The City of Newton Zoning Board met on January 28 and then reconvened Monday night, February 4, to consider a request from BM Enterprises, Inc. and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to amend the Zoning Map from B-3 (Highway Business) to MR-2 (Multiple Family Residence 2).
The reason for the request is that North Arrow Partners of Villa Grove, Illinois are interested in placing a two-story, 35-unit, senior living apartment building for citizens 55 and older.
The land in question is 2.43 acres, Part of Lot 2 Block C in Southtown Addition and 1.75 acres on E. Edwards Street behind Tractor Supply, Inc. which has been a vacant lot for many, many years.
North Arrow Partners, a full architectural and general contracting firm that specializes in multi-family communities, was formed in 1999. At this time they have many different units around the state with a very nice looking one story apartment complex in O'Fallon and a new two-story apartment complex being built along Rt. 40 in Altamont.
Many Newton residents were in attendance to object to the senior living apartment being located in their neighborhood; Eaton Street to Edwards Street, Rte. 130 to Clayton Avenue and including Calvin and Douthit Streets.
Tim Farley, Zoning Board Secretary, opened the meeting after the Pledge to the Flag, by reading minutes of the January 28th meeting. He explained that at the January meeting the board felt that more information was needed before reaching a decision. He stated that he had drove to O'Fallon and Altamont to see the North Arrow Partners projects.
Ken Albrecht, Zoning Board, asked all who wanted to speak during the meeting to stand and take an oath.
Alderman Steve Rubsam and homeowner in the prospective area stated that he had handed out a sheet with issues that had not been discussed at the previous meeting as well as 37 signatures gathered from residents in the area against the senior living apartments being located in their neighborhood.
Earlene Rubsam spoke next stated that not one person that they talked to after going door to door was for the project in their neighborhood. She commented that there are only 3 streetlights in the area, no sidewalks and the corner of Clayton and Eaton Streets is a school bus stop with buses stopping there two times a day. She further commented that anyone in the area knows how hard it is to pull onto IL. Rte. 130 from Eaton Street, and not only during soccer season. She stated that she sees a stoplight happening in the future at IL. Rte. 130 and Eaton Street.
Rubsam also commented on the poor drainage in the area stating that all agree on this issue. She said, “With hard rains, the water backs up into yards and driveways, up to garages.” Referring to the concrete at the new building, she stated, “As far as I know concrete does not absorb water!”
She continued by talking about the worry regarding the extra traffic in the area, “57 cars, right?”
Rubsam concluded by saying she felt it is a poor location and that she knows of at least 3 other locations in Newton that would be good and that no one is opposed to the project, just the location.
Twyla Harvey commented that the apartment building would be in her backyard and that her family enjoys sitting on their deck often and do not want that to be their view.
John Cronin of North Arrow Partners was once again present to discuss the project. He presented a PowerPoint presentation that began by showing the piece(s) of land in question. In response to Harvey's comment he said it had been a vacant lot for a very long time and asked her if she would rather look at that; to which she and many others answered, yes!
Cronin continued by describing the senior living apartments. He stated that there will be an elevator as well as apartments being available to accommodate mobility issues; 4 apartments rated ADA compatible. There will be 1 unit that is designed for someone that is totally blind and/or deaf. There will be one and two bedroom units, a community room and a fitness room. The building will have an on-site manager under the guidance of the Champaign office.
“$8 million will be invested into this community with this project and it will boost property values,” Cronin stated.
He continued, “$28,000 will be paid in property taxes (from the apartment building). We are pledging commitment to the community by using local supplies and contractors.”
Cronin commented that the proposed property is the perfect location due to being close to amenities (grocery store, restaurant, Tractor Supply Co., a bank, health department).
He stated that they would be taking care of the storm water retention issue.
Cronin said that market information shows a need for this. “The building will have a traditional design.”
S. Rubsam asked Cronin if pets would be allowed to which he answered he was not sure at this time.
Cronin stated that although located near Chicago the company has an interest to build in small communities. With being in the area for the Altamont project, Cronin stated that he had came to Newton to look around. He looked at all areas of Newton and found the proposed location to be good.
He was asked if the City had offered any incentives to build here, to which he answered no and Mayor Mark Bolander, also present, confirmed his answer.
Next to speak was Mayor Bolander who immediately addressed the location issue by stating that other locations in Newton were looked at but were not large enough for this project. I have viewed the photos that Tim (Farley) took at Altamont and O'Fallon and they look real nice.
Mayor Bolander stated that the apartment building would not devalue the properties of the residents in that area.
S. Rubsam commented to the Mayor, “We are not against a senior living apartment (being in Newton), but the building would double the people in the area.
Cronin informed those gathered that the investor of the projects is IHDA (Illinois Housing Development Authority) and that much scrutiny is given to the projects during construction and with regular inspections afterwards for 15+ years.
Mayor Bolander stated that there is a building permit process that Cronin and North Arrow Partners would have to go through before any construction would be able to proceed. He also commented that each of the city's departments will look at all areas (storm water, sidewalks, etc) before any construction would proceed.
In response to comments from the residents regarding drainage issues, Mayor Bolander said that within the last 2 years he has received no complaints. He further stated that many areas that had drainage issues have been addressed and the city is not through.
“Do we want the community to thrive?” he asked those gathered. He said that what North Arrow Partners doesn't do (regarding issues spoken) the city would be able to make improvements with the property tax being paid. He said, “This company would not spend $8 million and neglect the building.”
Mayor Bolander continued by stating some facts that had been in some nationwide articles regarding Jasper County being rated as a perfect place for seniors to live.
Regarding the petitions that S. Rubsam had mentioned, Mayor Bolander stated that petitions have an implied pressure to which Rubsam responded that he did not force anyone to sign.
E. Rubsam commented that she was the one that went to most of her neighbors doors and people asked if there was a petition that they could sign.
Mayor Bolander then read a letter from the Jasper County Economic Development Coordinator, Amber Volk, who was absent due to a family issue. In her letter she stated that she felt the senior living apartments were great for Newton. She said that many seniors would not have to travel out of Jasper County and that many seniors would appreciate no upkeep issues. She continued by saying that there is a high demand for seniors to have something like these apartments and that it is a step in the right direction.
The mayor talked about the slogan for Newton that was used in the past, City For Progress. He asked those in attendance if they remembered how the community felt when UTA left. At that time Bob Kerans was Mayor of Newton and he held a community meeting at the Sunrise Community Center. Western Illinois University was hired to facilitate the meeting and a comprehensive plan, SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), was created to develop an awareness of the situation and to help with strategic planning and decision-making. The group had input from residents, businesses, the chamber, the county board, CEO class and many others. At that time housing aimed at the senior population was discussed with the need of additional facilities being needed. The SWOT guide has been revised in 2005, 2010 and 2017 Mayor Bolander stated.
Mayor Bolander, in regards to BM Enterprises, Inc. and North Arrow Partners wanting this project, he asked, “If not now...when? If not here...where?”
Tom Brown addressed those in attendance saying that statements have been made and there is a lot of speculation as to what will be. He said most of the complaints (made tonight) are existing conditions. He commented that for 24 years he worked for the State of Illinois handling such issues. As for drainage issues he commented that he felt that the ditches needed graded and cleaned and has, “nothing to do with this project.”
He continued by stating that the City Council and the Zoning Board are for all of the community and that hopefully they'll decide to do what is best for all. “$8 million does not get offered often and there could be worse put there (on the empty lot),” Brown concluded.
Albrecht called for a vote. Farley asked if he could make a comment first.
He pointed out the apartments in O'Fallon and the construction of apartments in Altamont and that both looked good. He stated that he has a rental duplex in the area of the project and he said his dad always told him he should've built more. He pointed out that many businesses could locate to that property and asked those in attendance if they would prefer a gas station, ice cream shop, or a car lot being located there, to which many answered no they did not want that either.
He stated that all comments have been taken very seriously. He pointed out that the Rubsams, who have built a duplex in that area received variances and special requests from the board, and received them.
Albrecht informed the Zoning Board that with the vote they would be voting either Yes or No to approve the merit of the project and that they would then being forwarding the rezoning issue to the City Council to vote on. He asked Farley to take a roll call vote.
Farley-yes, Albrecht-yes, Ed Webb-yes, David Dow-yes, and Maxine Calvert-yes. Vita Kistner, also on the board stated that she has a house and friends in that area. “I have thought low and hard and dreamed about this, but, have to vote, yes.” 6 yes votes, 0 no votes and 1 board member being absent, Tom Clark the request for amendment to the Zoning Map was approved with recommendation to the City Council.
The meeting was adjourned with residents leaving upset by the vote.
Cronin commented after the meeting that if the City Council approves the re-zoning, the next step will be for his company to move forward with financing. Construction would most likely begin in the latter part of 2020.