The Georgia-based developer of a proposed “build-to-rent” subdivision that faced vocal opposition has withdrawn its application for annexation and rezoning by the village of Swansea.
Andrew Malzer, vice president of development for Next Chapter Neighborhoods, said Friday that his company still wants to build White Oak Commons, which would consist of 274 homes on 49 acres of farmland off Thouvenot Lane.
“We just kind of caught up internally and thought, ‘Let’s reevaluate how we’re looking at this and how we think we can best get it done,’” he said.
The company has “loosely” explored the idea of applying for annexation and rezoning by another municipality, Malzer said. Swansea, O’Fallon and Shiloh all share boundaries with the property.
“Yes, we’re looking at (other options),” Malzer said. “We haven’t made any final decisions or anything. For all we know, it still might be Swansea, although we have technically withdrawn.”
Recent Swansea Village Board meetings have featured lively debate and delayed decisions regarding White Oak Commons. Trustees recently voted to send the annexation and rezoning application back to the Planning and Zoning Board for further review.
Next Chapter’s withdrawal was good news for Brian Thouvenot, a Swansea resident whose mother lives on a family farm in the vicinity. He had formed an informal coalition of area residents and others with concerns about the development’s density.
Under the current plan, homes would be 10 feet apart along 20-foot-wide streets and rented, not owned.
“I’m not going to spike a football, but I’m glad that we were able to have our voices heard, despite challenges from village officials,” Thouvenot said Thursday. “With many of these issues, we were on the right side.
“I hope O’Fallon comes to the same determination that we don’t want or need this in our community.”
Swansea Mayor Mike Leopold didn’t return calls for comment Friday.
Trustees divided on plan
Village staff had determined that White Oak Commons would have increased tax revenue for Swansea while not requiring maintenance of private streets and sidewalks, just police and fire protection.
When asked Friday if officials thought Next Chapter’s withdrawal was a loss, village Administrator Ben Schloesser said about half the trustees would say “yes” and half would say “no.”
“It’s out of our hands now,” Schloesser said. “But (the development) could still possibly exist in the same form, just without the revenue stream coming to Swansea.”
The 49 acres are in unincorporated St. Clair County, on the north side of Thouvenot Lane, which connects with Frank Scott Parkway, between Old Collinsville Road and Hartman Lane.
Next Chapter Neighborhoods wanted the land to be annexed to Swansea and rezoned from agricultural to planned business district, which allows residential and commercial uses. Malzer said Friday he didn’t hold any grudges toward village officials.
“They’ve been a great help and nothing but good to work with,” he said.
The 49 acres are owned by Hospital Sisters Health System, which operates St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon. The land was a gift to the hospital’s foundation in 2018. It’s listed for sale at $1.96 million.
Malzer said Friday that the company has a purchase contract, but it can be terminated if annexation and rezoning efforts are unsuccessful. He still maintains that a build-to-rent subdivision would fulfill a growing need in the metro-east and be well-received by consumers.
“Nothing’s changed about our view of the project and how successful it will be,” Malzer said. “... If anything, with the amount of due diligence we’ve done at the site, it’s just been reinforced.
“I’ve personally gotten a few calls from people wanting to know when they can get on the wait list, but we don’t have anything like that yet.”
Alternative to apartments
Build-to-rent subdivisions are billed as an alternative to apartment complexes for people who can’t afford or don’t want to buy. Next Chapter has developed two and sold them. It’s now developing a third in Indiana.
Several Swansea area residents voiced opposition to White Oak Commons at a Planning and Zoning Board meeting on July 12. They cited potential problems related to traffic, property values, stormwater runoff, subdivision maintenance, first responders and school overcrowding.
Some people accused the village of rushing the process, but staff insisted that they were following standard procedure, including all legally required public notices and hearings.
Brian Thouvenot said Thursday that opponents won’t stop their involvement just because Next Chapter has withdrawn its annexation and rezoning application from Swansea.
“As more people found out about this project, as a community, we kind of came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth the risk,” he said.
“There wasn’t enough information. You just don’t know how one of these developments is going to age. You don’t know what it’s going to look like five or 10 years down the road. It’s a fairly new concept. Projects like this should be properly vetted.”
Rents at White Oak Commons would range from $1,200 to $1,400 for one-bedrooms, $1,400 to $1,600 for two-bedrooms, $1,600 to $1,900 for three-bedrooms and $1,900 and up for four-bedrooms, according to Malzer.
If annexation and rezoning were to be approved this year, Next Chapter could possibly begin construction in late summer 2023 and open the first phase in spring 2024, he said.