WHEATON – Despite worries from surrounding neighbors, Wheaton College has the green light to build five new residential dorms on the corner of Harrison and Irving Avenues after a 6-1 City Council vote Jan. 6.
Area property owners attended the meeting, including several of the 12 who signed a petition asking the City of Wheaton's Zoning and Planning Board to reject the proposal.
Most said they were against the plan, not the college.
"Our families have embraced Wheaton College's students within our neighborhood," said resident Katherine Hodges, reading from a letter she sent to college President Philip Ryken. "Many of these neighbors have so much emotionally invested in your institution that it is absolutely painful to be in discord with your plans. Yet we are."
Wheaton College originally purchased the property at 530 W. Harrison Ave., along with 821 and 825 N. Irving Ave., in March 2009, according to a city memo. The land was acquired without an immediate intended use, said college architect Bruce Koenigsberg.
However, because all properties were zoned as I-1 Institutional Districts, housing is "likely the only use allowable for these parcels without a full zoning change," he said.
One major complaint about the expansion was the possibility of decreasing property values in surrounding areas. Koenigsberg said past experience and a study looking at the effects of colleges on neighboring land indicate values would likely stay the same or increase.
The lone dissenting vote was council member John Prendiville, who said he lived a block away from the project site and walked down Irving every day.
"There's no other college that I'd want to live next to than Wheaton College – the students are great, they're very well behaved," he said. "[But] that's a substantial impact, no matter how good the students are, that completely changes the character of the street. And I do think, in my mind, there's no question that it diminishes the value of the properties that are adjoining that property."
While the college said there were no concrete plans to continue developing along Irving, Prendiville said fundraising has already begun on a new performing arts center and more residential townhomes are being considered. His no vote was, in part, because of the precedent set as development continued.
Council members Todd Scalzo and Evelyn Pacino Sanguinetti said the college had done enough to show there would not be a substantial devaluing of surrounding property to get their vote.
"I think it's another example of the city and the college growing up together," said Mayor Mike Gresk. "We've been doing it for 150 years. And while it has never been easy, it has never been impossible either."
Note to Readers: A version of this story containing an error previously ran in print and online. Mayor Mike Gresk said the city and college have been growing together 150 years. The article has been corrected to reflect this information.