Geneva pushes forward land sale for proposed affordable housing project

  • Geneva aldermen have approved entering into an agreement with an affordable housing developer over the potential sale of city-owned property along Lewis Road.

      Geneva aldermen have approved entering into an agreement with an affordable housing developer over the potential sale of city-owned property along Lewis Road. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

  • Affordable townhouses have been proposed for a vacant, city-owned property off Lewis Road in Geneva. Aldermen voted 10-1 this week to authorize the sale, which is contingent upon approval of development plans.

      Affordable townhouses have been proposed for a vacant, city-owned property off Lewis Road in Geneva. Aldermen voted 10-1 this week to authorize the sale, which is contingent upon approval of development plans. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Nearby residents have voiced opposition to the sale of a city-owned property along Lewis Road to The Burton Foundation, which has proposed building 45 affordable townhouse units.

      Nearby residents have voiced opposition to the sale of a city-owned property along Lewis Road to The Burton Foundation, which has proposed building 45 affordable townhouse units. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/15/2020 4:52 PM

Geneva aldermen have given the green light to sell a vacant, city-owned property along Lewis Road for potential construction of an affordable housing project.

The Burton Foundation's purchase of the surplus site for $576,000 -- 80% of its appraised value -- is contingent upon several conditions, including the city's approval of development plans. Authorizing the land sale is a first step, Mayor Kevin Burns said, enabling the nonprofit to seek financing and submit an application for its affordable townhouse project, called Emma's Landing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This is really just a beginning of a process," Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said during a heated, four-hour meeting this week. "It's a process that's going to answer the question of whether or not what The Burton Foundation is proposing is the asset we need in Geneva."

The city council voted 10-1 to enter into the real estate purchase agreement after hearing from dozens of community members, many of whom expressed support for creating more affordable housing in Geneva. But several nearby residents urged aldermen to hit the pause button, saying there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the project and transparency of the process.

"I urge you to not rush in making your decision," said Lindsey McCall, who lives in Sterling Manor subdivision. "A simple 'nay' doesn't mean you're opposed to affordable housing. It means you're just listening to many of the residents who have only ever wanted their voices to be heard."

Concept plans presented in March for the controversial development call for building 45 rental townhouse units just north of Lewis Road and east of Wood Avenue, documents show. Certain units would be available to families making at or below 80% or 60% of the area median income, potentially helping the city achieve its long-term goal of increasing its affordable housing stock, aldermen said.

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The Burton Foundation was the only developer to respond to a request for proposals issued by Geneva late last year.

The city council initially was expected to consider donating the land to the organization, as permitted by an ordinance passed in January. After consulting with the Illinois Housing Development Authority, city officials advised The Burton Foundation that a two-thirds majority vote would be required, prompting the nonprofit to revise its offer last week, Burns said.

Organization President Tracey Manning said the proposed development follows the city's direction regarding affordable housing: aesthetically pleasing, energy efficient, fewer than 50 units.

Several residents said the project could be crucial in making the community more inclusive for young adults, veterans, single parents, seniors on a fixed income, families who have fallen on hard times, and others who work in town but can't afford to live there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"By building a better community for all, where people from all backgrounds can have an opportunity to succeed, we all benefit," resident Holly Heimlich said. "It's going to take a lot more than affordable housing to make our community welcome to everyone, but it's a start."

Though many agreed Geneva needs more housing options, opponents expressed concerns over the project density, layout, traffic and overall suitability for the Lewis Road site. Some took issue with the city's handling of the process and requested a broader discussion before plans move forward.

"We want to do the right thing, but we're not sure this is the right thing. And the more you push this on us, the less sure we become," resident Mary Scherschel said. "Affordable housing is something we should all get behind and be proud of. This is not the way."

Second Ward Alderman Richard Marks voted against the land sale, saying he believes more communication with neighboring homeowners was needed.

Several aldermen said there will be plenty of time to address logistics and other issues during the development review phase.

"The community wants housing diversity," First Ward Alderman Mike Bruno said. "Honestly, I think it'd be irresponsible to kill (the project) at this early stage."

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