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St. Charles Mayoral Contenders Mixed on Rogina Notice Plan

Candidates favor public comment, and while one agrees with Rogina, one questions whether it would have mattered on Lexington Club, and a third says the plan may not be necessary.

Third Ward Alderman Ray Rogina’s call on Thursday to require at least seven days’ notice on votes on controversial developments met with mixed reviews from his opponents in the St. Charles mayoral race.

While all three of his political opponents indicated that they believe the public should have opportunities to sound off on what the City Council is considering, not all three agreed that Rogina’s plan would be effective.

Rogina’s call for the advance notice on votes on controversial developments came 10 days after the City Council’s surprise vote to push through final approval of the Lexington Club, less than a month after aldermen had rejected the tax-increment financing district for the project during a Dec. 10 committee meeting. Rogina said the Lexington Club was put on the Jan. 7 council agenda just days before the meeting, leaving opponents of the project little time for an eleventh-hour lobbying effort.

Jake Wyatt

Candidate Jake Wyatt, in an email response to St. Charles Patch, wrote that he agreed with Rogina’s idea and his comments on the issue as reported in St. Charles Patch on Thursday.

“The Lexington TIF vote has left a bitter feeling with our voters that our city aldermen (five) and mayor failed to listen to the citizens,” Wyatt wrote. “I'm on record as stating the citizen must be heard on all issues to be voted  and when need be, to put it to a referendum.

“As a minimum with a tied vote by the council concerning the Lexington TIF, it should have been tabled for further review/discussion and then brought back to the council at a later session with citizens given the opportunity to express concerns. Yes, it may have been a delay in effort only, but at least the citizen would have been given a chance to express their position with their respective aldermen.”

Jotham Stein

Candidate Jotham Stein also supported Rogina’s idea, although he doubted it would have mattered had it been in place before the Lexington Club vote. Further, Stein said there are “big picture” issues the city has yet to address that were apparent with the Lexington Club project.

“Mr. Rogina's call for a seven-day waiting period prior to any City Council vote on a significant building development project is a good one, which I support,” Stein wrote to St. Charles Patch. “However, as a practical matter, Mr. Rogina's suggestion would have done nothing to change the City Council's vote on Lexington, nor would it have done anything to stop the two alderman who changed their vote on the residential TIF.

“At least seven days passed from the time those alderman initially voted ‘no’ on the TIF to the time they switched their vote and voted ‘yes.’ ”

“Mr. Rogina's suggestion also misses the bigger picture,” Stein continued. “The bigger picture is first, that the city did a poor job negotiating the deal with the Lexington developer, and second, that city staff spent much too much time pushing the residential development, and not enough time recruiting businesses, and the tax dollars and jobs they bring to our city.”

Stein wrote that if he is elected mayor, he intends to “fix both of these ‘big picture’ issues,” citing his two decades of experience giving legal and business advice to companies and their managers. “I have negotiated business transactions of all types and sizes, from less than a $100,000 to more than !00 million, and I have written a book on business and employment negotiation — you can get it on Amazon.com,” he wrote. “As mayor, I will ensure that every deal we negotiate for our city is the best deal we can achieve for our city and its citizens. And as mayor, I will use my experience to actively recruit new business investment to St. Charles, nurture start-up businesses, and help struggling St. Charles businesses.”

Stein was critical of the Lexington project, saying the city “did a poor job negotiating with a sophisticated business (the developer), and thus, the city negotiated a bad deal. The result is the developer is laughing all the way to the bank, while St. Charles residents must live with a project that is needlessly dense and with a residential TIF that will ultimately increase all our taxes.”

Stein said the city could have negotiated a deal that was both good for the developer and recognized residents’ needs. “I am for reasonable development, and as mayor, I will ensure that the city negotiates the best deals with anyone who negotiates with the city.”

Stein also criticized the city for spending too much time and money pushing residential megaprojects and not enough on business recruitment. “A vibrant business environment means more companies paying more taxes that we residents do not have to pay,” he said. “A vibrant business environment also means increased property values.  If our property values were higher, there never would have been talk of a TIF in the first place — the Lexington developer would have cleaned up his property and dug dirt on his own because he would make money doing so.

“As mayor, I will focus on actively recruiting businesses to our city so that St. Charles has a vibrant business environment that will benefit all of us,” Stein wrote.

John Rabchuk

John Rabchuk, who earlier professed support for the Lexington Club proposal and in fact suggested five days beforehand that the City Council reconsider its vote on the project, questioned the need for the policy suggested by Rogina.

“Encouraging and listening to residents should be a primary object of everyone in city government,” Rabchuk wrote in an email to St. Charles Patch. “I'm not sure that special rules need to be established for ‘controversial’ developments however, as there will be people opposed to and in favor of proposed development.

“The city should always make every attempt to provide adequate public notification for every potential vote so that all residents can participate in the discussion and deliberations,” he added.

Rabchuk also faulted some of Rogina’s remarks.

“Mr. Rogina's statement relative to the recent council vote concerning the Lexington development omits some significant and relevant points, however,” he wrote. “It would seem that over the four-plus years that this development has been debated, ample time was provided for public comment by both proponents and opponents. In fact, many of the most outspoken critics of this development were in attendance at the council meeting the very night that the aforementioned vote was taken, so it would appear that the amount of public notice provided to them would seem to have been adequate for them to attend the meeting.

“Further, the mayor made a direct request for public comment, waited for a response from those in attendance and none was forth coming,” he wrote.

Rabchuk noted that while Lexington Club had critics, there also were supporters who were just as frustrated by City Council debate during the four-year process that ultimately led to its approval.

“In this particular situation, it would be conjecture to suggest that the additional three days of notice that Mr. Rogina calls for in his announcement would have provided any new points of view or new facts that had not already been considered by the council,” he wrote. “At some point, the council must decide that they have heard all of the relevant comments concerning any development and then make a decision.”

Related:

  • Jan. 17, 2012: Rogina: Lengthen Comment Periods for Controversial Developments

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:54 p.m. to restore additional remarks from candidate Jotham Stein. Some of the original text was inadvertantly deleted when the story was first posted.

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Ted Schnell January 21, 2013 at 11:07 PM
Actually, Doug, I'm not convinced the city “did a 180” on this at all. First, aldermen never rejected Lexington’s land-use plan, so Lexington remained a viable project. I think a lot of people lost site of that in December when aldermen voted 7-2 against the TIF. Alderman Cliff Carrignan, the committee chairman that evening, could not vote unless there was a tie, but he did voice his support of the TIF. That puts the council tally at 7-3 on the TIF alone. Many point out that something changed between that Dec. 10 vote and the council’s formal votes on Jan. 7 that gave Lexington final approval. The most obvious change was the developer’s fairly significant reduction in its TIF reimbursement request. That apparently was enough to swing the votes of two more aldermen and assure Lexington’s passage, as the mayor, who votes to break ties, has supported the development from early in the process. Does that make the vote shady or strategic? The answer to that nearly always falls into two courts: Those on the losing end call it shady, those on the winning side call it politically astute or strategic. Regardless, there will be ramifications — there are folks with hurt feelings who fear their lives will be negatively affected by this project. That points to at least two potential outcomes: — Change via the April election. — A loss of interest in involvement in city government by people who now feel they can’t make a difference.
Ted Schnell January 21, 2013 at 11:24 PM
Steve, that argument also cuts both ways. Financial interest is just one way of valuing a commodity. There are others. Homeowners have legitimate financial concerns in terms of property values and property taxes, both of which affect their own financial interests. In the same vein, concerns about the city’s ability — and therefore the taxpayers’ ability — to afford change also reflects a financial interest. Throw into the equation things of less measurable value — but of value all the same, and you still have special interest. A person who opposes a project down the street because it will bring more traffic through his/her neighborhood is expressing a very real, and to him/her, very important reason to halt the project. The same would be true o someone opposing a project next door because it might obstruct the view from their windows or otherwise change the character of the neighborhood. I’m certain individuals like these would feel their concerns are of value. The bottom line, Steve, is that finances aren’t the only thing of value that creates special interests.
Steve Swanson January 24, 2013 at 03:53 AM
Speaking to your point Ted, Alderman Martin voted in favor of the Lexington PUD, not caring that the project will add over 1,000 vehicle trips per day to a neighborhood already burdened with a high volume of bypass traffic looking to avoid the lights and congestion on Route 64, yet years ago when the Prairie Street bridge was constructed he was the main opponent to connecting Prairie Street to Adams Avenue because he did not want the residents of his Ward to be exposed to more traffic. Thinking like that is what has crippled this town.
Ted Schnell January 24, 2013 at 04:26 AM
In the Prairie Street bridge situation you mention, Steve, some might fault the ward system more than the individual. Each alderman needs to be responsive to his or her constituents if he/she wants to be re-elected. Yet sometimes the constituents of one ward might oppose something that actually would benefit the greater community. An alderman in that position is in a tricky spot. If he votes with his residents, he assuages them while potentially risking shooting the community in the foot if the issue is defeated. If he votes for what is best for the entire community, he risks alienating his own constituency. It would seem, on its face anyway (since I wasn't here covering things to have a better feel for the situation back then) that that might have been the case with the bridge, although you would have to ask Alderman Martin that. But I have to say that part of me wonders if the Lexington Club vote is not similar in scope. Let me preface by stating clearly that I do not know whether it is a good project or not — all I know is there a lot of people who are emotionally invested in this issue, and I am not inclined to belittle anyone’s feelings. But I would ask the question: Is it not possible that there are five alderman on each side of this issue who indeed did vote their conscience? Could it be that five aldermen honestly believe the project will serve the greater public good, even as five voted against it because they believe just the opposite?
Steve Swanson January 26, 2013 at 03:45 AM
Ted, I believe that the five who opposed it did vote their conscience. I also believe that most of the five on the positive side of the vote did so because they were strong-armed by the administration. I have seen emails that were sent to several residents from a couple of the Aldermen who supported the developer, attempting to explain why they supported the developer. The points in both are almost identical and they do not make any sense. For instance, this was a blighted property that has been sitting there for six years (Lexington has owned it that whole time), the 130 units represents an almost 30% drop in what the developer had been requesting, and they both mention 175 as the starting point (the first concept plan was for 175 units, which was universally decried, the second concept plan was for 125 units with a much higher percentage of single family homes, and the actual plan submitted was for 142 units and was lowered to 130 as a result of overwhelming opposition to it. Well, 130 is higher than 125, so I do not see any decrease; and that 125 plan would have been more acceptable to the community), and the school district and park district have no issues with the TIF (that really is an unknown because the taxing bodies were not asked to vote on the TIF at the meeting of the Joint Review Board). Merely a bunch of weak excuses. Do they believe it or were they given bullet points to regurgitate?

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