A plan to build affordable senior housing across from the Park on Harrison seems dead for now, or at least on life support. The Plan Commission unanimously voted last week to recommend that the village council not approve plans to build a four story senior housing building in the 7400 block of Harrison.
Although the developers of the property scaled back the plan they presented to the Plan Commission earlier in April by one floor, reduced the number of units by 15, and added parking the Plan Commission still said no.
“I’m still not comfortable with the density in terms of the number of the units,” said Plan Commission Chairman Steve Bitter. “I just see something of this scope and size as being out of character with the neighborhood.”
The developers have been racing to meet a May 17 deadline to apply for tax credits from the Illinois Department of Housing and Bitter said that he was uncomfortable with the speed of the process. The state awards the tax credits only once a year and the developers must have approval from Forest Park before applying to the state.
“I’m not ready to support this as it stands right now,” Bitter said. “It’s just too much. It’s also too much, too soon, too quickly.”
The developers were taken aback by the negative reaction from the Plan Commission. They thought they had addressed concerns raised at the earlier meeting. They reduced the number of units from 98 to 83 and reduced the height of the building to four stories after proposing a five story building two weeks earlier.
“We thought we understood what the issues were,” said Tim Loucopoulos, one of the partners of the7400-7412 Harrison Street Properties LLC which owns the property, a few days after the meeting. “We went back and tried to figure out what economically makes sense at the lowest possible level that would still meet Illinois Department of Housing requirements and we thought we were there so we were a little surprised.”
Although the property, which now houses the Pines Bar and a car repair shop, is zoned B-1 which allows a 60-feet tall, five story building, Plan Commission members emphasized they were looking to the village’s Comprehensive Plan, and not the village’s zoning code for guidance as to how to develop the property.
The Comprehensive Plan calls for low or medium density use on Harrison.
“What we go by on this board is the Comprehensive Plan, not the zoning,” said Plan Commission member John Plepel. “To me it’s more than the number of units. It’s how massive this building is.”
How big a building would win approval from the Plan Commission?
“I think three stories is the general comfort level in this town,” said Kevin Harnett, a new member of the Plan Commission.
Plan Commission member Bill Kirchner emphasized the importance of following the Comprehensive Plan.
“The Comprehensive Plan is the goal and ideal of what Forest Park wants to be,” Kirchner said. “
Architect Jeff Bone seemed confused and upset that the changes he had made in his design didn’t seem to sway the Plan Commission members.
“We lowered the density, we lowered the height, we increased the parking,” said Bone while asking the Plan Commission to be more specific in telling him just what they were looking for.
Andrew Geer of the non-profit Heartland Alliance, which is teaming with 7400-7412 Harrison Street Properties LLC on the proposal, said that it is not possible to develop a three story affordable senior housing building.
“No one develops a 25 unit senior housing (building) because it’s not economically feasible,” Geer told the Plan Commission.
A few residents who live in the area attended the hearing and spoke out against the project complaining mostly about its size and density.
The village council has the final word as to whether the project will go forward and it will probably take up the proposal at its May 10 meeting.
But the developers appear to see the writing on the wall and they are considering withdrawing their application for now. They continue to express an interest in building affordable senior housing on Harrison and fear a no vote from the village council would hurt them if they tried to obtain tax credits from the state for a project at the same location next year.
“What may be more beneficial for everyone might be for us just to basically pull out and say you know what we’ll just come at it in the next round,” Loucopoulos said. “We may decide that this time is not the right time and we may withdraw, but if we do plan on ever coming in again we will be prepared in a different manner. We will do a better job. We’re not blaming the Plan Commission. We’re blaming ourselves.’
How much their proposal may change in a year could is not clear.
“We still are willing to work with the Plan Commission and explain to them that we have listened to them and what is proposed does meet the needs,” Loucopoulos said.