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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Signs go up

Niowave neighbors, fed up with another Niowave no-show, display their frustration

by Andy Balaskovitz

This story was updated Sept. 17.

Thursday, Sept. 13 — Three or four weeks ago, Walnut Neighborhood resident Dale Schrader had 100 lawn signs made urging neighborhood company Niowave to “fix the fa'ade” of its new 14,000-square-foot industrial-looking building in the residential neighborhood west of Old Town. 

When Mayor Virg Bernero learned about the signs, he thanked the neighborhood for not installing them while the city, Niowave and neighbors could agree to maintain a dialog among each other. Up until today, the signs sat in Schrader’s garage. 

At 10 this morning, nearly a dozen signs lined neighbors’ properties. The move is in response to the company’s postponing a neighborhood meeting that was scheduled for tonight. Bernero announced the postponement at a City Council meeting Monday; other neighbors found out from the city’s Planning and Neighborhood Development Office. 

It’s the latest chapter in the Walnut Neighborhood’s ongoing frustration with the company.  

“It’s very frustrating,” Schrader said in a telephone interview today from Chicago. “I feel bad about doing this, but it seems like we still somehow have not got their attention — which is pretty astounding, really.”

Schrader said the neighbors reached a consensus about bringing out the signs. 

In July, company representatives didn’t appear at a neighborhood meeting on the issue. At an Aug. 22 meeting that included Bernero and members of his cabinet, three City Council members and about 25 neighbors, Niowave sent its landscape architect on retainer, Bob Ford, to discuss the problem — even though it was one of Ford’s first encounters with the controversy. (He said he was “na've” about the situation and was on a fact-finding mission to report back to the company.) 

While he’s out of town, Schrader said his son helped distribute the signs after neighbors agreed it was the route to go. “I feel bad this had to happen. The agreement was with Mr. Bernero that we would hold off and see what happens. This has just been long enough,” Schrader said. 

Bernero acknowledged the signs at the Aug. 22 meeting and thanked the group for not displaying them. He said at Monday’s Council meeting that today’s meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Neighborhood Empowerment Center not far from the pole barn, came “at a time when Niowave is involved in a couple of projects” and that staff was too busy to attend. 

"Mayor Bernero remains hopeful that Niowave and their neighbors will continue to work toward a 'win-win' solution," Chief of Staff Randy Hannan said in an email today.

A phone call to Niowave’s headquarters went to voicemail. 

A ceremony in early July celebrated Niowave’s $10 million expansion at its headquarters at the intersection of Walnut and Kilborn streets. The company, which specializes in manufacturing particle accelerators, renovated the vacant Walnut School in 2006 for its headquarters. A personal property tax abatement, worth more than $200,000, is on hold with the City Council as the pole barn controversy is resolved. 

“We feel as a group it’s been long enough. They couldn’t meet with us? What could possibly be so important that they couldn’t come to a meeting and say, ‘Here’s what we’ve got so far,’” Schrader said.

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