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updated: 4/1/2013 4:30 PM

Editorial: Wheeling should settle with special-needs development

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The U.S. District Judge hearing the lawsuit over the village of Wheeling's rejection of Philhaven, an apartment building proposed for mentally ill and disabled residents, has, in so many words, told the village it is going to lose. The ruling has given Wheeling room to settle, and the village would be wise to use it.

As proposed, Philhaven would be a 50-unit building at 2418-2422 W. Hintz Road, providing housing and some services to low-income residents who have mental illness but can live independently. It is not unlike Myers Place, a 39-unit apartment building now being built at Dempster and Busse in Mount Prospect.

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The Wheeling village board has rejected Philhaven twice, both times over the recommendation of its plan commission. The North/Northwest Suburban Task Force For Individuals with Mental Illness and Daveri Development Group, the for-profit developer who would build Philhaven in conjunction with services offered to residents by the Kenneth Young Center and the Alexian Brothers Health System, sued.

In U.S. District Court, Judge John Z. Lee said it is clear there was "discriminatory effect" and "some evidence of discriminatory intent" on the part of the village when it rejected Philhaven.

"There is no indication that Philhaven would harm the stability or nature of the existing neighborhoods," he wrote. Any indication that it would, "came from ... residents at the hearing who voiced their concerns about the project based upon general stereotypes, fears and prejudices."

Lee makes note that in 2008 the village board approved a proposal for luxury apartments at the same location, a project that was never built.

He suspects politics played a role in the Philhaven denial: "It is not unreasonable to think that such vocal opposition may have had an influence, however slight, on the elected officials on the Board, a number of whom are up for re-election in April 2013."

In fairness, even the trustees not up for election voted against Philhaven -- only Village President Judy Abruscato voted for it.

In his ruling, Judge Lee denied Daveri's request for an injunction that would have allowed the developer to start construction immediately. His ruling buys Wheeling some time.

Given all the indications, it seems prudent that the village consider the alternative to more costly litigation, and negotiate a settlement that will allow Philhaven to be built, but at the same time stipulate to issues that might affect the integrity and security of the nearby neighborhood -- water runoff, potential flooding, traffic patterns and the like.

We have editorialized repeatedly that housing for mentally disabled persons is needed in the suburbs. Wheeling has tried to stop Philhaven, but it looks like it is going to be built, anyway. Now, the village should stop fighting and do its best to make Philhaven fit, as well as it can, into the village.

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