Homer Township supervisor says senior housing plan is dead – Chicago Tribune


Homer Township officials announced Thursday they would withdraw a proposed senior housing development on the Welter farm property about a week after they announced plans for a November referendum for residents to decide how the land should be used.

The 55-year-old and older development proposal would have contained 93 single-family homes and 20 duplex buildings built on land purchased in 2001 for $2 million by Homer Township as part of its open space preservation program. Township officials touted the proposal as an affordable option for senior citizens to downsize while still remaining close to family and friends.

Since April, some residents who live near the farm just west of Bell Road, as well as founding organizers of the Homer Township open space program, have voiced opposition.

Residents in the Old Oak South subdivision abut the open space land that Homer Township was considering for senior housing. Residents were concerned with the loss of open space as well as increased traffic, flooding and possibly lower property values. (Deb Laskowski )

Residents said they were not against a senior housing development, but the proposed location on Welter farm was property purchased with taxpayer funds to preserve open space.

Homer Township residents approved a referendum in 1999 that included selling $8 million in bonds to buy open space for preservation and prevent development. At the time, residents were concerned about rapid growth, high density development and nearby communities annexing Homer Township land. The village of Homer Glen incorporated in 2001.

Longtime resident Gail Snyder was one of the residents who encouraged people to support the open space referendum. She served on the Homer Township Open Space Land Acquisition Committee, helped with Homer Glen incorporation efforts and was appointed to the first village board.

“The Illinois state statue governs the use of township open space programs and that use of such lands that are outside the scope of the statutes can and should be opposed so as to not damage the good faith the voters give government,” she said. “High density development changes the character of the area. It impacts schools and other taxing bodies and adds traffic to our roads. At the time, in no way, was one of the options promoted for open spaces a housing subdivision.”

Township Supervisor Steve Balich said several factors went into the decision to halt the project.

He said residents’ opposition to the plan was the reason township officials called a special meeting Thursday to put a referendum on the November ballot. That way residents could choose if they wanted a senior housing development built on Welter farm.

However, the referendum would cause a delay in getting the homes built and it is likely that costs would continue to rise and the supply chain woes could worsen, Balich said. The homes for seniors were supposed to cost about $250,000, but if they weren’t started until next year, the developer could no longer guarantee the prices, Balich said. He said inflation and economic conditions were a big factor in stopping the project.

If the cost of the homes rose to above $300,000, “it kind of defeats the purpose,” Balich said.

He also said there were legal discrepancies regarding the parcel’s open space designation and the village of Homer Glen’s residential zoning for the land.

Balich said township officials believe the project could be legally done, but “there needs to be research and review of some of the legalities.”

Resident Joe Tomasek said residents are thrilled the project has been canceled.

“A lot of us felt strongly that the right thing to do was to leave this land alone,” he said. “Their opinion was open space designation was open for interpretation. We felt strongly that it wasn’t.”

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The suburban-rural feel is unique to Homer Township, which is one reason residents felt so passionately about preserving open space, Tomasek said.

He said he feared that if the Welter farm property was used for housing, then other land bought with open space funds could also be at risk.

“We are all for senior housing, just not on that piece of property,” Tomasek said. “It’s one of the few pieces that is protected.”

Resident Debbie Laskowski said any gray area regarding what can and cannot be done with open space should be cleared up so future boards cannot change what happens to these lands.

She said having open space lands within a community increases property values.

“Down the road people will thank us, not that we are looking for thanks,” Laskowski said. “But they will be appreciative as they see surrounding towns be overbuilt.”

Michelle Mullins is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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June 15, 2022 at 06:56AM

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