By MARK FOSTER of the Kane County Chronicle - email@example.com
BATAVIA – The developer for the proposed Campana building apartment project sought community support during a public forum July 17, framing his plan as the best use for the property.
David Block of Evergreen Real Estate Group told a crowd of more than 100 people who turned out at the Congregational Church of Batavia that the 80-unit apartment plan will restore the historic building and provide much-needed affordable housing in the community.
Block said that in response to the Batavia City Council’s concerns about parking, he has increased the number of spaces in the plan to 206 from the 146 originally proposed.
“We’re trying to listen to what the council is telling us,” Block said prior to the start of the meeting.
However, even with the increase, this would still leave the proposal well short of the 301 spaces required under the city’s code, meaning Evergreen would need a modification under the city’s planned unit development ordinance.
The forum was sponsored by the Fox River Valley Initiative, a nonpartisan community action group focusing on social issues, and which is supportive of Evergreen’s plan for the Campana building.
Wayne resident Jeff Jenkins of the group said the proposal helps fulfill the need for affordable housing in the valley, would restore the landmark structure and is being proposed by a development firm with a solid track record.
Evergreen, based in Chicago, wants to use the original 1936 factory building and the north addition for the apartments, while maintaining business uses in the south and west additions. The $30 million project would include 36 one-bedroom units, 38 two-bedroom units, and six three-bedroom units.
Block told the crowd that 26 percent of Batavia households would qualify for the income-restricted apartments, and posed the rhetorical question of who would be living in the building.
“It’s your neighbors who are struggling,” Block said.
The project is expected to produce about 26 students attending Geneva schools, Block said, including around 11 attending Western Avenue Elementary School.
Evergreen will not attempt to link the Campana building to the school via sidewalks over the properties of unwilling neighbors, Block said.
Instead, Evergreen would purchase a passenger van and transport children to and from Western Avenue School every school day, Block said. He indicated later that Evergreen would be willing to commit to the arrangement as part of the development agreement with the city, if necessary.
Middle school and high school students would be entitled to school district bus service, he said.
Block further asserted that Evergreen would be willing to donate land abutting the intersection at Route 31 and Fabyan Parkway for improvements to make it safer.
Noting that the Campana project is producing concerns about traffic, Block said a residential development generates fewer vehicle movements than a commercial development.
As he had during a meeting with Batavia aldermen this spring, Block contended that the building has been underutilized for many years, is in serious need of renovations to be saved, and that the market has not come up with a viable solution.
After making his initial pitch, Block took questions from the audience. Virtually all the people identifying themselves as residents of Geneva were opposed, while Batavia residents were in favor.
A round of applause at the conclusion of the forum indicated a clear majority of those in attendance support the plan. Many people snapped up yard signs promoting approval of the project to take home with them.
The proposal is expected to come before the Batavia Plan Commission on Aug. 2.
The Campana building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a local landmark by the city of Batavia in 2003. The building is notable for its central tower and horizontal line of glass block windows.
Evergreen would make use of low-income housing tax credits to help finance the project and offer affordable rents to tenants. Low-income households are defined as making no more than 60 percent of the median income in the local area.
Block told the crowd that Evergreen, which operates many income-restricted apartment projects, requires tenants to go through a rigorous application process, including a criminal background check.
The proposal calls for 16 market-rate apartments, with the rest being income-restricted. Block said there would be an on-site staff, and that the apartment complex would be maintained and managed to a market-rate standard.
Evergreen is expected to seek federal historic-preservation tax credits to finance some of the needed renovations, including work on the mechanical systems, roof, masonry and glass block.
The Fox River Valley Initiative separately has issued a news release that it will conduct a summer assembly focused, in part, on its support of affordable housing, including the Campana project, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Benedictine University Goodwin Hall Auditorium at 5700 College Road in Lisle. The public is invited and details are offered by Jeff Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org and 630-659-8141. To learn more, visit facebook.com/FRVI4.