After hours of testimony Tuesday night and in front of a passionate, divided crowd that spilled over into a separate meeting room, the Palatine plan commission recommended rezoning land near downtown to accommodate apartments to support people with disabilities.
It was the first formal hearing on Catherine Alice Gardens, the permanent supportive housing proposed for the property at 345 N. Eric Drive. The planners voted 7-1 after 1 a.m. to rezone the site from manufacturing to residential. The proposal now will go before the village council July 8.
Although nearly all the letters submitted to the village were from individuals, families, churches, businesses and civic organizations supportive of Catherine Alice Gardens -- a three-story, 33-unit affordable apartment building that would serve people with disabilities -- most of the audience who spoke Tuesday night opposed the facility.
Many shared concerns about the safety of their children, especially students of the adjacent karate club. Some said they were scared about the potential for unstable, mentally ill residents off their medications who could interact with or be threats to them.
Other opponents, including owners of industrial businesses on Eric Drive, said they don't want pedestrians around because of the increased liability.
"Let me know you respect my business," Ultimate Plumbing Supply owner Andy Tenuto said. "Don't bring high-density residential into a manufacturing zone."
The meeting began with a detailed presentation by members of the partnership behind Catherine Alice Gardens.
Representatives of the $10.5 million project discussed the severe shortage of this type of housing in the Northwest suburbs, as well as the absence of other sites in Palatine that could accommodate a similar facility. They cited several studies and opinions by appraisers and real estate brokers concluding the building wouldn't negatively affect property values.
Project manager Jessica Berzac of UP Development said the warehouse that would be demolished has been vacant for more than 10 years and explained property taxes would increase.
"There's little evidence to support neighbors' fears that supportive housing developments will reduce the price of surrounding properties over time," Berzac said. "In fact, properties start to go up (because) oftentimes you're removing an obsolete, unattractive use."
Representatives of the partnership, which also includes the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health, the North/Northwest Suburban Task Force on Suburban Housing for People with Mental Illness and the Kenneth Young Center, also emphasized that prospective residents go through an extensive screening process and are able to live independently with the help of supportive services.
The village staff and plan commission Chairman Dennis Dwyer disagreed the facility would be in the middle of an industrial area, saying more than 300 residential units are in the immediate vicinity, including to the north and east.
Longtime Palatine resident Denise Harrison shared her family's experience with mental illness and said the village should step up and help those who can't necessarily help themselves.
"If not here, where?" Harrison asked. "If not us, who?"