A revised plan relocating a Dollar General and adding a retail center and a duplex/villa enclave along the U.S. Highway 50 corridor has been halted by the O’Fallon City Council, but questions remain about what’s next.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, seven aldermen — Ned Drolet, Kevin Hagarty, Christopher Hursey, Robert Kueker, Rich Meile, Herb Roach and Matt Smallheer — voted against the 6.49-acre project, while aldermen Jerry Albrecht, David Cozad, Harlan Gerrish, Ray Holden and Courtney Marsh voted in favor. Aldermen Gene McCoskey and Matthew Gilreath were absent.
Developer Terry Johnson of Triple Net Management wanted to relocate Dollar General from Southview Plaza to a new 10,640-square-foot space at 648 W. Highway 50, which is at the northwest corner of Highway 50 and Lawn Avenue. In addition, a 12,150-square-foot retail center and 10 two-family duplexes or villas were to be built in two phases. The duplexes would front an extension of Hillcrest Drive in the Countryside Glenn subdivision. The project, known as the Highway 50 and Lawn Avenue Development, was recommended by the Planning Commission, Community Development Committee and city’s Community Development staff.
Nearby residents have been vocal in opposition of the development, citing potential crime and loss in property values. They also previously brought up traffic and drainage issues, but Johnson had agreed to an alternate street design with a cul-de-sac at the Jan. 9 Community Development Committee meeting. The Public Works Department was also working on drainage relief plans in the Countryside Glen neighborhood.
However, despite voting down this specific project, a zoning amendment to the Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map, changing the property from single-family to multi-family dwellings and retail, was approved in a 7-5 vote. Aldermen Ned Drolet and Herb Roach voted yes for this, along with Albrecht, Cozad, Gerrish, Holden and Marsh. The zoning amendment was a necessary component to the project. With its approval, a retail development can still be put on the property.
“We have no idea why they approved one and not the other. We’re not really sure of the council’s intent,” Community Development Director Ted Shekell said.
City Administrator Walter Denton said there seemed to be confusion about the action to take.
The only way the project could be placed back on the agenda again for a first reading is if an alderman who voted no would make a recommendation, and it was seconded by someone who also voted no, and then a majority voted to reconsider it, Denton said. He noted that two aldermen were absent from the meeting.
The second reading of the rezoning was on the Community Development Committee agenda Jan. 23. But a committee is just advisory and can’t take any action — only the full council can.
The Dollar General plan featured four-sided brick walls, Shekell said.
“We expect a quality design. Dollar General was OK with working on upgrades for their facade. This would have been a good-looking store. They were going to have a vinyl fence and landscaping. The amendment also included windows,” Shekell said. “What people don’t see is a lot of work goes into the project to make it acceptable to staff. One of the considerations is to make it compatible with the residential, and the residents deserve that. One of the things we talked to the developer about is making a residential buffer. There was 300 feet, a football field between the business and the Piekutowskis (Mark and Valerie).”
“The developer agreed to all the changes,” Denton said. “He has made a lot of accommodations for the residents. They just don’t want a Dollar General there. The council approved putting retail there, so if it doesn’t go in, another retail can.”
“It remains to be seen if anything will be done or not. We are finished with it on a staff level. Whether there is more discussion is up to the council,” Shekell said.
During a lengthy and confrontational meeting two weeks ago, the Community Development Committee unanimously advanced the proposal after Johnson agreed to two changes recommended by the city — the street design and the Dollar General facade to include windows.
Valerie Piekutowski, who is leading the opposition, said they dropped the drainage issue after learning the city is working on a plan to fix it. The city acknowledged the concerns were valid.
“Therefore, on the Lawn Avenue side, we are going to get what we need, so can’t complain on that any longer,” she said.
Mine subsidence had occurred on the property in question and the street in 2014. The Illinois State Geological Survey states that the area is undermined by the St. Ellen Mine.
“State law handles the drainage issues on that property,” said Denton, the city administrator.
The Public Works Department is considering a pipe and detention pond plan to resolve the drainage issue.
“It will hopefully provide some relief for Hillside and Country Glen,” Denton said.
Denton said this project does not concern the whole subdivision.
“You can’t expect the developer to solve all the drainage problems in other areas of the neighborhood,” he said.
Regarding the traffic concerns, City Planner Justin Randall presented a proposed alternative to create a cul-de-sac for the residential street instead of a through-street extending Hillcrest Drive. Johnson, the developer, was in favor of it.
“I see the cul-de-sac as a viable alternative to the residents’ concerns about increased traffic,” he said.
Police Chief Eric Van Hook also agreed.
“The police think cul-de-sacs are good — one way in, one way out — for security reasons,” he said. “It’s wide enough for police, fire and EMS to get there. It’s very attractive for eliminating thru traffic.”
About 30 residents attended an O’Fallon Planning Commission public hearing on Dec. 13. They have presented binders of information to commission and council members. In a 5-3 vote, the planning commission agreed to the planned rezoning from single-family to multi-dwelling and retail.
Johnson is a commercial real estate broker/developer with 31 years of experience in the O’Fallon, Shiloh and Fairview Heights area. He developed the commercial lot across the street from this development.
He said that they had not decided whether to build duplexes or villas, and that it wouldn’t likely start for two years.
“We are fine with development under current zoning and land use map,” Piekutowski said.
The future land use map indicated office buildings.
The residents strongly objected to Dollar General as the centerpiece retail store. It would have been open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.
“This would impact lighting, noise, trash and traffic on a street that can’t hold the traffic that it gets now,” Piekutowski said. “Dollar Generals are a mess, inside and out.”
She said that the nearby commercial property across U.S. 50 doesn’t affect residents like this would.
“We are against multi-dwelling behind low-level retail. We don’t think it would be a good draw,” she said. “Junky retail and multi-dwelling brings down property values.”
Burt Gedney and his wife, Leslie Blair, were also vocal at the Jan. 9 meeting.
“A dentist or a doctor’s office or a tailor, that’s fine, but not a Dollar General,” Blair said. “It has to be a unique and special need to change the plan.”
Neighbors said the area around the current Dollar General location in O’Fallon has had a lot of police calls.
“One criminal act in our neighborhood is too many,” Blair said.
Chief Van Hook said that Dollar General was in bad shape, and there are a couple patrons, including two homeless people, that they receive the bulk of the calls on, but he thinks the location has something to do with it.
Denton and Shekell also agreed that the Southview Plaza location is an eyesore.
“You can’t blame Dollar General for the condition of the building (at Southview). They don’t own the building,” he said. “The present owners have let the shopping center decline. It’s in terrible shape. The city of O’Fallon has been trying to re-develop it for a long time,” Shekell said.