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Proposed senior housing project draws crowd full of opposition

Sycamore residents voice concerns about proposed senior housing project

SYCAMORE – Twenty members of the standing room-only crowd at Monday’s Plan Commission meeting spoke out against a low-income senior housing development.

And that’s just the people who stepped up to the microphone for the first of a two-part public hearing that will continue Oct. 9.

Tom Brantley, senior regional project manager of Gardner Capital, which has petitioned the city to rezone property at 1101 Hathaway Drive for the project, spent part of his presentation fielding questions from residents of the neighborhood who couldn’t wait for the public comment portion.

“Are we taking random questions right now?” Brantley asked.

Those who spoke out about the proposed 54-unit project off Peace Road south of DeKalb Avenue voiced myriad concerns: neighboring property values, safety, wasting commercial property and ways in which it doesn’t fit the city’s comprehensive plan among them.

A general, blanket-like complaint came up often, and Ken Martin, president of the Foxpointe Condominium Association, said he brought along a unanimous opinion of 64 property owners.

“Of all the people I’ve talked to, no one in our group is in favor of this,” he said. “You’re putting it in the middle of a neighborhood of property owners. This is wrong. It doesn’t fit by size or just the concept. You wouldn’t want that in your neighborhood, so don’t do it to ours.”

Brantley said his group took notes from a workshop with the Plan Commission and implemented them into the proposed plan – including tweaking the style of the building to make it look like it fits in the neighborhood, with red and tan brick, rather than what Brantley called a previous “institutional” look.

Carin Davenport wasn’t sold, and she said she already has bought two homes in the neighborhood.

“This is neighborhood of custom homes, and there’s a lot of care people put into their homes and yards,” she said. “Anytime you have a property that’s going to be managed by a management company, you put the neighborhood consistency at risk, and Sycamore, too. I’d like to keep the consistency of our beautiful neighborhood.”

Chris Kelley said from what he’s gathered, homeowners in the neighborhood don’t stand to gain a dime.

“At best, all we’ve heard is that it’s not going to impact us too negatively,” he said. “I’d like us to look for what’s going to help us, not what’s going to hurt us the least.”

Ryan Cardinali pointed out that Sycamore doesn’t lack alternative sites where such a building could fit.

“There’s no need to take something off the commercial end and slam it into residential,” he said. “There’s options for seniors in this town.”

Brantley took the mic back after the public comment to address several of the questions and concerns.

“I can promise you that all of your subdivisions had someone who was against them,” he said. “I’m sure they had lots of good reasons for not wanting it. Now you live there, and it’s part of your community.”

One question took a few tries to get answered, but Cheryl Reyes broke through toward the end of the two-hour meeting.

“I still have the question of, ‘what percentage of the units would be low-income?’ ” she asked while standing in the crowd.

“We’re talking about 85 percent,” Brantley answered, drawing a chorus of groans.

That’s when some of the 150 or so people in attendance started to leave, and the first of multiple times commission Chairman Bill Davey had to use his gavel to restore order.

In 2004, a proposed townhouse development on the property was shot down; among the reasons cited was the development was considered too dense at 8.7 units an acre.

The city’s comprehensive plan considers six to nine units an acre to be high density, and the current proposal features 11.64 units an acre.

Benjamin Reyes said he’s not necessarily opposed to the proposed project. He wonders about the timing, and why the city would first now rezone the property.

“We need to consider why we didn’t change it to residential 10 years ago, 12 years ago, and why we’re willing to do it now,” he said.

The comprehensive plan also puts an emphasis on home ownership in the city, rather than rental housing, and the percentage of home ownership has gone from 73.7 percent in 2005 to 63 percent in 2011 to 2015.

Once the Plan Commission makes its recommendation after the Oct. 9 hearing, the City Council will have 30 days to accept or reject the findings or send it back to the commission for reworking.

Because some residents living within 500 feet of the property said they didn’t receive mailers about Monday’s public hearing, it’s being continued Oct. 9 to ensure the public was properly notified.

Gauging Monday’s turnout, residents made sure their neighbors knew.

“We’ve got kind of a full house tonight,” City Manager Brian Gregory said. “I think this is the most people we’ve had in this room.”

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