Geneva to consider land donation for affordable housing
The potential donation of a city-owned property could be the first step toward securing a new affordable housing development in Geneva.
Plans for Emma's Landing, proposed by The Burton Foundation, call for building 45 rental townhouse units on 7.75 acres just north of Lewis Road and east of Wood Avenue, documents show. The concept was presented to the city's planning and zoning commission in March.
During a July 13 special meeting, aldermen are expected to consider whether to donate the vacant land for the project, which would enable the nonprofit to submit an application and begin the development review process, city spokesman Kevin Stahr said.
But several residents of the adjacent Sterling Manor subdivision have expressed concerns about the density, layout, safety and other aspects of the project -- including the proposed disposition of the property and the transparency of the process.
"I am not opposed to affordable housing in Geneva. I think Geneva needs it. ... I just want to make sure it's done properly," resident Lindsey McCall said. "We're asking to just hear our voices, hear our concerns before donating the land."
The city has been seeking to increase its affordable housing stock for several years, Stahr said. A housing plan adopted in 2014 outlines strategies for meeting requirements of the state's Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act, including identifying land and structures appropriate for such development.
"There are limited opportunities given Geneva is a landlocked community and has nearly been built out," Stahr said. "With the Lewis Road property being vacant, publicly owned and residentially zoned, it was identified as a potential site for the construction of affordable housing."
The city published a notice of sale late last year requesting proposals for the site, with preference given to affordable housing projects, according to a fact document on Geneva's website. The Burton Foundation was the only group to submit a plan.
In January, the city council also passed an ordinance allowing various incentives -- including land donations -- to be offered to affordable housing developers, Stahr said.
The July 13 discussion regarding the Lewis Road property is a first step, he said. The proposed real estate purchase agreement includes several conditions that must be met before the land would be transferred to The Burton Foundation, including final approval of development plans. The property, most recently appraised at $720,000, would revert to city ownership if permits have not been issued and construction has not begun by next April.
However, a group of Sterling Manor residents is questioning the city's authority as a non-home rule community to convey the site to an affordable housing developer by a simple majority vote, according to a June 29 letter from their attorney, Howard Jeruchimowitz. A previous letter called the proposed agreement with The Burton Foundation "secretive" and asked whether it is in the city's best interest.
"Even if the city's affordable housing ordinance is valid and the city is permitted to donate the property, the lack of transparency surrounding the proposed transaction is concerning," Jeruchimowitz said in the May 20 note.
City officials declined to comment on either correspondence.
Ward 2 Alderman Richard Marks, who represents Sterling Manor and the Lewis Road property, said he's received hundreds of calls and emails about the proposed project. Until residents' questions are answered and more information is released, he said, he believes it's too early for the council to consider a land donation.
"I don't think we should be giving away a $700,000 piece of property without a lot more detail," he said.
Development plans are expected to be considered in a separate process, Stahr said, noting meeting dates won't be scheduled until an application has been submitted and reviewed by staff members.
Initial concept plans for Emma's Landing called for construction of 12 townhouse pods containing three or four affordable units with two or three bedrooms, garages, patios and porches.
Certain units would be available to families making below 80% or 60% of the area median income, documents show. Applications for a one-year lease are dated and considered in order of receipt.
Residents can sign up for project updates under the "Notify Me" feature on the city's website, Stahr said. Property owners within 500 feet of the site will receive notices once a formal application has been filed and a public hearing has been scheduled.