Controversial plan for homeless in Lake Zurich area going before seven-member county panel

PADS Lake County's effort to place chronically homeless people with mental illness in a residential neighborhood could be decided at a public hearing this week.

Officials at the homeless agency say the proposal to place the 14 clients in Midlothian Manor, on Lake Zurich's northern border, is part of a trend to shift those in need away from institutional settings.

PADS wants to move its Safe Haven program from the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in North Chicago to the building in an unincorporated area at Midlothian Road and Lakewood Lane in Ela Township.

But an opposition group called Residents for an Engaged Community pressed the issue and forced the PADS plan to go before a Lake County zoning board of appeals hearing set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Lake Zurich High School's library. The opponents have cited concerns about the effect the proposal could have on the neighborhood, including the potential for declining property values and crime.

PADS Executive Director Joel Williams said the hearing will be important to his nonprofit agency. He said PADS spent about two years seeking an appropriate location for the residents who would live at Midlothian Manor.

"There is a significant lack of this type of housing in Lake County," Williams said, "and nothing could be identified as an alternative. A reversal of the zoning administrator's decision would put the program and the residents at risk of returning to homelessness. We would certainly do everything in our power to prevent that, but we simply do not know of any other options."

However, the appropriateness of the PADS clients at Midlothian Manor won't be a focus of the zoning board of appeals hearing, said Brittany Albrecht Sloan, deputy director and zoning administrator for Lake County's planning, building and development department. Sloan said the seven-member panel will concentrate on whether the proposal is proper as a "government use" in a currently vacant building.

"County staff will take the position that the suitability of residents at the subject property is not a topic relevant to the issue at hand," she said. "We expect that the zoning board will focus on the definition of a government use."

Public comment, expert testimony and cross-examination of witnesses will be part of the hearing. The zoning board of appeals members will make the final decision on whether Midlothian Manor can be used for the PADS proposal.

The Lake County Housing Authority, which owns the 14-unit Midlothian Manor, received an occupancy permit for government use through a county administrative process early this year. Residents for an Engaged Community filed an objection to the permit that would allow PADS to use Midlothian Manor - a move that triggered Tuesday's zoning board of appeals hearing.

Several residents in Lake Zurich, unincorporated Ela Township and Hawthorn Woods expressed frustration at not knowing about the PADS proposal until late last year when it was far along in the planning process. Documents obtained from the housing authority through a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request detailed the plan in December.

At that time, housing authority officials said no public hearings on the proposal were required, and that they only had to obtain the necessary occupancy permit through the county's administrative process.

PADS and the housing agency co-hosted an informal meeting at Ela Area Public Library in January, where some residents questioned the lack of information about Midlothian Manor.

Residents for an Engaged Community member Cheryl Gorey, who lives next to Midlothian Manor, issued a statement on behalf of the group saying Tuesday's hearing before the zoning board of appeals will be "our real chance to make a difference." The group formed after the January meeting in the library.

"This public hearing represents our first formal chance to have our voices and concerns heard," the group stated. "Through many research and preparation hours, as well as follow through on commitments we've made to the community, we've diligently prepared our strong legal argument regarding the zoning process and corresponding 'use' decisions for the Midlothian Manor property. There is power in numbers."

PADS would screen the 14 residents before they move into Midlothian Manor. Employees would be present 24 hours a day, with resources available to the residents such as a licensed clinical social worker and an advanced practice nurse.

Safe Haven serves the chronically homeless with mental illness. The clients would rent their units from PADS by paying a portion of their income from government assistance or a job.

Under an original plan, the PADS clients were expected to start living at Midlothian Manor early this year. The facility previously was operated by the housing authority as a senior residential facility.

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