Church complex rejected

Church complex rejected

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

Brooke Road United Methodist Church dropped plans May 2 to use neighboring Ken-Rock Park for a senior housing complex/park combination after infuriated residents voiced opposition at a public hearing on May 1.

The church, 1404 Brooke Rd., desired two acres for a complex and two acres for a park.

Rev. James Preston stated that although the church withdrew the proposal, the congregation still plans to pursue creating such a project in the 11th St./Brooke Road area.

“It certainly was good to hear everyone’s perspective,” Preston said. “We were pleased to hear the positive comments … despite the hurtful words of some.”

Opponents said they were concerned with having enough park space for the neighborhood children. “It’s been a playground for the kids. Save the park for the kids,” stressed Gene Sundeen, who lives directly behind the church.

Shirlene Schmidt lives across the street from the park. She questioned how well elderly people and children would interact. “What about your tolerance with small children?” she asked.

Sundeen also disputed the blend. “You have seniors. You have children—gasoline and matches looking for friction,” he said. “And don’t worry, the friction will come.”

Proponents maintain the park would bolster the particular site. Committee member Lori Himler said, “I think it’s a great project, putting seniors with youth.”

Preston agreed. He noted that a committee of 12 was formed 1.5 years ago to contemplate ways of accommodating the senior population in the area.

The committee members spoke with agencies and seniors. They explored the possibilities, as did the church’s Chicago denominational office.

Preston said that the committee researched several sites. He noted the team determined inexpensive senior housing in the area was necessary.

Most senior housing exists on the north side of Rockford. Ken-Rock Community Center, which has a waiting list, and River Oaks, are the only senior complexes in the area.

“We wanted to reach out to act on our faith,” Preston stated. “We feel called to it. We feel Christ calls us to offer hope … it will be a time to provide hope, to provide stability.”

The church would not run the building but would act as the facilitator. The congregation would create a non-profit board to run it.

The Ken-Rock Park project would have cost between $2 million to $3 million and would have been funded by a Housing & Urban Development 202 Grant and church fundraising. The church must find a site before May 25, when the grant is due. The church will learn three to six months afterward if it will receive the grant.

Rent would be based on income, which would have to be under $18,000 for a single person and $21,000 for a couple. The complex would include a social service director, security, social events, community gatherings and services from organizations such as Meals on Wheels. All seniors would be able to apply to live in the building.

In addition, the present park contains equipment, a baseball diamond and a basketball court, which would have been relocated. The 72-unit, three story complex would have sat on the remaining two acres. The church planned to acquire a gazebo, concrete walking trail and possibly a fence along the channel.

Preston indicated that the project would probably have helped to alleviate problems with drug activity and all-terrain vehicle riders, who frequent the adjacent drainage ditch. He believes that a six-foot-high fence around the ditch, 24-hour security guards and more residents would have boosted security.

But project adversaries argued the Park District police need to monitor the area better. Sundeen affirmed that neighbors have complained for years about the problems.

Despite the failue of their project, Preston believes the church at least made officials cognizant of problems.

“I think the Park District and the city police can’t ignore it now,” Preston stated. “We’re very positive and feel good about moving forward. We’re committed to building senior housing. This neighborhood can’t ignore it.”

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