The St. Charles Planning and Development Committee voted Monday evening to reject an extension of a temporary closure of Walnut Street designed to allow for outdoor dining for one of St. Charles’ most popular pubs.
The management company that owns Flagship on the Fox at 100 Riverside in St. Charles had requested an extension of the temporary closure of Walnut Street to accommodate outdoor dining with a similar layout to the 2022 closure.
Outdoor dining has become a boon for St. Charles’ downtown, partly triggered by the constraints on indoor dining prompted by the COVID epidemic. In addition, the 1st Street Plaza development has created significant outdoor dining opportunities, creating a competitive advantage for related establishments.
In a contentious 4-4 vote that was broken by Chairman Steve Weber, the Committee voted against the extension, prompting a flurry of activity on social media expressing disappointment in the vote and immediately making a political issue out of the vote.
Laurel Moad, a candidate for 4th Ward Alderman, issued the following statement to Fox Valley Magazine.
“The vote with the City Council at the Planning and Development meeting last night was disappointing for several reasons. Overwhelmingly, throughout the 4th ward and across this city, our residents and businesses want outdoor dining to remain. We should be seeking ways to make our city more pedestrian friendly, not less. The idea that a road must always remain a road, just because, is a backwards approach. Making our city more pedestrian friendly reduces traffic and makes our city safer overall. Council The Planning & Development Committee should have voted yes to temporarily keep Walnut available for outdoor dining and allow the vibrancy of outdoor dining in St. Charles to flourish this summer, while First Street undergoes construction.
“Second, not a single alderman who voted no offered any explanation to the residents or the business owner. Transparency needs to be more than a campaign slogan during election season. Who actually benefited from that no vote? The alderman who voted no should answer that question.”
In a statement of his own, Moad’s opponent, current 4th Ward Alderman David Pietryla, emphasized his support for outdoor dining – just not involving closure of public streets.
“My voting record clearly illustrates my support for outdoor dining in St. Charles. Last night’s vote was only regarding the closing of a public street – as a matter of policy, I simply don’t support closing a public street while a reasonable alternative exists for dining on our sidewalks, per our ordinance. To suggest I’m against outdoor dining, when my actual record is crystal clear, is a misrepresentation.
“I also can’t discount the numerous complaints from neighbors expressing concern for limiting traffic flow in the area.
“Outdoor dining continues to be alive and well in St. Charles.”
Mayor Lora Vitek, while not a voting member of the Committee, also expressed disappointment.
“I was very disappointed in the vote by some Council members to deny closure of a portion of Walnut Avenue for outdoor dining, and with no explanation as to why. There were many residents who spoke at the meeting, and their message was loud and clear – close the street and support outdoor dining.
“The pandemic took a toll on many industries. The adaptation of outdoor space for dining was a positive move that helped alleviate the hardship COVID created for restaurants. Outdoor dining has been so successful that many restaurants have found a way to continue it all year long.
“Besides helping our restaurants thrive, outdoor dining also has fueled the vibrancy of our downtown. It helps create an atmosphere that promotes walkability, encourages people to visit the shops, relax along the riverfront, and enjoy our beautiful city.”
Voting for the extension were Alderman Rita Payleitner, Alderman Todd Bancroft, Alderman Paul Lencioni and Alderman Ed Bessner. Voting against were Alderman Bill Kalamaris, Alderman Ronald Silkaitis, Alderman Bryan Wirball and Pietryla. Alderman Ryan Bongard was prohibited from voting because his office is in the relevant TIF district.
I attended and even spoke at this meeting. There was vastly more support for than against from the attendees. This decision made no sense and it appeared there was another agenda going on behind the scenes. One councilperson even referenced the background shenanigans.
With the next phase of construction on the plaza on First Street getting approved and supposedly starting in April, the outside dining experience on the plaza is going to be significantly impacted this summer and more outdoor dining, even if temporary, is needed.
Congratulations to the council on approving the final stage of the First Street Plaza project. It is now time to focus on the east side of the river as the east side has more room for economic growth and generating city revenues needed to keep St. Charles desirable to newcomers like me.
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