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updated: 6/20/2013 8:42 AM

Supportive housing plan passes hurdle; Palatine council next

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The Catherine Alice Gardens permanent supportive housing development got a late-night boost from the Palatine Plan Commission, which -- after more than five hours of debate and testimony -- supported the property's required rezoning.

The commission voted 7 to 1 to recommend preliminary approval of the proposed development at 345 N. Eric Drive. The village council now will consider the issue at its meeting on Monday, July 8.

If the council approves the preliminary proposal -- another big hurdle for the project given the amount of opposition from neighboring residents and businesses -- the partnership behind Catherine Alice Gardens has one year to submit final site, engineering and architectural plans.

Attorney Mark Raymond, representing UP Development, said he anticipates the developers will go back before the plan commission and village council for final approval in March 2014. They hope to close on the property, demolish the vacant warehouse and start construction in June 2014.

Barring delays, the three-story, 33-unit affordable apartment building for people with mental and physical disabilities could be occupied by September 2015.

Plan Commissioner Jane Robins cast the lone dissenting vote, saying she doesn't believe the apartment building is the best use for the property. She urged the village to wait and see whether another interested buyer comes forward because the market is beginning to rebound and it's a "very viable" industrial area.

"My heart breaks for all these stories we heard, but we can't squeeze a round circle into a square peg," Robins said. "If we don't have the right spot, we don't have the right spot."

Property owner Mel Boldt said he has aggressively marketed the 1.65-acre property, even offering to sell it for the amount he paid in 1985. But the building is too small and the ceiling too low for most industrial uses, he said.

Project manager Jessica Berzac of UP Development, which has a 74 percent stake in the $10.5 million project, said the developers analyzed 15 potential sites in Palatine but found none of the others to be feasible.

A property located in a floodplain, for instance, is ineligible for federal funding, Berzac said. And advocates say it's critical that the tenants, who go through a rigorous screening process and are able to live independently with the help of supportive services, need access to amenities and public transportation to be successful.

The Kenneth Young Center has the remaining 26 percent stake in Catherine Alice Gardens. The North/Northwest Suburban Task Force on Supportive Housing for People with Mental Illness and the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health also are involved.

Even if the Palatine facility is built, experts say there will still be a severe shortage of permanent supportive housing in the area. But inroads are being made.

Myers Place, a 39-unit complex that opened earlier this month in Mount Prospect, became the first such development in the Northwest suburbs. And a recent legal settlement clears the way for Philhaven, a 50-unit facility to be built in Wheeling. The village board there originally rejected the proposal and the developer sued, claiming discrimination.

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