Since April, Home Depot has been forced to delay votes at the Wheaton City Council, having already had two strikes against them in lower boards in the City (see 4/12/00 and 3/10/00 newsflashes below). Once again this week, Home Depot has asked the City Council to hold off voting on its proposals for a 118,000 s.f. store, because the land Home Depot wants may be bought out from under them. Here’s the latest update on Home Depot’a attempts to avoid a third strike in Wheaton: The City Council postponed their vote on Home Depot again this week to July 17, 2000 per Home Depot’s attorney’s request. Only five people were with the Depot’s attorney at council meeting rather than the 12 to 15 at past meetings.Because of the lower board decisions against Home Depot, the company now needs all five City Councilors to vote with them, or the land they want does not get rezoned. One of required super majority five of five needed to approved was quoted as planning to vote no, and the Mayor is reconsidering his decision to support rezoning of the land. The DuPage County Forest Preserve has agreed to purchase the land even if they must use condemnation procedure. Condemnation has not taken place as the Forest Preserve is now talking with property owners about purchasing the land with public funds available for this purpose. This property would extend the adjacent Forest Preserve property. In the adjacent Winfield Village, the Mayor has an engineer checking Home Depot’s stormwater plan to assure flooding does not increase. He believes the Forest Preserve will close this property to development. At risk are 2,116 trees larger than 6-inch diameter planned to be removed starting within three days of approval. Multiples of 2,116 of trees less than six inches will be removed as well as bushes and ground cover during construction. This is the difference between existing trees and 2-1/2 inch trees to be replanted by Home Depot. A vote for rezoning the land from residential to commercial will immediately more than double its value, which would cost the county more than twice what they would have otherwise paid – with the additional burden falling on county taxpayers. “I have a real problem with driving up the price of the land,” one City Councilor told the Wheaton newspaper.”That is a real gut-wrencher for me. I’m still wrestling with that in my mind.” Even Mayor C. James Carr, who is a strong Home Depot backer, said: “What started out to be something positive for Wheaton taxpayers could turn out to be harmful if we rezone the property.” The city’s plan commission and zoning board recommended not approving the project. The forest preserve district already has begun negotiations with the multiple owners of the property. The Forest Preserve Board voted 22-1 to launch attempts to acquire the property, saying the county is determined to buy the land regardless of its price. Current estimates, they told reporters, could put the value of the land between $6 million to $10 million if it is rezoned. Without the rezoning, the land would cost about $3 million. The Forest Preserve wants the property for preservation and for storm water purposes.Tracy Kasson, an attorney for Home Depot, said the moves by the county have not yet altered Home Depot’s plans for the project. He said the company will keep its application pending before the city as the forest preserve district’s condemnation actions proceed. “We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “Right now, it hasn’t reached that point, and right now, it’s between the forest preserve and the property owners, so we’re going to keep forging ahead.” The land, a total of about 40 acres, is an extension of the Belleau Woods forest preserve across the street.
Home Depot may not want to take that third swing in Wheaton, but its clear that strong citizen opposition has stirred county action to acquire the land and take it out of development. Home Depot kept referring to the economic boon their project would mean to local taxpayers, but keeping this 40 acre parcel as open space is actually a very cheap alternative for the city. With development comes the expenses of development, and in this case, environmental concerns for the remaining forested land. It’s the bottom on the 9th inning for Home Depot, and the company just doesn’t want to come up to bat. The game is now postponed until July. When the final pitch is delivered, and Home Depot heads back to the dugout, Sprawl-Busters will declare the game over.