The McHenry Planning and Zoning Commission advanced a controversial development proposal in split votes late Wednesday, bringing a plan to build 288 market-rate apartment units across 12 buildings at the eastern end of Blake Boulevard along Route 31 closer to final approval.
A series of motions to push the project forward, including one to rezone the property from the city’s C-5 Highway Commercial district to an Integrated Design District to allow for residential land use, passed with only Commissioner Mike Sobotta opposed. Commissioner Andy Davis was absent.
More than a dozen residents from the adjacent single-family residential neighborhood along Almond Lane and Hazelwood Drive to the east spoke in opposition of the project during the meeting, which ran more than three hours. Some of them grilled the development team and city staff over whether crime in the area would increase or their property values decrease as a result of multifamily housing.
These lines of questioning continued despite city staff citing numerous academic studies showing market-rate apartment housing generally led to nearby property values climbing faster, not slower.
“I have heard what the issues are in [McHenry’s] multi-family units, and it’s terrifying to think we could have MS-13 gangs or hard drugs such as heroin being sold out of these apartments that are 100 feet behind my back door,” resident Jason Klasek said.
McHenry Police Chief John Birk responded by saying gang activity in the city is low compared with the surrounding area and cited local crime statistics that showed multifamily housing is not responsible for a disproportionate number of crimes compared with other residential areas of the city.
“Drugs really don’t have a boundary for sale in McHenry,” Birk said.
As part of city staff’s recommendation in favor of the project proceeding, the high demand for apartment and townhome-style housing was noted as a reason. A consultant hired by the city found that less than 1% of such units in the city were vacant, according to a report recently presented to public officials.
“Due to the lack of available supply, market demand may double as more units become available and rents remain stable,” city staff wrote in its review of the development proposal.
Joe Gottemoller, a Crystal Lake-based attorney for the developer, Wisconsin-based Continental Properties, made a point of the city-commissioned market study, as well. He said the site, located behind the Aldi store on Route 31, has failed to attract a development proposal since it was annexed into the city more than two decades ago.
“There just isn’t any demand for additional C-5 Commercial right now in this city or for that matter probably in northern Illinois. That is a use that as much as I would like to see us go back to big-box stores and have that demand, it’s just not coming,” Gottemoller said.
Klasek, among other residents, also took issue with not knowing the firm plans for the property to the south of the planned apartment complex. At about 11 acres, the parcel was subdivided from the northern 20.5 acres being looked at by Continental for housing, and a separate owner is retaining control of that southern vacant slice.
While it is unknown when a development pitch for that portion of land could be made, McHenry city planner Cody Sheriff said it likely would have to entail housing to meet local standards. There is nothing on the table for it now.
“This whole conversation has been around one single lot. It’s disingenuous to present that as the case for the entire city. There are plans for a second lot. The board should consider, if they’re voting on this, they’re not giving the city of McHenry or the people of McHenry what the real intent is here,” Klasek said, noting there could be many more dwelling units erected on the southern lot.
McHenry’s City Council is set to review Continental’s plans June 7, Mayor Wayne Jett said.
He said he was “very pleased” with the outcome of Wednesday’s commission meeting and “looking forward to the next steps.”