City rejects vets’ apartments while away from public eye
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org February 14, 2013 6:24PM
An artist’s rendering of Volunteers of America Illinois’ proposed project to develop Hope Manor Joliet, a veterans housing complex, on part of the former Silver Cross Hospital site in Joliet. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 17, 2013 6:19PM
City officials have rejected a plan for veterans’ housing, saying it would put too many apartments on too little land.
The city council appears to have made the key decision last week behind closed doors, although it is not clear why the matter would be discussed in an executive session.
Volunteers of America Illinois wants to build 73 apartments on 3.2 acres on the old Silver Cross Hospital campus for low-income and homeless veterans.
Nancy Hughes, chief executive with VOA Illinois, said the organization still has an application pending with the state agency that would fund the project in case the city has “a change of heart.”
But while city officials have publicly said they like the project, the city council discussed the matter last week in a closed session and apparently decided against it.
Hughes said she received a phone call from City Manager Thomas Thanas after the closed meeting and was informed it would not get approval before a March 22 funding deadline that VOA Illinois faces.
“He said it cannot move forward and there is no pathway to a resolution between now and March 22,” Hughes said.
She said that VOA Illinois had submitted a revised plan to the city to deal with the apartment density issue and she was told the plan would be presented to the council in closed session.
Hughes said it was her understanding the city council in closed session had decided against the plan.
Thanas would not discuss the closed session or when he called Hughes. But he did say he had recommended to the council that the plan be rejected because the number of apartments exceeded the city’s standard of 10 units per acre.
Approval of the VOA Illinois could lead other developers to pursue high-density apartment projects in Joliet, he said.
“The city has not approved any apartment project in the last 30 years where there was a density of more than 10 units per acre,” Thanas said.
Thanas would not say when or where he made the recommendation.
“I made a recommendation to the city council, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said.
The recommendation was not made at a public meeting. There was one public meeting on the proposal when it was first presented at a Jan. 10 meeting of the city council’s Land Use Committee.
The three council members on the committee voted 3-0 to recommend the project to the full council for approval.
Density was not an issue at the meeting, other than questions raised about the number of parking spaces.
“I think everybody understood that we were looking at about 18 units per acre,” Thanas said. “I don’t think the council was ready to discuss that issue. Nor was city staff.”
Mayor Thomas Giarrante said, “We definitely want the project but we’re concerned about the density.”
Giarrante said the council wants staff to talk with VOA Illinois about the density.
But Thanas said he does not want the project considered until the city has a complete review of its density policy, and that will not happen by March 22.
Giarrante would not discuss details about the closed session. He referred questions about why the matter would be discussed behind closed doors to City Attorney Jeff Plyman.
Plyman said the executive session was called on the basis of pending or threatened litigation.
“Beyond that, I’m not at liberty to discuss it,” he said.
The city council is only allowed to discuss matters behind closed doors that involve personnel, union negotiations, land acquisitions and pending or threatened litigation.
Hughes said she did not know why the VOA Illinois’ revised plan was to be presented to the council behind closed doors.
But, she said, no lawsuits have been filed against the Joliet project.
“I can tell you that there is absolutely no pending litigation at all concerning this matter,” Hughes said.