Objections expected to downtown senior housing plan
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org July 13, 2012 11:30PM
Updated: August 17, 2012 6:27AM
JOLIET — Attorney Richard Kavanagh will argue at Monday’s city council meeting that the vacant St. Mary Carmelite Church should not be converted into housing for low-income seniors, a plan that has been in the works for months.
Allowing the remodeling project to go forward would be an “obscene” waste of taxpayer money, said Kavanagh, who together with his law partners, owns the building next door to the church on the 100 block of Ottawa Street.
Developer Celadon Holdings of Chicago originally said the project would cost about $22 million, which means each of the 40 senior living units would cost about $535,000 to construct, Kavanagh said.
Celadon would get federal tax credits for the project if it provides low-income senior housing, Kavanagh said.
“Why do you think federal tax dollars should be used to subsidize 40 apartment units when you could build 200 of them someplace else for the same money,” he said.
It would make more sense to demolish the 130-year-old limestone church and build offices or commercial units on the lot, Kavanagh said.
Scott Henry of Celadon Holdings disagreed with Kavanagh, who is the former chairman of the Will County Republican Party.
“I think the church is a treasure,” he told The Herald-News on Friday. “It was designed by the same architect who also designed Holy Name Cathedral (in Chicago),” he said.
So many people were married or baptized at St. Mary’s, “It’s part of the cultural fabric of Joliet,” Henry said.
Henry said a contractor recently bid the project for $10.5 million, half of the original estimate.
Celadon would get tax credits from the state because Illinois wants to encourage adaptive reuse of historic structures and federal tax credits encourage housing for low income seniors, he explained.
“This is exactly what the programs are meant to be used for,” he said. “... We just don’t see a single negative thing about it.”
Kavanagh appeared at the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing in June to lobby against Celadon’s request for a special use permit, which is required to put residential units in an area zoned for business. The zoning board’s vote was tied, so it forwarded the case to the city council with no recommendation.
The request is on the agenda for the pre-council meeting at 3:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 150 W. Jefferson St. The council could vote on the special use permit at Monday’s meeting or at its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
In March, the Joliet Catholic Diocese, which had considered demolishing the building, transferred the deed for the church at 113 Ottawa St. to Celadon Holdings.
If approved, the Celadon project would not be the first to use renovated space in or near downtown for senior housing. In 2007, the former YMCA building, also on Ottawa Street, was converted into Senior Suites. The former Joliet Catholic High School, just west of downtown, was redeveloped into the Victory Centre in 1998.