The developers of a proposed five-story senior citizen housing building that would sit across from the park got a lukewarm reception from the Plan Commission last week. Although Plan Commission members seemed to like the idea of affordable senior housing they worried that that the proposed 98-unit building was too big and lacked adequate parking.
“This building is going to be somewhat out of character with what’s around there,” said Steve Bitter, plan commission chair. “I would like to see if it’s necessary to have that many units.”
The senior building is being proposed for a site right across from the park on Harrison where The Oak Leaf Lounge, Forest Park Foreign Car Repair and H&R Towing now sit. The developers are the 7400-7412 Harrison Street Properties LLC, which includes Tony Kaldis, Constantine Fourlas, and Tim Locopoulos, teaming with the non-profit group Heartland Housing, a part of the Chicago based non-profit Heartland Alliance. Heartland Housing has extensive experience in developing affordable multi-unit housing having developed about 1,600 units in the city of Chicago. The developers are currently re-examining their proposal and will try to address the concerns at a special meeting of the Plan Commission on April 20.
“We’re definitely working on a response to the issues that were raised,” said Andrew Geer, executive director of Heartland Housing, Inc. “We’re evaluating all of that right now. We view this as just part of the process. We’re going to be looking at what they’re asking us to consider and see what we can do.”
In the proposal presented to the commission last week, the building would contain 12 studio apartments, 76 one-bedroom apartments and 10 two-bedroom apartments. Residents must be at least 62 years old. Ninety percent of the units would be rent subsidized and set aside for residents whose income is less than the median average income of the area. If the project is approved it would be financed with the help of low income housing tax credits. These tax credits, which are granted by the state of Illinois, would allow 90 percent of the units to be available for below market rents, Geer said.
The building would be designed for seniors who can live independently.
“It isn’t going to be assisted living or supportive living,” Geer said.
Plan Commission members seemed particularly concerned that the 63 parking spaces in the plans would not be enough for a 98-unit building. Forest Park’s zoning code requires two parking spaces for every unit, so the developers are seeking a variance.
The developers said that many seniors do not drive and the location is close enough to the CTA Circle Avenue Blue Line stop to minimize the need for cars.
“We really like the direct access to the CTA,” said Jeff Bone, the architect who designed the building.
But some Plan Commission members and members of the public were not convinced. They noted that the narrow sidewalks and the incline of the Circle Avenue bridge would be challenging for seniors. They also pointed out that there is not any grocery shopping close to the proposed location.
The building is designed to have 1,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. The second floor would have a green garden covering the parking spaces and the fifth floor would be set back wedding cake style to minimize the 59-foot 10-inch height of the building.
Zoning board member Richard Scafidi said that although the zoning code allows for a 60-foot tall building he thought the proposed building was just too big for its location.
“This is just going to hunker over the neighborhood and be out of character,” Scafidi said.
But Bone disagreed.
“I really feel the site can handle the height,” he said. Bone said the building will have four different facades to minimize the bulk and that the height will turn out to be a positive.
“It’s going to be a landmark,” Bone said.
The developers are hoping to get preliminary approval from the village council prior to a May 17 deadline for applying to the state for tax credits so the Plan Commission agreed to have a special meeting on April 20 to speed the process along.
Geer recognized that the project would probably have to be modified to gain approval.
“We do appreciate that there are concerns about the density and the height,” Geer said.
Plan Commission members remained hopeful that changes could be made that would win their approval.
“There’s still more tweaking (to do),” said John Plepel, a plan commission member. “Conceptually this could be a good project for Forest Park.”