Plans to develop a Walmart Super Center in Darien have been progressing slowly to this point, but City Administrator Bryon Vana told a town hall meeting Thursday that those plans may be about to get a major push forward.
Vana told 10 residents attending a meeting hosted by Sixth Ward Alderman Sylvia McIvor that company and city officials will meet Wednesday with representatives of Inland Real Estate to try to finalize an agreement to move ahead with the expansion of the store on 75th Street.
“Walmart is in their due diligence period,” Vana said. “I think they’re looking at construction costs now and getting those final numbers and estimates underway. … They’re putting the pencil to the paper; they’re getting better estimates.”
Vana said some of those estimates are lower than the original cost projections the company had for the project, another factor which could accelerate construction.
“I’m really hoping this will be done soon,” Vana said. “Walmart’s always been a good partner with us.”
Vana said the Darien City Council could have an agreement to vote on within the next 30-60 days.
The impetus for the idea of expanding the Darien Walmart came in 2009 when the neighboring Circuit City store closed. Some existing stores in the Darien Towne Center would move into the former Circuit City space, enabling Walmart to expand to the west. The Walmart Super Center would include a full grocery store, bakery, deli and pharmacy.
Walmart development plans have been controversial in some communities, but none of the residents attending the town hall meeting expressed opposition. One noted that a super Walmart would boost sales tax revenue for the city.
“Everybody’s courting a Walmart super store,” Vana said. “We’re in there with our boxing gloves all the time making sure Downers [Grove] stays away or [other communities].”
Police Chief Addresses Residents
McIvor opened the meeting by introducing Police Chief Ernest Brown to the residents, many of whom probably have not had the opportunity to meet the chief since he began the job in November.
Brown said he spent the first two months in his new role assessing the status of the department.
“During this assessment period, what I found was not a good police department but a great police department filled with a bunch of great people who are inclined toward service,” Brown said.
Brown said he hopes to draw on his 29 years of experience with the Chicago Police Department, including the final 11 in a management role, to ensure that police resources are allocated appropriately.
“Developing a service delivery model that is unrivaled anywhere is what my goal and vision is,” Brown said. “The men and women of the Darien Police Department will make this much easier because it’s already such a professional organization with a rich tradition.”
Brown stressed the importance of community support for the police department.
“We are only as good as the community we serve allows us to be,” he said.
Brown said Neighborhood Watch programs, like the one in the Farmingdale Village area of Ward 6, help the police “ensure that Darien stays the crime-free place that you folks now it to be now.”
“Law enforcement is the responsibility of the police department,” Brown added. “But public safety is everyone’s responsibility.”
Brown said residents interested in starting a Neighborhood Watch program in their area should contact him or Police Officer Nick Skweres.
McIvor updated residents on a couple of topics discussed at the Police Committee meeting that concluded just prior to the town hall meeting, including the possible purchase of a new police dog to replace K-9 Officer Rolf.
“One of our K-9s passed away last year, unexpectedly,” McIvor noted. “I was in support of replacing the K-9. The chief is putting forward a recommendation to the city council to replace that K-9.”
McIvor, who chairs the Police Committee, also discussed the department’s plans to purchase 10 new Tasers.
“There’s often a lot of bad publicity about Tasers,” McIvor said. “I think it’s a valuable tool.”
One person attending the meeting asked Brown about the number of officers that would be assigned to each shift.
“I haven’t made any sound determinations yet,” Brown said. “I am keeping my options open for some creative scheduling.”
He said the goal is to make sure peak staffing matches the peak times there are demands for police service.
Vana noted that the DuPage Water Commission was raising the rate it charges Darien for water by 30 percent this year and by 85 percent over the next four years in response to a rate increase the City of Chicago announced last year for its customers, which includes a large number of suburbs.
“That doesn’t equate to our water rate going up 85 percent,” Vana said. “That portion is only a smaller part of our water system. Certainly, that now has to be factored into our analysis that we will be talking to the City Council about starting in February.”
One meeting-goer observed that the city already had increased the utility tax it imposes on residents.
“Nobody wanted to do that,” Vana said. “But really, that was what allowed us to sustain [services] and not lay employees off.”
Some residents also had questions about electrical aggregation and why the city was again bringing a referendum before voters that would allow Darien to purchase electricity from sources other than ComEd.
“We’re doing this again because we’re actually getting questions from residents asking ‘Why don’t we do this?’” Vana said.
McIvor said a lack of understanding of the issue may have led to its defeat the first time it was brought before voters.
“The electrical aggregation seems to us like a no-brainer,” said Vana, observing that residents of other communities where it has passed are seeing average savings of $100-$175 per year.
McIvor said residents who want to keep ComEd as their electrical provider can “opt-out” of the electrical aggregation program. She emphasized that regardless of who provides the electricity to the consumer, ComEd would still maintain the transmission lines and respond to service outages.
“What’s the downside?” asked one resident.
“None,” Vana answered. “There is no downside because you can opt-out."