that if this is not able to be done because the property is no marketable with the current building, the library will remove the building and regrade the lot to make it more marketable at its own cost and deed it to the city at that time.
All of these options taken together represent a large cost that would be imposed upon the library, however they have brought most of these costs upon themselves by selecting an unconventional site. We should not let them either impose these costs solely upon Crest Hill either directly or indirectly through the loss of an accessible library, tax revenues, and the addition of a vacant hard to utilize building. There is nothing wrong with negotiating to share these costs between the City, the Library, and the developer. A solution that shares the benefits and the costs is appropriate. It is now up to the Crest Hill Plan Commission and City Council to do the right thing and protect the best interests of their citizens.