Wheeling mayoral, trustee candidates debate PhilHaven
Candidates for Wheeling village president and village board differ on the controversial PhilHaven project, apartments proposed for low-income people with disabilities, especially mental illness. After the village board twice refused to approve the building last year, developers filed a lawsuit that is still in U.S. Federal Court.
Most of the candidates said during interviews that they are in favor of this type of housing, with the location the main criticism opponents cite.
Both Village President Judy Abruscato and former trustee Pat Horcher believe the board should approve the building at 2418-2422 W. Hintz Road.
Abruscato was the only person on the board who voted for the development.
"I support the housing," Abruscato said after the first vote. "I don't think it will be a detriment to the village."
Horcher was not on the board during the period of the votes, but said he would have had to vote yes.
"I don't see how you can vote no," he said. "It's residential use on a residential lot. Laws in the community also bind the board."
Trustee Dean Argiris voted against the project.
Argiris said he liked the project and thinks it would be good for the community but did not think this was a good location for a 50-unit building where 70 percent of the residents did not drive cars.
"It should be where there is walking access," he said. "Shopping centers were a mile down the road, and there are no sidewalks."
Five candidates are running for three spots on the village board. Mary Papantos is the only one who came out in favor of PhilHaven as proposed.
"I don't think it's up to me to pick a spot," she said.
Papantos said the developers changed their plans to overcome village officials' objections -- they increased the size of the proposed units, agreed to post a bond to build more parking if it became necessary and dropped a plan to include professional offices on site.
Engineering studies said the project would not increase flooding in the area, Papantos said, adding the developers pledged to follow the code completely.
Special transportation is available throughout the region for handicapped people, said Papantos, and since she walks 10 miles a day she does not consider distance to amenities a problem.
Trustee Bill Hein objected to the reduced amount of parking the developers originally sought as well as the difficulty residents would have getting places.
"I was hoping I could persuade them to move to a different location," said Hein. "There are better urban areas where residents can ride bicycles or take transportation to grocery stores and parks and shopping without being in harm's way."
Trustee Kenneth R. Brady agreed with Hein that the project should have applied for a special zoning use rather than attempting to fit into a multifamily residential area. And he thought residents should have better access to amenities.
Having counselors, caretakers and case workers work on site would be against zoning, said Brady.
He added that the first time the building was proposed the request for less parking than the zoning required would have made it difficult to use the site for anything else if the project failed.
"The second time around they still didn't answer some of my questions," said Brady. "They said 'Don't listen to anything we told you, we just want to build an apartment building.'"
Candidate Mary Krueger, who lives near the site, said flooding is already bad in the area.
"I think we should have a moratorium on anything built on that parcel," she said.
Krueger also said supporters of the project told her that her brother, who is mentally handicapped but high-functioning, could not live in the building.
"They haven't been crystal clear about this," she said.
Greg Stavros said he is not familiar enough with the issue to comment.