Joliet faces suit over apartment project
By bob okon firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2013 5:20PM
A tree blooms in April 2010 in front of St. Mary Carmelite Church in Joliet . | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: March 21, 2013 6:34AM
The city of Joliet is being sued for allowing an apartment project with much higher density than the veterans’ apartments that were turned down recently.
The veterans project would have included 73 apartments on 3.2 acres on the old Silver Cross Hospital campus in Joliet. But the project was turned down after city officials decided there were not ready to stray from a standard density of 10 units per acre.
But Joliet is being sued by a law firm whose case in part is that the city abandoned the 10-unit per acre standard in July when zoning was approved for a renovation of the old St. Mary Carmelite Church downtown. The church is slated for senior residences.
“It seems a little incongruous to me to say 22 units per acre is too dense but 88 units per acre is OK,” said attorney Richard Kavanagh, whose firm is suing both the city of Joliet and the developer. Kavanagh Grumley & Gorbold’s office is located next door to the church.
About 40 apartments are planned for the St. Mary Carmelite church remodeling. But the church is on less than an acre of land, and Kavanagh argues that the relative density of the project is four times what was proposed for the veterans apartments.
City Attorney Jeff Plyman said the same density standards don’t apply to senior housing.
“Senior housing is measured differently than family-based housing,” Plyman said.
The veterans’ apartments were planned for both singles and families who need low-income housing.
Seniors typically “need less space,” Plyman said. “That’s why they call them empty nesters.”
Still, Kavanagh said, four times more density is a big difference.
“If this is going to stop something for veterans, and I happen to be a veteran,” Kavanagh said, “than they should apply the same standards to seniors, especially when they’re using taxpayer dollars.”
Both developers plan to sue tax credits made available through the state of Illinois to fund the projects.
Volunteers of America Illinois, the nonprofit group that planned to build the veterans apartments in Joliet, planned to build three, three-story apartment buildings.
But VOA Illinois chief executive Nancy Hughes said last week that the project is probably dead after the city rejected the plan. Hughes said she believes the city met in closed session to review a revised plan that attempted to address the density issue. After that session, she said, City Manager Thomas Thanas called and told her that the city would not give the project the needed zoning before a March 22 funding deadline.
Thanas said later that he wants the city to review its density standards before considering a project that could prompt future developers to bring in plans for large apartment complexes.
The city has approved other high-density senior projects in the downtown area, including a conversion of the old YMCA building and the old Joliet Catholic High School. Plyman noted that all three senior projects involved renovations of older buildings considered to have historic value.
The lawsuit against the St. Mary Carmelite project contends that apartments are not the best use for the site. The Diocese of Joliet was close to demolishing the church before Chicago-based Celadon Holdings arrived with the plan for senior residences.