Geneva debates affordable housing proposal

Aldermen continue deliberations to March 8

GENEVA – Residents called on the Geneva City Council on Feb. 22 to table the controversial Emma’s Landing affordable townhouse rental project until after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, charging city officials with ignoring their questions and concerns.

Instead, aldermen plowed ahead, approving a land annexation connected with the development along with two new conditions for the proposal. Then, after a marathon special session of nearly four hours, they voted to continue their deliberations to a meeting March 8.

The Elgin-based Burton Foundation, which develops senior and affordable housing projects, is proposing a 45-unit townhouse project on two parcels, one owned by the city, comprising about nine acres along Lewis Road immediately south of the Union Pacific Railroad on the city’s far west side.

Aldermen unanimously approved an annexation agreement designed to provide access to the development from Lewis Road before wading into details of the development.

They ultimately approved two conditions for the proposal. One will require the developer to perform an environmental study that will include soil borings. The other would be for a solid barrier of fencing and landscaping along the development’s northern boundary next to the railroad tracks.

First, aldermen listened as neighboring residents from the Sterling Manor subdivision ripped into the proposal.

Addressing the council via video conferencing, residents raised a multitude of questions about the plan, including stormwater drainage, traffic and the effect on surrounding home values.

The neighbors frequently accused the city of “ramrodding” the proposal through the approval process.

“Stop the rush and look into our concerns,” Lindsey McCall told the council. “Table this until you have the proper information.”

Many residents said they have lost confidence in city government.

“I’m totally disheartened by everything that has gone on to this point,” Andrea Jenniches said to the aldermen.

Nick Peters called on the council to order an independent study on the development’s potential effect on surrounding home values. Peters cited national studies suggesting affordable housing projects reduce the value of neighboring properties.

While residents accused the city of dismissing their concerns, aldermen at the meeting clearly were listening. Residents suggested the soil may be contaminated or unsuitable for construction, prompting aldermen to order the environmental assessment.

Aldermen spent plenty of time discussing the stormwater drainage plan for the project. Residents said the townhouse plan will only make a bad situation worse in their neighborhoods.

Lane Allen of Geneva-based Allen + Pepa Architects, who is working on the development with the Burton Foundation, told the council that the project’s dry bottom detention pond, fitted with a restrictive 8.5-inch pipe to slowly release the stormwater into the sewer system, will be more than sufficient for a 100-year rainfall.

As the hour grew late and aldermen continued to have questions about the drainage plan, they decided to continue the meeting to a special session March 8. Several aldermen said they would have preferred to press ahead and take a final vote, making clear they are not going to table the proposal indefinitely as requested by residents.

Burton Foundation President Tracey Manning told the council that the townhouse plan represents an estimated $18 million investment.

“We will do everything we can to make this a proud development for years to come,” Manning said.