Des Plaines rejects disabled apartments over parking concerns

Updated 6/17/2015 6:33 PM

Supporters of a proposed apartment building in downtown Des Plaines say it would allow those with physical disabilities to live independently. But a majority of the city's aldermen and some neighbors argue there's not enough parking.

Aldermen this week rejected plans for the five-story, 40-unit building at 751 Graceland Ave. proposed by Over the Rainbow Association, an Evanston-based nonprofit that manages eight similar properties in Chicago and the suburbs.


Five out of eight city council members denied the organization's request for variances that would allow the project to proceed as proposed. The group sought permission to have 35 parking spaces, not the 80 required by city code, and to build on a lot of 22,000 square feet instead of 28,000 square feet.

In March, the council approved a zoning change, from commercial to residential, that allowed Over the Rainbow to submit its plans to the city.

Officials with the association say the building wouldn't need all the parking that city code recommends, since many of the people who would live there don't drive.

But some aldermen wondered what would become of the building were its intended use to change. Any variances for parking would expire if a new owner came in.

"I'm concerned about the future and if this building changed hands or is sold or used for a different purpose, we're extremely short on parking," said 5th Ward Alderman Jim Brookman. "In practicality if they build this building and have 35 spaces but you need 80, if it's a normal apartment building there's not going to be room on the property to do it."

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Eric Huffman, Over The Rainbow's executive director, said the group has never sold one of its properties or been foreclosed upon in the organization's 41-year history. The project would proceed under a 30-year regulatory agreement with Cook County, with financing through the Illinois Housing Development Authority. After 30 years, Over the Rainbow would continue to own the building.

"If you let us in, we're going to be here for a long time," Huffman said.

Aldermen Mike Charewicz, chairman of the community development committee, and Jack Robinson, whose 2nd Ward includes the proposed project, made visits to other Over the Rainbow facilities and said their parking lots were virtually empty.

"I feel it's good, it's viable, and it'd be something that would be worthwhile to the community," Robinson said. "I don't have a crystal ball 20 years down the road. That's all I ever hear is 'ifs' and 'this' and 'that.'"

Charewicz, Robinson and Denise Rodd voted in favor of the variance requests.

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