The permanent supportive housing development proposed near downtown Palatine will face its first big test this week at a meeting of the village's plan commission.
Plenty of supporters and opponents are expected to weigh in on Catherine Alice Gardens, a proposed 33-unit apartment building for low-income individuals and small families with disabilities and mental illness.
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The plan commission will consider whether to recommend rezoning the property at 345 N. Eric Drive -- a warehouse that's been vacant since 2002 -- from manufacturing to a planned residential development. The panel meets at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the village hall council chambers, 200 E. Wood St., Palatine.
Though reaction from residents and the business community has been mixed so far, all but a few of the 250-plus letters and emails submitted to the village have been overwhelmingly positive.
"We've heard from lots of supportive individuals, elected officials, disability providers, churches and civic organizations," project manager Jessica Berzac of UP Development said.
Many of the letters reference the severe shortage of permanent supportive housing in the suburbs, often leading to people with disabilities living in inappropriate and expensive environments or with parents unable to support them indefinitely.
Other letters are from family members who share ways in which their loved ones have struggled without access to an affordable facility with supportive services.
Village staff, led by Village Manager Reid Ottesen, are giving a qualified recommendation to approve the $10.5 million project, albeit with several conditions, such as the developers submitting plans for parking lot lighting, landscaping and tree preservation.
In its recommendation, staff states the proposal is similar in density and land use to other residential developments in the immediate vicinity. And while eliminating a manufacturing parcel could hurt Palatine's goal of maintaining a broad and diversified economic base, the warehouse has been vacant for 11 years.
Staff also states that the Colfax and Eric Drive corridor contains many other uses that aren't manufacturing in nature such as the post office, dog day cares, professional offices and a martial arts studio.
"Given the proximity of similar multifamily residential land uses and the building's general compliance with the restrictions of the zoning ordinance, staff does not believe this proposal will have a negative impact on surrounding properties," the recommendation states.
Several surrounding businesses and residents feel very differently, however.
Mike Stoica, owner of Sytek Audio Systems, said a residential facility -- no matter the tenants -- isn't appropriate given the nearby manufacturing businesses.
"There are trucks constantly going around, it's noisy and we're using all types of solvents and chemicals," said Stoica, who hired an attorney to help him oppose the project. "It's not safe for pedestrians and we have to worry about the liability."
John DiPasquale, owner of the Illinois Shotokan Karate Clubs next door, agreed. He acknowledged there are other residential complexes close by, but they're separated by barriers or green space.
"We have no problem with the project itself, but there are better places in Palatine where it could go to help these people," DiPasquale said. "I'm appalled a residential component on the block would even be considered."
Berzac, who's helping to lead the project with the North/Northwest Suburban Task Force on Supportive Housing for People with Mental Illness, UP Development, Kenneth Young Center and the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health, said the partnership began reaching out to neighbors months ago.
As news continues to spread, she's having more lengthy meetings and phone conversations to address concerns.
While most have been productive, Berzac took issue with a letter circulated by the board of directors of the Georgetown Condominiums, located just east of the site. In its letter, the board said it "feels strongly that this project will affect our property values as well as our way of life ..."
Berzac responded with her own letter, urging them to stop "false statements, half-truths and misinformation," and to attend a community meeting.
No one answered several calls made to the Georgetown complex's listing.
"Unfortunately no matter how many studies or expert opinions we present, some people just have their opinions," Berzac said. "But I think our job is to listen to everyone's unfounded fear and respond as honestly as we can and hope there are slow shifts along the way. Our mission is to create housing opportunities, but part of our mission is also to reduce the stigma that people with disabilities live with."