Court clears way for housing near Lake Zurich for homeless, mentally ill

The Lake County Housing Authority can move ahead with plans to house homeless people with mental illness at the shuttered Midlothian Manor near Lake Zurich, an Illinois appellate court has ruled.

The court's 2-1 ruling affirms a Lake County judge's November 2016 decision to overturn the county zoning board's vote blocking an occupancy permit for the former assisted living facility.

David Northern, the housing authority's executive director, said he met with the agency's board Thursday and they are "excited about the decision."

"The next step is to meet with community groups and develop a plan," he said. "But we anticipate (we'll) start moving forward in the beginning part of 2018."

The building at Midlothian Road and Oakwood Lane in Ela Township has sat vacant since 2010, when the senior housing operation closed.

In 2014, the Daily Herald obtained county documents outlining a plan for Lake County PADS to rent the 14-unit building and operate a Safe Haven program catering to the chronically homeless with mental illness.

Nearby residents who opposed to the plan formed a group called Residents for an Engaged Community. They successfully petitioned the county's zoning board of appeals to block the proposal, leading to a nearly 2½-year court battle and the appellate court's Oct. 11 ruling.

Daniel Shapiro, an attorney representing Residents for an Engaged Community, said Thursday its members are still weighing their next move. One option is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the arguments.

"It's certainly a disappointment," Shapiro said of the appellate court decision. "Some of the (appellate court's) interpretations, we don't agree with. We agree with the dissenting opinion."

The court's split decision "gives us optimism" if his clients ask the Supreme Court to intervene, Shapiro said.

In the 51-page decision, Justice Joseph E. Birkett, joined by Justice Mary S. Schostok, ruled that allowing the building to be leased to PADS for use as housing for the homeless falls within the "government use" designation for the property within the county's unified development ordinance.

Writing in dissent, Justice Donald C. Hudson argues that a building leased to a private entity is no longer being used for government purposes.

"Once again, if we properly defer to the (zoning board), we cannot hold that its decision is clearly erroneous," Hudson wrote. "In fact, I submit, we could not declare it erroneous at all."

Northern said he hopes to meet with residents on both sides of the issue "and bring everyone together" to reach an understanding on the issues.

• Daily Herald staff writer Charles Keeshan contributed to this story.

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