Morris Development Review Committee votes ‘no’ on Boulder Drive apartments

The model created Koru Group for Domera Developments showing what the apartment building could look like.

The Morris Development Review Committee voted 5-1 Thursday morning to deny Domera Developments’ plans to build a 14-unit affordable housing apartment building on Boulder Drive based on safety concerns.

These concerns came not just from members of the committee, but concerned residents of the neighborhood around Boulder Drive, which is nestled just west of Illinois Route 47 and south of I-80.

4th Ward Aldermen Jim Black and Sarah Mettille both spoke out against the development, addressing it as a safety concern.

Black said the City of Morris’ building code requires a safe and secure living environment, and he believes this area of town does not have the infrastructure for higher density.

“Street access for fire and police is inadequate,” Black said. “The traffic in the area will be worse than what the studies suggest and great hardship for other property owners in the area.”

Mettille said by her quick math, this building would add around 120 new residents to an area that isn’t prepared for it. If the city needs to build a road or build out a new road, that’s something that would require a plan for the future. As it stands, Mettille said, the city doesn’t have the budget for it.

David Beamish, a concerned resident of the neighborhood who moved to Morris around six months ago, said he’s been a landlord for affordable housing units before. He’s concerned with what he refers to as “voucher concentration,” which he says brings difficult elements.

“The reason I got out of it is because of all the things I couldn’t predict,” Beamish said. “I had great tenants, tough tenants and bad tenants. The eviction process is extremely tough.”

Beamish asked what this development would do for the city, businesses and services that are already in Morris.

Morris Elementary Teacher Kylee Copeland said she is concerned with any larger developments coming into Morris because class sizes are already growing, and there is currently a teacher shortage.

“Providing accurate and well-thought-out education when we’re in the shortage is difficult,” Copeland said. “So adding all these numbers together, i wonder how well our schools are prepared for the future. As hopefully a future mother, I hope classroom sizes for my kids aren’t extremely large.”

Many other concerned residents spoke, addressing the potential safety and infrastructure issues that would come with the additional influx of new people.

City Engineer Ryan Hansen said the project was originally designed and planned to be done in phases, although that plan was created in 1973. Hansen produced the plan, which Domera’s lawyer, Rick Joseph, said he hadn’t seen.

Joseph expressed concern over the document, since he filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city. He saw this document for the first time during Thursday’s meeting.

The plan was denied at the end of the meeting, but Joseph said prior that the residents showed up against Domera’s plan because it includes affordable housing, although he later recanted and apologized after residents added further context.

Stephanie Allen, a resident, said her opposition to these apartments is because Morris cannot handle continued growth at the rate it has been.

“It’s a burden to the taxpayers and on our police and fire department, and all the other community services we pride ourselves in being able to offer,” Allen said.

Joseph explained himself further after this.

“Some of you weren’t here when we had this matter come before the Plan Commission,” Joseph said. “We have residents who got up to say they didn’t want this because it’s affordable housing, and what I’m looking at is comments made during an election by certain aldermen.”

During the meeting, the majority of the objections to the new plan were safety rather than the type of housing being considered. The lone “no” vote on the motion rejecting Domera’s plans came from City Planner Mike Hoffman.

Michael Urbanec

Michael Urbanec covers Ottawa and Ottawa City Council for The Times