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posted: 9/18/2012 8:21 PM

PhilHaven developer sues Wheeling, claiming it's biased

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Developers have filed suit against the village of Wheeling over the village board's rejection of a 50-unit apartment building to house low-income residents with mental or physical disabilities.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, claims the denial violates the federal Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities acts.

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The suit asks a judge to order the village to approve the controversial PhilHaven project. It was filed by the Daveri Development Group, the North/Northwest Task Force for Individuals with Mental Illness and a pair of would-be PhilHaven residents.

The complaint also seeks undisclosed damages.

Wheeling Village Manager Jon Sfondilis said the village staff and elected officials could not comment on pending litigation.

The Wheeling village board twice voted down the PhilHaven plan, which calls for a 50-unit building at 2418-2422 W. Hintz Road. The apartments would provide housing and some services to low-income residents who have mental or physical disabilities but who can live mostly independently.

"We never want to have to use the court system," said Jessica Berzac, vice president of acquisitions and development for Daveri Development. "We wish the village would work this out with us. Our only goal is to create housing for people who want to live in Wheeling and deserve to live in Wheeling."

The $13 million proposal met with strong opposition from neighboring homeowners, who cited concerns ranging from increased traffic and flooding to its impact on property values and safety of other village residents.

The suit states Wheeling trustees denied the plan despite the plan commission's recommendation in favor of it, that the site is already zoned for multifamily residential, and that the board had previously approved a similarly sized development at the site that ultimately fell through.

"It's pretty hard to understand why all of a sudden they felt the site was not appropriate for multifamily housing," Berzac said.

"The Wheeling board did not approve the PhilHaven project because, if it is built, it will afford housing to disabled persons," the suit alleges.

This is the second lawsuit Daveri has filed against a community that rejected its proposal for housing for mentally ill persons.

In June, a similar lawsuit against Arlington Heights over its denial of the Boeger Place proposal was dismissed by a federal judge who ruled the village was within its right to deny a project that sought significant variances from its zoning code.

But unlike the Arlington Heights project, Daveri did not seek any zoning changes or variances for PhilHaven.

"This seems to be a much more black-and-white situation. There isn't gray area on this project," Berzac said. She added that there are no plans to appeal the decision in Arlington Heights.

During previous village meetings, Wheeling trustees suggested that the developers should find another part of town to build the project. Berzac said she tried to set up meetings with the village attorneys and board to discuss the project after the last rejection but did not receive a response.

Daveri is building Myers Place, a 39-unit apartment building for disabled residents, at the corner of Dempster and Busse in Mount Prospect.

"Just because it's people with disabilities doesn't mean they should be treated differently," Berzac said. "Hopefully at the end of the day people will have a place to call home."

• Daily Herald staff writer Deborah Donovan contributed to this report.

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