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Linked development projects receive nods from aldermen

August 25, 2010

News and notes from the Aug. 23 Rockford City Council meeting

By Stuart R. Wahlin
Staff Writer

A long debate was settled Aug. 23 by Rockford aldermen, who’d been weighing the merits of two proposed projects tied together by New York-based LandWhite Developers, LLC. Both were approved.

For a year—some would say much longer—the fate of the former Church School on Blaisdell Street has been in limbo. Neighborhood residents, who purchased the building in 1997 as Progressive West Rockford Community Development Corp., planned to transform the building into a community center. The building and the property it is on eventually proved to be too much for the group to maintain, however, resulting in numerous fines by the city that led to a lien.

A year ago, the city began foreclosure proceedings to seize the property after the group refused to sell it to LandWhite, which plans to rehabilitate the structure into senior citizen housing.

Meantime, with the property now under city control, LandWhite has been busy finishing plans for a 158-unit apartment complex near the Southgate Shopping Plaza at Sandy Hollow Road and 11th Street, of which it is part owner.

Plans to rehab Church School, the developers say, can only come to fruition if the apartment project is approved, because only in tandem can LandWhite be eligible for the federal assistance and tax credits it needs for both projects.

All told, LandWhite expects the endeavors to total more than $25 million in investment, which will also include improvements at the shopping center.

The Rev. Earl Dotson Sr., of Progressive West Rockford Community Development Corp., submitted a letter to the council that stated: “It has come to my attention that the City of Rockford has been authorized to sell Church School to a developer. …Considering that the city normally puts properties up for bid, this seems an unwise deviation from that process, as it is unfair and potentially unprofitable. We therefore urge the city to continue the process of bidding properties, and halt the sale of Church School without bidding.”

According to city Legal Director Patrick Hayes, per the purchase agreement, LandWhite would acquire Church School for a sum of $100,000, “contingent on financing.”

Although some residents would prefer that Church School be turned into a community center, most aldermen were in agreement that rehabilitation of the dilapidated Church School in any form will be a big plus. Others, however, weren’t jumping for joy at the prospect of building apartments in a tax increment financing (TIF) district intended for commercial and industrial development.

Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6), who represents the area in which the Village at Southgate apartments would be built, expressed numerous reasons for his opposition to the proposal. He wants to see the area reserved for commercial and industrial growth.

“No. 1, the density. No. 2, the location,” Jacobson began. “In today’s society, with what’s going on with housing as you drive around our community, it’s pretty obvious to me that there are a lot of places for rent. There are a lot of houses boarded up. I’m a little bit leery as to the quality of life when you put someone between Bypass 20, and located behind Kmart.”

Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) echoed his sentiments, particularly with regard to what she described as an “abundance of available housing” in the neighborhood already. She, too, preferred that the area remain dedicated to commercial development.

“That area along Sandy Hollow, and along 11th Street, is a business district for individuals that are west of the river prefer to go…rather than drive all the way east,” she explained.

The Village at Southgate project was first to come before aldermen in May. But after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) recommended denial of LandWhite’s petition, the developers withdrew their request to restart the zoning process from the beginning. The petition failed at the ZBA level, because two board members were not present for the vote. Although three of the five present voted in favor, the vote fell short of four-out-of-seven majority required to recommend approval. This would mean that a supermajority of at least 10 affirmative votes by aldermen would be required for the permit to be issued. LandWhite’s petition skated through the ZBA the second time around, meaning only a simple majority vote by councilmen was required for approval.

In an 8-4 vote Aug. 23, the special-use permit for the 158-unit apartment development was approved. Aldermen Venita Hervey (D-5) and Bill Timm (R-9) joined Jacobson and McNeely in voting “no.”

The second component of the tied projects, a purchase agreement for LandWhite to acquire Church School, came to a vote moments later.

Although she’d voted against the apartments being built on the southeast side, Hervey supported the sale of Church School and its related rehab.

“One thing that we have a dearth of, in south Rockford in particular, is senior citizen housing,” she said. “My opposition to the other part is of the project that was sort of tied with this one is the preponderance of affordable housing in south Rockford. …But I am happy that this portion will be going forward.”

Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7), whose ward is home to Church School, noted the senior housing facility will also serve as a police substation. She then took aim at those who would prefer the site to be a community center.

“This city, as well as myself and staff, spent many hours and dollars trying to work with the previous owner to develop it into something, and nothing ever happened,” she asserted.

The purchase agreement was ultimately approved, with only Jacobson and McNeely voting “no.” The measure will face final approval in the form of an ordinance during the Aug. 30 meeting.

Ordinance

→ Giving final approval to a development agreement with JMZ Properties for TIF assistance whereby JMZ will be reimbursed up to $47,290 of its eligible costs related to rehabilitation of a building at 110 N. First St. Aldermen Timm and McNeely voted “no.”

Resolution

→ Authorizing submission and execution of an application to the Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) on behalf of the Rock River Valley Greenway project. According to IDOT: “ITEP provides funding for community-based projects that expand travel choices and enhance the transportation experience by improving the cultural, historic, aesthetic and environmental aspects of our transportation infrastructure. Project sponsors may receive up to 80 percent reimbursement for eligible project costs. The remaining 20 percent is the responsibility of the project sponsor.” The application deadline is Aug. 31.

Committee reports

→ Authorizing a change order to provide Rock Road Companies, of Janesville, Wis., an additional $411,000 for city-wide residential street resurfacing, bringing the company’s contract total to $2,178,881.08.

→ Settling a $2,115.25 claim by Amber Sawyer, whose vehicle was sideswiped by a Human Services Department Head Start bus, according to city Legal Director Patrick Hayes.

Public comments

Robert Pfluger continued his history of the Federal Reserve, a private organization, and its direct connection to inflation through devaluation of currency. Pfluger argued the U.S. Constitution intended that Congress regulate monetary policies. He suggested that a federal lawsuit be filed against the Federal Reserve to take back such authority.

Prophet Yusef addressed the area’s lack of academic achievement. To combat this, Yusef proposed that parents develop a book-a-week program with their children as a means to achieve greater success in education and life.

Proclamations

Aug. 26 was proclaimed Pink Heals Day for cancer awareness. Now through Sept. 10 was proclaimed One Community to Storm the Vote in honor of Tim Storm, founder of FatWallet.com, who is one of four finalists in the running to be named Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Votes may be cast at http://www.entrepreneur.com/e2010/vote/established.php.

Absences

Aldermen Nancy Johnson (D-8) and Bill Robertson (I-14) were absent.

From the Aug. 25-31, 2010 issue

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