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Talk set for Tuesday on Central Park Towers renovation plans

Artist's renditiplanned Housing Authority Elgaffordable senior housing complex State Street. | Submitted

Artist's rendition of the planned Housing Authority of Elgin affordable senior housing complex on State Street. | Submitted

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Updated: January 10, 2014 6:11AM

ELGIN — Another public meeting is set for Tuesday evening with city staff, the Housing Authority of Elgin, and neighbors concerned about proposed renovations to Central Park Towers and an adjacent property.

At the Oct. 9 city council meeting, the council tabled a request by the Housing Authority of Elgin to rezone its properties at 120 and 132 S. State St. (Route 31). Among reasons were concerns some residents had expressed about issues that included the design of the building, parking and access in and out of the site.

So Tuesday, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Centre of Elgin, Heritage Ballroom, the housing authority will present results of additional work and modifications to the plan.

The housing authority hopes to rezone the site in order to construct a new four-to-six-story building containing 60 studio, one- and two-bedroom affordable senior apartments. The ground level would house the HAE central offices and retail space. The unit mix would also include market-rate senior apartments.

To make way for this new construction, the housing authority would demolish an existing three-story, eight-unit frame residential structure at 132 S. State St. The building is a now-empty mansion that had been converted into apartments and had seen its share of troubles, including a slaying in August 2012. The Housing Authority also wants to rehabilitate and reconfigure the affordable senior residential units within the 150-unit, 11-story Central Park Towers, which has been open since 1970.

The new development and rehabilitation would increase the total unit count on both properties from 158 units to 164.

Neighbor concerns

Via email, HAE CEO Damon Duncan said HAE staff has met with members of the Near West Neighbors Association (NWNA) and SWAN (South West Area Neighbors) resident groups on multiple occasions to “try to mitigate the issues.”

Duncan said HAE also has been working with the planning and zoning commission as well as city staff on possible changes to the plan.

“We are considering traditional versus contemporary design elements, or some hybrid of the two. We plan to present modifications to date at the public hearing (Tuesday),” Duncan wrote.

The project is to cost about $25 million, and the hope was to begin construction sometime in the spring. The project would directly employ close to 100 construction workers.

Work is being funded by a combination of means including Illinois Housing Development Authority tax credits issued to attract private investors, and Department of Housing and Urban Development money. HAE is considering naming the building after Bob Gilliam, the former city councilman who served on the HAE board for 30 years.

“Financing is being put in place. Investors are committed. Due diligence is being performed,” Duncan wrote.

Some of the most vocal opposition has come from Jackson Street resident Chuck Keysor, who once headed NWNA and is a founding member of the local activist group OCTAVE.

Keysor has sent numerous emails to the city officials critical of the HAE plans. Among Keysor’s complaints are that the plan doesn’t allow for enough parking; traffic safety and tie-up issues he contends the plan would cause; and that the project remains a high-rise “increasing its density and eliminating much of its front lawn green space.”

Among his suggestions are purchasing and tearing down several other area homes, building a parking deck, and denying the plan’s request for retail and office space.

A study conducted by Walker Parking Consultants for HAE in October to be discussed Tuesday might alleviate some of these concerns. It found that what is being planned will be more than adequate to meet the site’s needs.

‘Hobos’ cited

In October, Keysor wrote to city staff that HAE should “look at using Central Park for low-density mixed-income housing. That property is wasted, and is nothing more than a home for hobos. A nice low-density housing development there would make much more sense then to cram high-density housing into 120 S. State.”

Central Park is the wooded land near railroad tracks and across Route 31 from Oak Crest Residence & Atrium Apartments.

Contacted via email, Keysor told The Courier-News that during his tenure as NWNA president, members inspected Central Park once a year and “would usually find an encampment of ‘hobos.’ We would report that to the Elgin Police Department, and they would deal with the situation.”

“Perhaps a week before I wrote about Central Park, I had been informed by the EPD that they had conducted an operation to clean out the ‘hobos’ that had set up camp near the railroad tracks. So I consider that assessment of Central Park to be current and correct,” Keysor wrote.

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