Downers Grove Plan Commission Delays Vote on Senior Living Facility
Developers hope to build a sheltered care facility for seniors on 63rd Street next to an existing church, despite overwhelming opposition from neighborhood residents.
A proposal to build a senior living facility in Downers Grove has been put on hold until later this month as developers work to quell concerns raised by village officials and neighborhood residents.
More than 100 people attended a nearly five-hour planning and zoning meeting Monday night to hear Delta Development's proposal to build a three-story, 94,840-square-foot supportive living facility at 715-817 63rd St. between Main Street and Fairmount Avenue. The plan includes the purchasing of land from First Christian Church of Downers Grove, 801 63rd St., to create a 7.25-acre campus in an area surrounded by single-family homes.
The facility would include 120 units—60 studios and 60 one-bedroom apartments—for seniors 65 and older, and would be authorized under Illiniois' Supportive Living Facility Program, which provides a subsidized, long-term residence option for senior citizens who need extra help but do not require a nursing home.
Following a lengthy presentation from the developer, nearly two dozen residents went before the plan commission to speak out against the proposal. A petition with more than 250 signatures was also presented.
Residents raised a myriad of concerns about the facility's presence in their community, including the impact on traffic, property values, storm water runoff and the overall character of the neighborhood.
As the meeting approached its fifth hour, the commission voted 7-1 to call a recess and take up the issue again at its Feb. 25 meeting—giving them more time to deliberate and the petitioner more time to answer lingering questions.
The decision to adjourn was also prompted by a resident's testimony regarding a restrictive covenant that could impact the proposal. On Thursday, village officials sent a copy of the covenant to the petitioner, confirming that there is a restriction in place that limits lots in the subdivision to only single-family residential buildings.
"As such, the village is prohibited from taking any further action on this application until such time that documentation is produced that the issue regarding this restriction is resolved," the letter states.
The developer has until Feb. 11 to produce proper documentation, otherwise the Feb. 25 hearing will be canceled, according to village officials.
Third attempt to build supportive living facility in Downers Grove
Although many residents around 63rd Street said they found out about the facility just a few weeks or days prior to the hearing, the proposal is actually several years in the making.
Licenses for supportive living facilities are issued by the state on a limited basis and are site specific, making the process highly competitive. The last round of licenses issued was in 2006, when more than 100 applicants competed for about a dozen licenses, according to village documents.
There are currently 138 supportive living facilities in Illinois, with three in DuPage County—in Naperville, West Chicago and Bloomingdale.
Delta Development obtained a license for a Downers Grove facility in in 2005, but lost it after a period of inactivity, according to company president Michael Fiandaca.
About two years ago, Fiandaca and his team began working with the village to secure the site on 63rd Street, but were told that the lot in question did not meet the five-acre requirement for sheltered care facilities in Downers Grove. Last year, they petitioned the village to build a five-story facility at 5100 Forest Ave., the site of a vacant bank building across from the Downers Grove Public Library.
In October, the plan commission voted 5-2 to forward a positive recommendation to the village council, with Gregory Beggs and chair Greg Hosé casting the dissenting votes. However, the petition was withdrawn in November after commissioners expressed overwhelming opposition to the project—primarily due to its location in downtown Downers Grove, which they said went against goals outlined in the village's comprehensive plan.
With time running out on the SLF license, Delta Development went back to 63rd Street, this time to partner with First Christian Church to purchase more land. The new proposal is now consistent with the comprehensive plan, as well as zoning and land use classifications, according to village staff, who recommended approval.
During his presentation to the plan commission, Fiandaca said they have until January 2014 to build the facility, which he said would be the missing link between independent living and a nursing home.
"There is a huge need for this type of facility in Downers Grove," Fiandaca said. "It would be invaluable to the community, especially the seniors who love Downers Grove and want to stay in town."
Residents stand their ground
During their two-hour presentation to the commission, representatives from Delta Development attempted to answer many of the questions raised at a neighborhood meeting Jan. 16.
An engineer detailed results from a traffic study, which focused primarily on 63rd Street where it intersects with Lyman and Park avenues. The study concluded that any increase in traffic would have minimal impact on intersection operations.
Most of the residents disputed the report, which they said painted an inaccurate picture of pedestrian traffic and accidents in the area.
"There will be kids, seniors and adults trying to cross the street, and this is a high-accident area," said resident Rex Howard, who expressed concerns about the facility's impact on children walking to nearby schools.
Much of the public comment was also devoted to the facility's general impact on the character of the neighborhood. Despite an appraiser's claims that an SLF would not negatively impact property values, many residents said it would make it difficult to sell their homes.
"This is in my backyard," said resident Mark Brennan. "I understand what you want to do, but I wouldn't have bought this house had I known about this."
Several members of First Christian Church also attended the meeting to voice their support of the project, which they said will revitalize the church and the neighborhood.
"We think this project will benefit Downers Grove and the surrounding community," said Jim McNamara, vice chair of First Christian Church. He added that the purpose of a senior living facility dovetails on the church's existing ministries.
Despite additional testimonies by members of First Christian Church, the neighborhood residents stood their ground. They were generally in favor of a senior living facility in Downers Grove, but said building one in a residential neighborhood would be a poor choice.
"We bought houses here because we wanted to be in a residential community," said Mike Feeney, who lives on nearby 62nd Street. "This is not a Christian issue, and this is not a senior issue. This is a residential issue."
Delta Development has until Feb. 11 to resolve the restrictive covenant presented by the village in its letter Thursday. Should they provide proper documentation, the plan commission will continue the hearing Feb. 25 to deliberate and vote.
If a vote is taken, the proposal will held to the village council for final approval.
Fiandaca said Delta is on a strict timeline with the project, and risks losing its license or the tax credit investors, who have committed to funding 98 percent of facility.
"We're on borrowed time," Fiandaca said. "The state has lost patience with us. If this (delay) goes anywhere past a few weeks, things are going to get problematic."
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