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DeKalb residents weigh in on proposed boutique hotel on Fisk Avenue

February 8, 2019

DeKALB – Peter Gerlach of the 200 block of Sycamore Road lives within walking distance of 145 Fisk Ave., where local developers hope to bring new life to the long-vacant building and turn it into a boutique hotel.

Gerlach think it’s nonsense.

“It grabbed my attention when the Chronicle started touting this boutique hotel as part of downtown revitalization,” Gerlach said. “It’s smack dab in the middle of my neighborhood, and none of us want that. Traffic is already horrible there. I really hope you will put a stop to this nonsense.”

Sycamore and Genoa-based developers Nick Cronauer and Chip Bulson were met Wednesday night with strong opposition, and some support, during the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. Residents and commissioners cited possible noise, traffic and parking problems. The property, former home of St. Mary’s Hospital, has been vacant for more than two decades.

The plan would turn the 24,000-square-foot building into a 40-room boutique hotel, with three levels for lodging, and the 18,000-square-foot lower level into a small restaurant (for both hotel guest and public use) and utility space. The council has since earmarked $2.5 million in tax increment financing proceeds to help fund the project, which Cronauer estimates will costs $7.1 million.

Robert Carlson of Carlson Realties owns three senior-living apartment buildings near Fisk Ave.: at 418 N. First St., 417 N. Second St. and 427 N. Second St.

“My concern is the question of parking, traffic and noise pollution to [my] properties,” Carlson said.

The building is currently zoned for neighborhood commercial use, according to the sketch plan, and the developers are requesting it be rezoned for the hotel and related commercial uses.

“The parking doesn’t seem adequate to me,” commissioner Ron Klein said. “If the [parking lot] access is off Sycamore Road, it seems to me that’s an accident waiting to happen.”

The plan includes 54 parking spaces, but the developers will do a traffic study to identify additional spaces, and could buy the adjacent home to the east of the building, 201 Fisk Ave. for an additional parking lot.

“The goal of this hotel project is to create not necessarily a high-priced hotel, but a four- or five-star quality lodging that is fair priced,” Bulson said.

Gerlach said he would rather see the city buy the property, tear it down, and build a park instead.

“Don’t you think if this building continues to deteriorate, it would adversely impact your property’s value?” Klein posed to residents who voiced opposition.

Nathan Books, who lives at 200 Fisk Ave., just feet from the property, works from home for FedEx and worries about the noise of commercial air conditioning units affecting his ability to work.

“I may not be be able to do my job if an air-handling unit is put in [the] corner,” Books said.

After Bulson explained that because of the historic construction of the building, they would not be pursuing that type of air-conditioning unit on the building, Books gave his support of the project.

“This building has been vacant for a long period of time, and it is not quiet,” Books said. “You can look through my 911 call record, which happen pretty much every two months. There are people living on the back end of the property, as long as it stays idle.”

DeKalb resident Dan Stimel also gave the project a thumbs-up.

“Being a boutique hotel, I’m assuming it’s going to draw a crowd that’s a little more mature, and probably not the crowd that you’re real concerned about,” Stimel said. “Apartment buildings can cause problems. I say give it a chance.”

Wednesday’s meeting was for informal review and used to gather public comment. While several commission members expressed support for the hotel idea, they urged the developers to take feedback into consideration.

“Nothing has necessarily changed, in my opinion,” Bulson said Thursday. “I believe all those concerns can be addressed with a good design and thorough review.”

The developers will complete final engineering concept plans and a traffic study, before going to the commission for a final recommendation, and vote to finalize the TIF money by Feb. 25.

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