Anything sound familiar here?
Aug. 5, 2013: Palatine village Councilman Tim Millar expresses support for a housing project for mentally disabled residents but, along with three other council members who help him reject the project, not the location: "You're never going to get this (manufacturing parcel) back. It represents 2 percent of all industrial property, and I'd be very concerned to lose that," he says.
May 21, 2012: Wheeling village board members agree that supportive housing for the mentally disabled is needed in the community, but the site proposed just doesn't cut it: "There is no debate for the necessity of a project like this in the community. I think it would be a great asset. This is the wrong building in the wrong part of town," says Trustee Dean Argiris.
May 7, 2010: Elliott Hartstein, then village president in Buffalo Grove, writes the Arlington Heights village board to oppose a proposed site for supportive housing for the mentally disabled near the town's border: "(Buffalo Grove) understands the need for facilities for people with special needs as is proposed, and fully supports the concept of such housing. ... The concern is not the use itself; it is the excessive variations that are proposed for the site ..."
May 19, 2010: After Arlington Heights rejected the proposal that Hartstein had discussed, John Scaletta is among four village trustees who agree with the need for supportive housing in their town, but not the selected site -- and in this case, the need for variances to accommodate multiple residents. "You are putting way too much on that property," Scaletta says.
In each of these cases, the village's planning commissions, exhibiting no small amount of courage in the face of emotional opposition, recommended approval. In each case, the developers produced numerous revisions of their plans to accommodate concerns expressed by town leaders and potential neighbors. In each case, the ultimate verdict of village leaders was, "Yes, there's a need; but this is just not the right location," raising the obvious question, just what is?
In Palatine's pitiable rejection this week, the excuse was economic development. A manufacturing site that has been vacant for more than a decade and which has so few prospects for development within the next decade that the owner pleaded with the council to let him sell it was deemed so potentially valuable that town fathers and mothers just couldn't bear to risk the loss.
The Wheeling project, it should be pointed out, eventually won approval -- thanks to a court order. Yet, the consistent theme in all these actions leads to one more overriding question: If all our towns have a need for supportive housing for the disabled, as studies clearly demonstrate and nearly every elected official acknowledges, whose responsibility is it to find a location?
The private developers who have scoured the suburbs for sites and completed years worth of legwork clearly have not been able to identify acceptable sites. Where, then, are the leaders who can identify sites that will be acceptable? Or, does the responsibility for leadership on the question extend no further than to saying no to nearly every proposal put forth?
It is hard to think of a class of citizens in our communities more vulnerable than the mentally disabled. Are we really willing to accept that their prospects for finding tolerable and dignified housing amount to a seemingly endless game of playing a hideous form of Whack-A-Mole until they happen to land on a location so remote, so undesirable and so unsuitable for any other use that village leaders won't be able to conjure an excuse to reject it?
If such is the state of our planning for the needs of the disabled, one struggles to think of a word to describe our predicament. But "shameful" seems like a reasonable place to start.