VOA Illlinois builds, but not in Joliet
by bob okon email@example.com April 30, 2013 8:40PM
Midge Pittman, CEO of The Shepard's Place, stands in front of the former Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, IL on Tuesday November 27, 2012. Pittman's group wants to create a full-service, live-in social service center at the old Silver Cross Hospital for battered women, pregnant teens, substance abusers and more. They've been handed the task of raising $6 million by the end of the year before Silver Cross will consider the idea. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 2, 2013 6:08AM
Volunteers of America Illinois last week broke ground on an apartment project for military veterans much like the one the nonprofit organization had planned for Joliet.
But while Joliet officials continue to say they would like to see the apartments in the city, the chief executive for VOA Illinois said the group is not likely to come back. VOA Illinois develops housing for low-income military veterans who face the possibility of becoming homeless.
CEO Nancy Hughes Moyer said she occasionally reads newspaper articles quoting city officials as saying they still want the project, but “they’re not telling us that.”
Hughes Moyer said she has heard nothing from Joliet officials since a phone call after a closed session in February informed her that the city council would not consider the project in time to meet a financial deadline facing VOA Illinois.
“They clearly didn’t want it,” she said. “We made every accommodation that we could realistically.”
Last week, VOA Illinois broke ground in Chicago on Hope Manor II, its second housing development in the city for low-income veterans and their families.
Hope Manor II is similar to what was originally proposed in Joliet. It will have 73 apartments on a three-acre site for single veterans and those with families. VOA Illinois plans to provide social services and job training on site.
The same kind of project was introduced in Joliet at a Jan. 10 meeting of the city council’s land use committee, getting what appeared to be a positive reception from both public officials and the site’s neighbors.
City staff put the VOA Illinois project on a fast track, planning to take it to the council for final approval in less than a month so the nonprofit group could meet a March 15 deadline for state funding.
But then the project got bogged down, as questions were raised about the number of apartments, and city officials said the project did not meet Joliet’s rules on housing density.
“We were trying to accommodate them because they had a March 15 deadline,” City Manager Thomas Thanas said. “I think once the density issue was raised, we knew we had to pull back.”
The only question regarding density raised at the land use committee meeting was whether there would be enough parking spaces at the apartment complex.
That was the last public meeting on the project, and the council later discussed the matter in closed session — although city officials contend that there was no vote in the closed meeting before VOA Illinois was told the plan would not go forward.
VOA Illinois proposed the apartments on three acres donated by Silver Cross Hospital at its former hospital property. When the city raised questions about housing density, Silver Cross donated another three acres, but that land would be used as open space so the project’s density did not change.
Mayor Thomas Giarrante said he would like to see VOA Illinois build veterans housing in Joliet “but not with that density.”
However, there has been no follow-up on the project. Giarrante said he did not know that no one from the city had contacted VOA Illinois since the group learned that the project had stalled.
At that time, city officials also said they wanted to do a thorough review of Joliet’s density standards before such a housing development would be considered. Thanas said Thursday that review has not begun.
Hughes Moyer said VOA Illinois would consider building veterans housing in Will County but not in Joliet — at least not without a clear idea of what standards would have to be met.
“We would never take that risk again in the city (Joliet),” she said.