Neighbors weigh in on rink redevelopment

Ann Gill

Kate Clements is concerned about the potential impacts a multi-family residential project would have on her neighborhood, and she’s not alone. Clements lives on West Washington Street just steps away from the former Family Skate Center. On Monday, she and a handful of her neighbors appeared before Coal City’s Planning and Zoning Board to communicate their uneasiness over a plan to turn the roller rink into apartments. BDR Properties, of Coal City, recently purchased the 37,000-square foot site and has plans to build out the interior to accommodate 12 two bedroom, one bath apartments. The developer’s proposal calls for replacing the semi-barrel roof with a new pitched roof and window installations around the perimeter. There would be two common entry points into the complex, a common mail room and parking lot improvements to accommodate in excess of 36 vehicles. Each unit comes with a laundry room and small office, granite countertops and top of the line appliances. The cost to rent one of the units is set at $1,200 per month. Zoning commissioners were initially presented with a concept that would have put 16 residential units in the space, but they immediately informed the developer the density was too high. The proposal before commissioners on Monday took that into account. However, even 12 units seemed a bit too high for some neighboring property owners. Kankakee Street resident Jennifer Howard indicated she would be more comfortable if developer Bernie D’Orazio would cut an additional four units out of this plan. Howard, Clements and their neighbor Dan Krug all shared similar concerns with regard to an increase in traffic and the development’s proximity to the intermediate school. Neighbors pointed out the area is already congested when the school’s baseball field is in use. While the school has plenty of parking in its main lot, residents say the adjacent streets are utilized by spectators for parking. D’Orazio brought up possibility of working with the school district to acquire some property in that area to develop a parking lot that can be used for school events. There was discussion with regard to potential traffic studies, redirecting traffic through the area and possibly one way streets. Clements further expressed concern that an apartment complex in the neighborhood had the potential to lower the value of her property. “I don’t know if others are as concerned as I am as a resident,” Clements said, noting she and her husband have completed extensive improvements to the interior and exterior of the home since they purchased the “fixer upper” eight years ago. A significant concern coming from the neighborhood is traffic congestion and utilization of Vermilion Street as the Unit 1 School District’s designated school bus loading and unloading zone. At its meeting last week, the Unit 1 Board of Education discussed its concerns how the project could impact its before and after school traffic plans. Superintendent Dr. Kent Bugg and board president Ken P. Miller have indicated their intent to address the issue when the developer’s request comes up for a public hearing on June 21. Individuals with property adjacent to the roller rink have been provided written notice of the planned public hearing, and a sign stating the day and time of the meeting is required to be posted on the subject property. It was noted work is taking place at the site, and D’Orazio shared he is currently cleaning out the interior of the building. BDR is currently seeking to re-zone the property from commercial to multi-family residential and a variance to construct the units within the existing structure. As commissioners explained to those gathered the process of getting a rezoning request granted, a development approved, even a fence put up is a multi-step process, and the developer’s presentation that night was part of that. “This is a very lengthy process, it’s not something that’s done overnight or in one meeting,” said Maria Lewis, a long-time member of the board. She noted that in addition to reviewing applicable codes, public input is taken into consideration when determining if a request will be granted or denied. Board chairperson Georgette Vota made note that a lot of people are talking about the project and not all of it is fact. “Things are snowballing into stuff that isn’t even true,” she said, suggesting the public allow the board the time to hear the proposal and do it’s required research. As Vota noted, a project like this changes from week to week. “This is a process that doesn’t happen all at once, he came with an idea and we gave suggestions which was [the number of units] was too many and so he came back with this idea and that’s what we’re discussing, and what does and doesn’t comply,” Vota said. Krug suggested the planning commissioners canvas the neighborhood to get feedback from residents. Planning commissioners did point out to the residents that under its current commercial zoning the site could, without board input, be utilized as a restaurant, bar, dance hall, animal hospital or even a kennel. “It could be a very commercial property and traffic could be a lot worse,” Vota said. Many of the neighbors said they were not completely opposed to residential in that space, but rather they believe the density is still to high for the area. Clements suggested the building be utilized as a recreation center and she even volunteered to help clean the property up if that became the intended use. Krug stepped in to suggest the village purchase the site to use as a rec center, but it was pointed out by Vota that’s not likely. D’Orazio indicated that if the neighbors are concerned with increase traffic, it would be exponential if something like a rec center went into that location. Clements pointed out it would be limited hours, not 24/7 movement by residents. Vota said the board is gong to try and work on the concerns of the neighborhood as the proposal moves forward through the various steps. The public hearing is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, June 21. Planning commissioners have several options coming out of that meeting from continuing it to another date or making a recommendation to the Village Board for approval or denial of the request.