'Would you want this behind your house?': Neighbors decry Elgin affordable housing plan

A new townhouse development along Big Timber Road may add to Elgin's affordable housing stock, but adjoining neighbors fear noise, loss of privacy and exacerbated flood problems with the pending loss of what is now nearly 9 acres of mostly wooded area.

The project, known as Gifford's Crossing, would bring 36 townhouses to the north side of Big Timber, just east of Randall Road. The property has an existing, vacant single-family home on a doughnut hole of unincorporated land. It will be demolished.

Development plans have been in the works since late 2020. A variety of projects involving up to 72 townhouses came to the city but failed to win the favor of staff members after the running afoul of the density and design guidelines that govern the city's vision for the area.

More recently, the Burton Foundation gained ownership of the property. The Elgin-based nonprofit specializes in creating affordable housing.

The $23.1 million Gifford's Crossing development would be the 21st project for the foundation. Tracey Manning, president of the foundation, said her organization owns several housing developments in nearby suburbs, including Geneva and South Elgin.

"We had a lot of people who live in Elgin apply to live in those properties," Manning told the city's planning and zoning commission this week. "We thought that maybe they would want to live where they work."

Members of the commission voted 4-0 to send a favorable recommendation for the project to the city council. Council members will cast the deciding votes on the project within the next couple of months.

Potential residents of Gifford's Crossing would need to fall below certain income limits to qualify. Those current limits range from $23,190 for a single person to $66,180 for a family of four. The development plan calls for four, nine-unit townhouse buildings, each standing two stories. Each unit will have attached two-car garages accessible from a private alley in the rear. There would be 13 two-bedroom units (rent ranging from $575 to $1,270); 18 three-bedroom units (rent ranging from $660 to $1,440); and 5 four-bedroom units (rents ranging from $725 to $1,595).

There is also a small park with a playground in the development that will be privately owned and maintained.

While the density of the project is lower than the adjacent Spring Oaks and Wynstone Century Oaks townhouse communities, the residents who live there are not looking forward to having new neighbors.

At the planning and zoning commission's meeting, more than an hour of testimony from the residents showed concerns about the maintenance and oversight of the future rental property that speakers described as being "shoehorned" into an owner-occupied neighborhood.w

"Would you want this behind your house?" asked Eric Beyer, a neighbor of the pending development. "Would you want to walk out and see this in your backyard? Don't ruin my neighborhood. We have enough low-income in Elgin."

Most other neighbors focused on the loss of permeable ground and the fact that the land Gifford's Crossing sits on is higher than the surrounding property while citing fears about flooding. But engineers for the project said they will preserve 144 mature trees while adding a swale, curbs and gutter that they project will all help water drainage in the area.

Manning said the new residents will be good neighbors who, unlike potential buyers, will all go through credit and criminal background checks.

"We manage our properties very well," Manning said. "These developments are not federally funded. Everyone will pay their own rent. Just because they can't afford a lot in rent doesn't mean they can't live in a beautiful building."

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