'Integrated in our community': Shelter home moving to Arlington Hts. neighborhood, with conditions
The Ivy Hill neighborhood of Arlington Heights will be getting some new neighbors -- six young men in Shelter Inc.'s Transitional Living Program -- after the village board unanimously agreed Tuesday to grant the child welfare agency's request to relocate its shelter care home from Golf Road.
The move from a busy commercial corridor to a quiet residential block has been the subject of controversy for months amid neighborhood opposition over safety and property values. But at the end of a marathon meeting that extended into the early morning hours Tuesday, the mayor and eight trustees agreed on a compromise that granted Shelter Inc.'s zoning request with several conditions attached in an attempt to placate neighborhood concerns.
"We did listen to all concerned and tried to craft something that would be accommodating to all, and provide adequate protections for all," Mayor Tom Hayes said after the 9-0 vote, which came in the meeting's fourth hour after views both pro and con from dozens of residents had been heard. "I know not everyone is going to leave here with a smile on their face, but hopefully this will be something that's good not only for the community but for the neighborhood as well."
The hourslong meeting was the latest public forum about Shelter Inc.'s request to operate its independent living skills program for males ages 17 to 21 inside a duplex at 207-209 E. Valley Lane. The session was held virtually over Zoom, amid village officials' anticipation of a large crowd and concerns over social distancing during the pandemic.
Shelter Inc., an Arlington Heights-based nonprofit organization founded in 1975, recently purchased the two-story home on Valley Lane -- two houses east of Arlington Heights Road and just north of the Northpoint Shopping Center -- because the agency's current home on Golf is being sold by the property owner.
Carina Santa Maria, the organization's executive director, said the new home will bring the youths closer to more employment opportunities at nearby businesses, while integrating them into the residential community. She said Shelter Inc.'s other group homes -- a boys home in Palatine and girls home in Schaumburg, both for ages 11 to 17 -- have shown how their clients can assimilate into a neighborhood.
She said the young men deserve to live in a residential neighborhood like the ones some of them came from.
"They're able to live next to people because that is basic human rights," she said. "They're able to be integrated in our community."
But in their review of the zoning application, the village's community development department staff said it could not support Shelter Inc.'s request for a special use permit and two variations, citing the potential for police calls to the home to double and the lack of nearby public transportation options.
The plan commission subsequently deadlocked on a 4-4 advisory vote in September, before voting again in October with all members present on a 5-4 tally.
On Monday night, Trustee John Scaletta -- a Shelter Inc. donor and attendee of events -- was first to question Santa Maria about some of the neighbors' misgivings.
"The petitioner must appreciate the concerns of residents. And these aren't trivial concerns, and these aren't based on what-ifs," said Scaletta, noting high police call volume at the Golf Road site. "I don't think these are NIMBYs. I think they are real concerns."
Over the last decade, there have been 553 calls for police service to the Shelter home: 65% of those have been for curfew violations, 21% for well-being checks, and 13% for criminal incidents and public complaints. The call volume has declined 75% over the last five years compared to the first five years, but it's also incrementally gone up in 2018, 2019 and 2020, village officials said.
Yet Santa Maria also noted police calls have gone down this year -- there have only been six calls so far -- and said all residents in the group home today have not previously had contact with police.
She also said the agency has enhanced its screening of applicants to the two-year program, now having access to historical data from the Department of Children and Family Services about whether someone has a history of aggression.
Hayes said he could support the relocation only if capacity was limited to six residents. That's the number of residents who live at the current Shelter residence. The organization had proposed housing as many as a dozen people at the new location.
Trustees agreed to include the capacity limit as a condition of approval, though they removed an advisory plan commission recommendation that only one resident be allowed per bedroom. Shelter Inc. officials said it's likely roommates would be paired up in the master bedrooms on each floor.
The board also agreed with Trustee Jim Tinaglia's recommendation to preserve the garage's two parking spaces to ease on-street parking congestion. Shelter Inc. had proposed converting the space to a rec room and additional storage.
"We've sat here and listened to an enormous amount of passion and concern on both sides of the fence here," Tinaglia said. "But at the same time we are stewards. It's important we as a community be responsible here. These are our kids, and I feel obligated to make this work somehow."