Dozens turned out to a Wheaton City Council Monday night to voice opposition to the possible construction of an assisted living/ nursing home facility near the Courthouse Square condominiums and town homes.
When the economic downturn halted development of luxury condominiums near the old courthouse, the developers, Focus Development, posed a plan to build two senior centers that include 167 units of independent or assisted living, as well as a number of units for Alzheimer’s care.
Earlier this summer city officials pulled the plug on the proposal to build those additional town homes because the developer failed to meet deadlines. Now the developers have a new plan to use that land and submitted an application to change the development agreement with the city. The plan has yet to be approved – and the majority of the Courthouse Square residents want to keep it that way.
“We just don’t want this on the Courthouse Square,” resident Tom Panion told council members.
Panion said of 57 of 62 property owners in the residential development oppose the senior residence. Panion cited several reasons the residents oppose the possible development, including a negative impact on property taxes and a significant increase in traffic.
“We believe this would not be best for the city or the Courthouse residents,” Panion said.
Norman Brockmeier agreed. He said the proposal violates the TIF agreement set up to pay off the development funding for the condominiums because it places a commercial development in close proximity to existing residencies.
“The residents were promised a high quality of life when we bought into the Courthouse Square property and we believe the senior center will discourage new high quality housing in the neighborhood,” Brockmeier said.
When they purchased their condominiums, residents said they were told the development would be all high-end properties. The switch to a senior-care center is not what developers promised, they said.
The luxury residences were built in the downtown area to spur additional economic growth by creating a mixed use area. However, Brockmeier said placing a senior-living center in the area would hamper that idea. He said the majority of the seniors would not leave the facility and visit the local businesses.
“No amount of encouragement is likely to get many residents, especially those in the Alzheimer’s unit, to participate in public life,” Brockmeier said.
Dr. Martin Durkin concurred. He said an assisted living facility in downtown Wheaton is a lose-lose situation. Not only would property values decrease, the residents of the senior home would lose a quality of life. Durkin said the senior residents would become prisoners in their facility because they would not or could not venture out into the downtown area. He said a setting like The Meadows in Glen Ellyn, which is surrounded by 15 acres of land, is better suited for an assisted living facility.
Although the crowd was overwhelmingly opposed to the possible project, council members thanked them for maintaining a civil tone. However, Councilwoman Jeanne Ives said she did not appreciate some emails she received last week that included threatening tones of voter retaliation if council approved the development.
“The discussion is premature because there’s not a detailed plan to look at what’s best for the community.”
Despite those emails, she said she remains open-minded about the project.
“I just want to do what’s best for the taxpayers of Wheaton,” she said.
Councilman Phil Suess said the parameters of the original development have changed, but added residents need to understand the city is “on the hook” for millions of dollars used to subsidize the condominium development. Finding a funding solution will not be easy, he said.
While the Courthouse Square residents made their voices heard Monday night, they said the fight was far from over. Brockmeier said they will continue to monitor council’s agenda for signs of the senior center and come back out in opposition.