Neighbors against State Street housing project in Elgin
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media October 27, 2013 3:04PM
Damon Duncan, executive director of the Housing Authority of Elgin, stands in front of Central Park Tower last year. The HAE wants to do a major expansion and remodeling of the affordable senior housing complex on State Street. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: November 30, 2013 7:59PM
ELGIN — When area seniors were asked by the Housing Authority of Elgin where they wanted to live and what amenities they wanted from affordable housing, one answer became clear, said HAE director Damon Duncan.
A study conducted by the HAE said there was a market for affordable senior housing here and that those residents wanted to be near downtown Elgin, with access to buses and trains, grocery stores and downtown amenities.
“This is where there is the greatest need,” he said.
But neighbors of a proposed major renovation of the HAE senior housing building — called Central Park Tower — at 120 S. State St. (Route 31), and a new, six-story building adjacent to it at 132 S. State St., say the new building isn’t appropriate for the area and could bring more traffic and more problems to the neighborhood.
A request to change zoning for 132 S. State St. — now an old Elgin mansion converted to eight apartments — was last before the city council on Oct. 9. It was tabled for a month to give council members more time to learn about the proposal and residents’ opinions of it, and is expected to come back for the Nov. 13 agenda.
The zoning request already has been approved by the planning and zoning commission but must be approved by council before moving forward.
The project is to cost about $25 million; if all goes according to plan, construction would begin in the spring. Work is being funded by a combination of sources, including Illinois Housing Development Authority tax credits issued to attract private investors and Department of Housing and Urban Development money.
The housing authority purchased the apartment building at 132 S. State St. last fall, Duncan said.
Originally, he said, they were looking at just remodeling and renovating the existing building at 120 S. State St. — not adding to the building.
The initial plan was to expand the efficiency units already there into true one-bedroom apartments, he said. But in order to provide larger living spaces for clients while maintaining the same number of units available, an addition to the building made sense, he said.
There are now 150 units in the 1969 high-rise building, Duncan said. The new, six-story building would result in a total of 164 units on the site.
Of those 164, he added, 14 would be market-rate — meaning apartments that do not have rent subsidies.
“We want to create a more-diverse community, not just concentrate the poor” at one site, Duncan said.
Redevelopment was approached on “two different tracks,” Duncan said.
The first track was based on a real estate financial analysis — what was the best and highest use for the existing site.
“The other track was where would the seniors prefer to live. Both of those tracks led us to this site,” Duncan said. “From this location, they can walk to the store, to bus transportation, rail transportation, and to downtown (Elgin).”
There also is a need for HAE office space, which is included in the new buildings plans, as well as a small storefront area.
“We are exploring having ‘a mom and pop’ pharmaceutical (store) to serve the campus,” Duncan said. That store also could provide a commissary for residents, he said.
“I cringe when see them with their walkers and scooters” walking down the hill to the strip center at 10 S. State St., he said, noting that while there are vending machines for juice and snacks in the building, it is almost impossible to keep them filled.
Some neighbors and the Near West Neighbors Association question the size and population density of the proposed building. Its proposed setback — the distance between the building and State Street — is too narrow, they said, and the building too large for the space available.
“The Near West Neighbors’ opinion is that the proposed addition is too large for such a small piece of property” and that the zoning variances they are requesting, including the setbacks, are too lengthy, said Michael Gibbons, a member of the Near West board.
The Near West neighborhood falls between West Highland Avenue to the north, State Street to the east, Walnut Avenue to the south, and extends along Gertrude and Crescent streets Woodland Avenue on its western border.
There is more subsidized housing in the neighborhood than anywhere else in Elgin, Gibbons said.
As the Elgin Housing Authority serves “all of Kane County,” he said, that could bring more people into Elgin from other communities.
“We don’t feel that our neighborhood needs more people living here,” Gibbons said.
Parking, and additional traffic on State and Locust streets, also are a concern.
Tom Krebsbach, who owns the homes at 162 and 150 S. State St., said he also opposes the new building.
“I don’t know that is the best place to add another big building like that,” Krebsbach said.
“The parking ... will be an issue.”
Currently, there are two exits from the housing authority property. One is on State and one on Locust. It is his understanding that the plans for the renovation project show just the Locust exit.
“That is already a terrible intersection, and everybody would have to go that way,” Krebsbach said.
Plans are for the new building to have four of the building’s six stories set back just 30 feet from State Street. Elgin code calls for a minimum of 50 feet, but three other buildings on the block also have 30-foot setbacks, officials said.
“I have big buildings here; it will dwarf all of the other homes along the street there,” Krebsbach said.