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updated: 12/19/2013 5:43 AM

Elgin gives initial nod to senior housing

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The Elgin City Council gave its preliminary OK to a project to build more affordable housing for seniors.

The $25 million project by the Housing Authority of Elgin consists of rehabbing Central Park Tower at 120 S. State St. and building a new six-story building just to the south.

The project will allow seniors to live "with dignity," Councilwoman Tish Powell said.

Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger pointed out the project -- which includes demolishing an existing, vacant building -- will only add six overall units to the current combined 158 units.

Only council members Terry Gavin, Toby Shaw and John Prigge voted against the project, which will be funded mostly by low-income housing tax credits.

The city council is expected to vote on a final ordinance at its first meeting in January.

A study conducted by Elgin-based Walker Parking Consultants showed there will be a surplus of 35 parking spaces over the projected needs of staff, residents and their guests.

Still, resident Karen Aherns said she's concerned about parking when HAE residents -- who are age 50 and up -- get visits from children and grandchildren.

Housing Authority of Elgin CEO Damon Duncan said only about 30 percent of HAE residents have a car.

The new building was redesigned after some residents and council members asked for a more traditional look.

Resident Hollyce Mack called the design "almost hideous.

"I think unfortunately in 40 or 50 years we're going to regret how this building looks."

The plan includes a one-way driveway from State Street exiting on Locust Street, which Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy said is ideal for emergency vehicles. Residents had expressed concerns about traffic on Locust Street.

Resident Jeffrey Meyer said he believes the project amounts to spot zoning, but Elgin Corporation Counsel William Cogley disagreed, pointing out it's close to another high-density building, a high school and downtown Elgin.

The decision was "a gut-wrencher," Shaw said. "It seems the idea is good but maybe it's not the best," he said, adding another site could possibly be found somewhere.

Prigge agreed. "We're all the way out to Route 47 to the west and all the way to Hoffman Estates to the east. There's gotta be someplace else," he said.

Resident Traci Ellis said some of those against the plan are motivated by "racist and classist" stereotypes about HAE residents.

"Low-income seniors are one of these community's most vulnerable groups," she said, later adding, "We all sink or swim together. Either everybody counts or nobody counts."

Resident Pete Culver pointed to the estimated 100 new constructions jobs the project will create. "Neighborhoods change, but you go on and it's not so bad, because people are people."

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