An apartment complex for military veterans who are homeless or struggling to support themselves will not be built in Joliet -- at least not in the next year.
The Joliet City Council discussed the project in closed session last week and decided to put the 73-unit development on hold while city staff re-evaluates restrictions that limit multifamily housing to 10 units per acre, City Manager Tom Thanas said.
Volunteers of America initially proposed a complex with 22 units per acre. They were able to reduce density to 12 units per acre when Silver Cross Hospital agreed to give the group more property on its former Joliet site.
However, that was still deemed too high, VOA President Nancy Hughes said.
Without city approval, the project is essentially dead, Hughes said. The nonprofit organization needed to have Joliet's blessing in order to submit the funding proposal to the Illinois Housing Development Authority by March 22.
Had that happened, construction could have started by the end of the year and finished a year later, she said.
Instead, they are back to "square one" and will begin the search for a new site, Hughes said. Once it's found, they will need to have a complex designed and to win the approval from the town in which it will be located, she said. After that, financing must be secured. The process could take a year or more.
"We are really disappointed," Hughes said. "I would say we were very, very surprised that this thing went off the rails."
Plans for Hope Manor Joliet, which would have been VOA's third large complex for military vets in the Chicago area, were presented at a land use committee meeting last month. VOA officials won the endorsement of the committee's three council members and a warm reception from community representatives who were invited to attend.
VOA officials considered the 1200 Maple Road location perfect for their needs because of the soon-to-open VA clinic on the same site. The mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments would be rented to vets who earn 30 to 60 percent below the average median income for low-income individuals/families.
Hughes said she was overwhelmed by the almost immediately positive reaction she received from Joliet residents, some of whom contacted VOA about renting a unit. For that reason, they may try to find another location in Will County, she said.
Thanas said he'd rather consider the project "on hold" than dead, and that it might still be able to move ahead in the future once the council decides if it's willing to vary or change its 10-units-per-acre zoning restriction.
"It was nothing that VOA did," Thanas said. "I still think it's a very good project."
Some have suggested the council's decision was spurred by the Evergreen Terrace lawsuit, in which the issue of high density is among those being cited by the city in its effort to use condemnation to take over the troubled housing complex near downtown. The trial is under way, and may take several more months to complete.
Thanas denied the lawsuit played a role in postponing a decision on the VOA project.
"It has nothing to do with Evergreen Terrace," he said.
READ MORE: Vets Housing Complex Wins Committee OK
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