Elgin council gives unanimous 'yes' to affordable housing at former Larkin Center

A plan to turn the historic former Larkin Center into affordable housing including for people with disabilities got unanimous approval from the Elgin City Council.

"This project will be successful," Mayor David Kaptain said Wednesday, praising it as an endeavor that will help the entire community.

The Chicago-based nonprofit Full Circle Communities Inc. will redevelop the empty property at 1212 Larkin Ave. into 48 apartments. Pending a final council vote next week, the nonprofit hopes to start construction this summer and complete it in summer 2020.

The nonprofit is unique because it is the developer, long term property owner and property manager for the project, its Vice President Lindsey Haines told the council.

The plan preserves the main building dating back to 1912 and includes 12 new buildings designed to look like single-family homes.

"We were lucky that somebody came forward and saw a way to invest money here to save a historic building," resident Paul Bednar said.

Councilman Terry Gavin called it "a wonderful project" but questioned the plan's variances for building setback distances, which are below the minimum required by city code.

Community Development Director Marc Mylott said the shortest distances are from the front porches to the lot lines, while the actual buildings are set further behind.

Council members Rose Martinez and John Steffen said they attended a community meeting in October hosted by Full Circle Communities, where there were lots of supporters but also opponents whose primary concerns were parking and traffic.

Full Circle President and CEO Joshua Wilmoth said the nonprofit believes the plan provides more than twice the amount of necessary parking. If needed, the central garden area of the property could be used to create additional parking, he said.

The final version of the plan includes additional sidewalk, crosswalks and stop signs.

"The concerns from the neighborhood were taken and alleviated with changes that were made," Steffen said.

"I think this is a good thing for the whole community," Martinez said.

Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said she's especially happy that 10 units will be reserved for people with disabilities, who also will get preference for the rest. She hopes Elgin residents will be given preference for rentals, she said.

Councilman Toby Shaw said he researched how the project might affect property values and was told affordable housing has "a more positive impact" on neighborhoods compared to Section 8, or low-income, housing.

"It's important to look at this holistically," he said.

The plan is supported by the Fox River Valley Initiative, whose website describes it "as a growing broad-based group of nonpartisan, everyday citizens dedicated to resolving pressing social problems facing our communities in Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, and Elgin."

Resident Linda Hamann said she is a supporter of the group and worked at the former Larkin Center for 25 years. She is glad the new project continues the mission of helping people, she said.

Another resident said the plan will be "an economic boon to the community" because it will help families break the cycle of poverty.

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  "This project will be successful," Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said Wednesday of a plan to turn the historic former Larkin Center at 1212 Larkin Ave. into 48 affordable housing apartments. Rick West/
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