By Shane Nicholson
Gorman & Company’s planned development on South New Towne Drive has been put on hold.
The Wisconsin-based contractor issued the City of Rockford with a notice of withdrawal for the project Tuesday morning, saying they need further time to take on advice and comment from community members.
“(We) have heard feedback from many Rockford residents regarding concerns and questions over the proposed New Towne development,” Gorman told the city.
But the planned housing development is not dead according to Gorman and Mayor Larry Morrissey.
“I fully expect them to come back with a revised proposal,” Morrissey told The Rock River Times Tuesday afternoon before embarking on a business trip to represent the city to investors in China.
“It was not my suggestion that they withdraw; they came to that decision on their own.
“Ever since this project started back in January Gorman has been very willing to respond to the concerns of the community. Unfortunately at times that’s been lost in the noise surrounding the project.”
Morrissey stressed that Gorman was still committed to the South New Towne development but added that the company is going to take on board more input from area residents.
City Manager Jim Ryan echoed the mayor’s statements, saying this would hopefully allow cooler heads to prevail.
“I think (Gorman) is taking a step back here with the letter of withdrawal. It’s a good thing. It’s going to let everyone take a collective breath and take in the full concerns of the neighborhood.”
And he says that more community input could be just what Gorman and the Rockford Housing Authority (RHA) need to move forward with a more complete view of the project.
“I can’t say we were surprised with the withdrawal, but we’re pleased they’re taking a step back and reassessing what they’d submitted initially to attempt to respond to the community.”
Morrissey says that the delay will allow the community to come up with a cohesive strategy in concert with RHA that helps address the larger housing issue.
“New Towne is certainly an example of the challenges that arise when someone is trying to do this sort of project,” he said.
“But Gorman is acting with RHA as part of a national effort to respond to the historic failures of public housing.
“This is a national problem, and this is the start of a discussion and start of an approach to respond to those challenges.”
Critics of the project lambasted Gorman and Morrissey for not taking on more community input at the start. However, an initial community meeting at the Gregory Elementary School turned into a shouting affair as residents aired their grievances about the development.
A followup meeting at a RHA facility proved much more toned down as residents on both sides of the debate were given time to raise concerns to RHA CEO Ron Clewer.
Now Morrissey hopes that Tuesday’s step from Gorman will allow those kinds of fruitful dialogs to continue as Rockford looks for solutions to its housing problems.
“Ultimately, if Gorman has a reset opportunity here they’ll come back with a proposal that puts the best foot forward, of that I have no doubt.
“Working with residents to find a total solution to this is what everyone wants, and what everyone needs.”