ELMHURST – Mayor Steve Morley is not a new face around the Elmhurst City Hall, but it’s been less than a year since he took his seat in the mayor’s office last April immediately after one of Elmhurst’s largest storm events in years.
Suburban Life reporter Mari Grigaliunas recently spoke with Morley about his transition from alderman to mayor, his expectations for stormwater and other projects in 2014 and what he likes most about his new gig.
And just like many residents who have been awaiting final word if Whole Foods will move in where the Elmhurst Dominick’s recently closed near Route 83 and St. Charles Road, Morley is waiting for confirmation.
“I would say cautiously, I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’ve been told it’s happening,” Morley said.
Grigaliunas: What changes have you had to make going from alderman to mayor?
Morley: “As mayor, I would say that the interaction with the public is probably a little higher … but from a legislative stand point, I’m not as involved as I used to be because as mayor...I’m supposed to make sure that we stay on tasks and that we accomplish our goals, but rarely…am I asked to vote or provide opinion.”
“I do talk to a lot of our local representatives … I talk to state senators and state representatives because they deal with the state budget and funding, and I’ve been pretty vigilant trying to get our legislators to fund some of our stormwater projects. Also, on a federal level, I’ve been talking to some of our U.S. Representatives … and we’re doing what we can to try to solve some of the problems and a lot of that has to do with funding and help from those levels.”
Grigaliunas: What progress do you think Elmhurst is going to be able to make this year regarding stormwater management?
Morley: “Stormwater and flooding is obviously a big issue for Elmhurst, and it’s one that is top of mind. We work on it almost every day.”
“When I became mayor, I talked to the president of the school board and the president of the park district [to] form a communications committee focused solely on the flooding...We’re kind of through what I would consider the educational process and the information-sharing process [regarding the Burke report]. Now, we’re going to have to actually ask for a commitment. … My goal is to prioritize let’s say the top three or four projects [and] move forward with engineering.”
Grigaliunas: You ran for mayor with the priority to attract and grow business. Why do you think that’s important in Elmhurst?
Morley: “I can tell you this: development and redevelopment are key to the city. That’s one of the things that when I was running for mayor that I communicated...because to have a strong economic engine in Elmhurst benefits everybody. I think it’s important that we broaden the size of our tax base versus increase taxes…I think our largest opportunity for growth in the city is commercial development and redevelopment.”
Grigaliunas: Where do you expect the Hahn Street Redevelopment project to be by the end of 2014?
Morley: “I think there’s a pretty good chance we may vote on which developer to start negotiating with [by Jan. 27]...It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be the one we pick, but that’s the one we want to start negotiating with and hopefully get to an agreement on...I know that all of the aldermen are in agreement on this...They would like to see development there sooner than later.”
Grigaliunas: What progress do you expect to make on the Addison Parking Deck in 2014?
Morley: “[A request for a six-story building] is going to go before the zoning and planning commission on the 23rd...[They might decide in] no more than two meetings would be my guess. A lot of work has been done in terms of clearing the site so we could see construction on that starting in 2014 as well, depending on what’s decided...Quite frankly, if certain things get denied, let’s say it’s the height variance, the city – it would be with the City Council’s approval – might move forward with a four-story deck. We don’t know.”
Grigaliunas: What makes Elmhurst unique?
Morley: “I think that Elmhurst has a lot of unique character ... I would say the sum of its parts are what make it unique and what make it special. So we have an award-winning art museum. We have an award-winning historical museum. We have a first-class health care facility in town. We have a fantastic downtown...Within Elmhurst we have our own unique neighborhoods. You’ve got Spring Road. You’ve got York and Vallette. You’ve got downtown Elmhurst. So there’s a lot of history, and I think another testament to Elmhurst that makes it unique is a lot of the folks who were born in Elmhurst, grow up and raise their families in Elmhurst. I think that’s a great testament to what they think of Elmhurst.”
Grigaliunas: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your first term as mayor so far?
Morley: “It’s been a whole lot of fun sitting as chairman of those meetings. We’ve got a terrific council. I think if you look at it fourteen aldermen is a large amount… That’s a lot of elected officials, but I like to look at the positive side of that...We review every issue. We evaluate every issue. Sometimes people don’t necessarily get the decisions that they like, but I’m confident that we’ve fully evaluated every issue before we make a decision. Working with council has been an absolute pleasure, and that’s one of my favorite parts about being mayor.”
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5 to watch in 2014
1. North York Plan
By visiting the North York Plan link on the city’s homepage, individuals can submit their comments electronically to Houseal Lavigne Associates about a plan for decision-making and investment within the City’s newly structured TIF IV.
2. New businesses
Chick-fil-A will open and Whole Foods will take over where Dominick’s left in 2014. The Waverton Hotel location on North York Street has also been purchased, and Morley expects a firm development plan for that location this year.
3. Addison Parking Deck
The zoning and planning commission will host a public hearing this month on the city’s conditional use application for height and setback variances which allow for a six-story parking deck. Depending on their final decision, Mayor Steve Morley believes construction could begin by the end of the year.
4. Hahn Street Redevelopment
While the city discussed the two finalists this week, Morley expects negotiations with a chosen developer to start within the next few weeks.
5. Flood mitigation
Work on the Southwest Elmhurst Wet-Weather Control Facility, which should improve the sanitary sewer, will continue this year, and Morley hopes to prioritize three or four sites identified in the Burke report to move toward the engineering stages in an effort to mitigate overland flooding.