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Addison Parking Deck referendum not favored by committee

ELMHURST – The entire Elmhurst City Council will still have final say on whether or not to put a referendum on the November ballot asking residents if they support the Addison Parking Deck and its potential cost.

But the referral didn't fare well at the committee level Monday.

"I've talked with many of my colleagues on City Council and I'm not sensing support among City Council on this," said Kevin York, committee chairman and Fourth Ward alderman.

The Finance, Council Affairs and Administrative Services Committee does not plan to reccommend the advisory referendum requested by First Ward alderman Diane Gutenkauf and Third Ward alderman Michael Bram.

"I think it's important that we understand ... the city of Elmhurst is currently under contract to build a four-story structure," York said.

Because the referendum would be advisory only, the City Council would not be bound to adhere to its outcome regardless of whether residents support or oppose the project.

"We could as a City Council decide – as we do in a fiduciary manner – to act for the citizens of Elmhurst," York said.

Ultimately, committee members decided the project was too far along to put to referendum. The entire process began in 2008 when the city started trying to acquire land in 2008 for parking decks on both Larch Avenue and Addison Street. The city's agreement with the property developer began in 2009 and was extended five times in the last two years.

"We've had three election cycles since the first financing mechanism has been put in place ... I think elections are – in my opinion – very much a way in which people speak out," York said.

Resident Tamara Brenner did not agree with York.

"You can't in an election express a nuanced opinion on multiple topics," Brenner said.

She explained that the choices between candidates aren't adequate representations of public opinion on all issues. She said elections are a start, but residents should have more opportunities to participate in government.

Fourth Ward alderman Stephen Hipskind said the Addison Parking Deck project is part of a larger vision for downtown Elmhurst that the city has been working on for years. He mentioned the Hahn Street mixed-use development as another part of the city's plan for the area.

"These visions have been in place for long before us," Hipskind said.

He and other committee members reiterated their discussion did not include debate about the height of the structure.

First Ward alderman Marti Deuter separated the referendum issue from the height debate and the community's vision to ask when a referendum is appropriate. While she supported the idea of a referendum to allow resident input on a large project, she said the Addison Parking Deck was too far along.

"I look at this as a project that is near the finish line," Deuter said.

She thought a referendum would have been more useful during the conceptual stage of the project and mentioned the costs the city would incur if it broke its agreement with the developer who is expecting to own and operate first-floor retail space.

Bob Dunn, Second Ward alderman and committee vice chairman, brought up the costs the city has already put into the project by acquiring land, demolishing former structures and preparing the site for new construction.

"From my perspective, it's done," Deuter said.

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