Towers plans changed, but some Elgin residents still balk at project
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media December 11, 2013 3:38PM
Artist’s drawings show the latest elevations for the Elgin Housing Authority’s Central Park towers renovation project. | Photo courtesy of Elgin Housing Authority
Updated: January 14, 2014 12:07PM
ELGIN — Ever since the city council tabled a request Oct. 9 to rezone property at 120 and 132 S. State St. to add to a senior housing tower there, many changes have been made to the plan, said Damon Duncan, Elgin Housing Authority director.
While the council has delayed approvals for the project, Duncan said, it also gave the housing authority more time to refine the project and give both the council and residents answers to questions they had.
On Tuesday night, Duncan and Marc Mylott, Elgin’s director of community development, told residents about the latest changes to the plan and addressed issues raised by neighbors, including concerns about the parking plan.
The not-for-profit housing authority wants to renovate the 1969, 11-story senior housing tower at 120 S. State St. (Route 31) and add a second building with a six-story and four-story section. An adjacent home split into eight apartments was purchased by the housing authority and would be torn down to make room for the new tower.
Efficiency units in the older tower would be converted to full one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The new building would then include expanded office space for housing authority staff, and a small, resident-operated retail store.
Nearby residents, however, are concerned that the new building would not have enough parking and would contribute to traffic congestion on State and Locust streets, and pushing parking problems farther into the neighborhoods.
Walker Consultants, a nationally recognized parking consultant firm based in Elgin, did a study of current and projected needs for parking at the property, Duncan said. That study determined the property would have 38 more parking spaces than needed for the units on site.
Just a quarter of the low-income seniors who live in the building now drive, and that number is not expected to increase, Duncan said.
Design plans for the building also have changed to reflect a more traditional design, as compared to a more-modern building as originally proposed.
The planned second building still would have six stories to the western, back portion of the property and four stories facing State Street. The entrance from State Street is planned as a one-way drive — as requested by the Elgin Fire Department for safety — and a covered drop-off for seniors and emergency vehicles. Traffic would leave the site on Locust Street
If plans were modified to make the State Street entry a two-way drive, it would lose parking spaces designed for people visiting the housing authority offices, said project architect Jonathan Brinkley.
Neighborhood and other Elgin residents — who were outnumbered 2-to-1 by Central Park Tower residents at Tuesday night’s session — said they still had concerns about the project and did not believe the parking study fully understood the demands for parking there.
Elgin’s Mylott said there is a misunderstanding of city code. Many people think there is a two-car requirement for residential units, he said, but the requirement is much lower for senior housing — one spot for every two units, which the Central Park Towers project meets.
Few comments centered on the new buildings design, which was a topic at the Oct. 9 council meeting.
“There is a difference between ‘Wow’ and ‘Yikes,’ ” Duncan said. Most of the comments on the new design have been in the “wow” vein, he said.
“We worked with the city, used local buildings and traditional architecture and colors to arrive at a design,” he said.
‘Need nice place’
Central Park Tower residents said they hope surrounding neighbors can work with the housing authority and city to get the building approved.
“Understand that the building that is about to be erected is for seniors and we all want a nice place to live. We deserve this,” said resident Mauricea Rhodes.
There is an assumption that the development would bring in people from “the south side of Chicago,” Rhodes added. Even if that does occur, “it would behoove us all to welcome of them and show them how to be productive members of our community.”
At the end of the day, they want a comfortable place to live and be a part of the Elgin community, she said.
“We are trying to do our best to elevate the community, not just the looks but the building and those who will come in the future,” Rhodes said.
The city council is expected to take the project off the table at next week’s meeting, with a possible final vote set for Jan. 8.