McHenry City Council approves 288-unit apartment complex proposal

Move clears way for largest residential project the city has seen in years, over neighbors’ concerns

The McHenry City Council granted several variances to municipal codes Monday to allow a 288-unit apartment complex development to move forward, clearing way for the largest multifamily housing project the city has seen in years.

The move excited Mayor Wayne Jett, who has been working to bring new dwellings and commercial growth to the city, while residents of the adjacent single-family home subdivision who attended the virtual meeting were against the council’s endorsement.

“I just want to thank all the residents behind this development,” Jett said following the approval. “I want you to know we will work with you as staff and as elected officials to make sure you are satisfied with all the improvements that are going to be done. I am hoping we can all work together, and not divide what we are trying to do in the city and trying to grow.”

Opposition toward the project, which would be located on empty land behind the Aldi store on Route 31 at Blake Boulevard, was voiced at every step of the city’s approval process, including at the final council review Monday from 2nd Ward Alderman Andy Glab.

He said he felt the developer, Wisconsin-based Continental Properties, which owns multi-family housing complexes throughout the country, had improperly gone about requesting a variance to a particular city rule governing subdivisions of property.

That’s because Continental sought to subdivide the 32-acre parcel into two parts, with plans to build on the northern 20.5, while keeping the 11.5-acre southern portion vacant until a later phase of development that will likely include more residential structures.

Glab pointed to a city rule that prohibits the simultaneous preliminary and final approval of a subdivision in cases where public utilities are being extended or added, which he said was not being followed.

But attorneys for both the developer and the city said Continental had correctly requested a variance to that rule, which was recommended for approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month.

Glab and 3rd Ward Alderman Frank McClatchey were the only council members to cast no votes on a series of motions to allow the development to move forward.

Residents, including Sam Catalano at Monday’s meeting, urged elected officials to view the proposal as not only the construction of the nearly 300 homes on the northern parcel, but to also consider the potential impact of dozens or hundreds more that could be built in a later phase on the second parcel to the south.

“I’m begging you to turn this away. I don’t want to have to move,” Catalano said.

McClatchey asked the developer’s staff present at the meeting if it would be possible to reduce the number of units closer to 200. Continental staffers said it would not be, and McClatchey described the proposal as “very dense.”

But city staff showed the project would come in well short of the units-per-acre density of other apartment properties built decades ago in the city.

The developer had also requested that it be allowed to provide on average 1.9 spots per unit instead of the two spots required by city code. Staff noted that request would keep it above the Hillcrest Apartment apartment property’s 1.5 spots per unit and that a parking shortage has not been an issue at that McHenry development.

The developer also will pay smaller fees to hook up to the public water and sewer systems than the city’s rules would normally mandate. It will also pay less in park fees because Continental’s plans include a dog park and recreational amenities, such as a pool, private fitness center and clubhouse for residents to use.

McHenry is allowing Continental to pay $675,932 for its water and sewer capital development fees as opposed to the $1.43 million the city’s ordinance would usually require for a housing project of its size. The parks impact fees will be $500,000, down from the $660,528 that would normally be required.

City staff in recommending the development cited a recent study a city consultant performed that found apartment vacancy rates in McHenry are 0.7%, less than the surrounding region, which had a rate that still was low at less than 3%, and that the far northwest suburbs as a whole lack enough multi-family housing.

“Compared to other communities in the market area, rental rates remain competitive even with an aging apartment supply. This may indicate pent up demand due to the available supply,” city staff wrote.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.