Big problems with proposed expansion of 120 S. State St.
There are big problems with the proposed expansion of the 120 S. State subsidized housing project and I’m hopeful that you will review the following information and recommendations.
The first image shows what exists today at 120 S. State.
The white building, 132 S. State, has been purchased by the Housing Authority of Elgin (HAE) and will be demolished to make room for the expansion of 120 S. State. The project as proposed and presented at the 8/20/13 HAE board meeting is shown in the three following images.
1) As senior housing, this complex is only required to have 1/2 parking stall for each apartment. But according to testimony at the Planning/Zoning hearing, they are going to add 14 market rate apartments, so there will be a total of 164 units when the project is done. They have figured all the apartments at 1/2 parking stall per apartment, while I contend that the 14 market rate apartments should require the standard apartment code requirement of 2 parking spaces per unit. Instead of having 82 parking stalls for residents, if they are to properly allow for the residents of the 14 market rate apartments, the HAE design should have 103 parking spaces for residents. There is no allowance for market rate parking spaces in the existing HAE design. Market rate tenants are much more likely to have cars. If these parking spaces aren’t provided, the market rate concept will probably fail.
2) The Housing Authority of Elgin wants to increase the space for their office parking from the current 9 parking stalls, up to 20 to go with the increased office space in the new building. That would bring their total parking requirement up to 123 units. But their submitted plan is to have only 103 parking spaces! That is a short-fall of 20 parking spaces!
3) The HAE has talked a lot about the fact that they are only adding 6 apartment units however, what they are not telling you, is that this project will increase the MAXIMUM housing capacity with the new building by 123 residents!
The existing 120 S. State, plus the old 132 S. State had a total maximum housing capacity of 158 people but with the new building, they are not just adding apartments, they are also increasing the size of the existing apartments.
The HAE has an obligation to house as many poor people as they can. They cannot, and will not fill every one and two bed room apartment with only one person! When this is realized, it becomes clear why the HAE has not publicly disclosed the new maximum housing capacity.
With each efficiency holding one person, each 1 bedroom apartment holding two people, and each 2 bedroom apartment holding 4 people, the resident population would go up to 356 people, which is an increase of 123 people. That is a potential increase of 52%!!!!!!!!!!
Though City Code may not address this, it must be realized and should be codified in Elgin Code, that it is people who drive, not apartments. So to peg the parking requirements for a senior efficiency apartment at 1/2 parking stall per apartment, the same as a two bedroom apartment that can hold 4 people makes absolutely no sense. IF required parking spaces were to be determined based upon maximum occupancy limits, the need for parking would probably increase by 52%!
4) About 1/2 of the first floor of the new building is supposed to be zoned for retail space however, there is NO parking allowance for the store in the new plan.
5) Because there isn’t enough available land for sufficient parking, there also isn’t enough room to keep the present two way entrance/exit drive way connected to S. State Street.
As a result, with the proposed new project, anyone leaving 120 S. State will have to drive through the parking lot of 104 S. State and exit via Locust Street.
The intersection of S. State and Locust is:
a) Curved, it goes down hill
b) Very close to a railroad crossing.
c) It is single lane in each direction
All of these factors make this a bad intersection that the residents and visitors to 120 S. State can presently avoid. S. State is flat and straight in front of 120 S. State, so the exit should remain in this location for safety sake.
6) Currently, there are traffic tie-ups at the intersection of Locust and S. State when St. Edwards High lets out for the day. That takes place between 2:30 and 3:00 PM on weekdays. To a much lesser extent, the traffic also backs up during the morning and afternoon rush hours, adding MORE traffic from the expanded offices, residences and store at 120 S. State will exacerbate this problem.
7) The existing 120 S. State HAE building is well sited back from the street. The pleasing open green space for public housing was probably a pioneering concept back in the late 1960s, when Chicago was building super high density public housing. Chicago and the rest of the nation have abandoned high density subsidized housing as a failed experiment. (Caprini Green and Robert Taylor Homes as an example). But what is Elgin’s public housing doing? It is proposing that we go in the REVERSE direction! The HAE is increasing its housing density and eliminating much of its front lawn green space. How does that make any sense?
Recommendations to the City Council and City Staff:
1) Please review the following images of what I will call the “traditional design”. These new images show that it is possible to design an expansion to 120 S. State, that no only preserves the existing set-back from S. State, but which also address every problem addressed above, including parking, traffic and even appearance.
This image is a perspective view showing what someone driving by on S. State would see. Please compare that to the corresponding HAE image above. You can appreciate how making the new, traditional addition match the existing building creates a very satisfying harmony. This same approach, of making the new addition match the old, is what was done so successfully when Oak Crest (204 S. State) expanded their historic facility about 15 years ago.
The “traditional design” also “steps down” towards the south as Staff recommended that the HAE design do in order to transition better into the neighborhood. (However that is a faulty justification for a stepped down design. The great setback is the biggest attribute contributing to a fit within the local environment. That is why the HAE design fails to integrate into the street scape, because even though it is much smaller than the alternate “traditional design”, it appears huge and ponderous as it looms menacingly close to the street, as it has almost no setback!) The greater value in the “stepped down” design is that when coupled with a sufficient setback, it creates what historic architects refer to as “picturesque asymmetrical massings”, that certain schools of thought feel is a naturally pleasing concept.
This image shows the front “elevation” of the proposed “traditional design”. The “bridge” connects the existing building with the new building. The entrance to both buildings is below and in the front of the bridge. With the HAE proposed design, the entrance is located in a less than obvious location, which is partly why they added the big awning and unusual color scheme, to draw attention to the entrance, which would have likely been lost to the average visitor. In the” traditional design” proposal, the entrance is naturally and intuitively identifiable. And not only does it serve as the entrance to the facility, it also trumps the HAE design by serving as the exit as well.
The HAE design also fails to provide any connection between the new building and the old building. So if one were to enter under the grand awning, they would have to walk outside of the new building to get to the new building. So why not just put a big awning over the back entrance to the old building as well????
This image shows an aerial view of the proposed “traditional design”. Note the driveway that is used presently for 120 S. State has been kept in its existing location. The expanded area for parking and storm water retention is visible in the top left part of this image, along Locust Street. Though it would be more costly, instead of adding parking on Locust Street, parking could be provided in this new building, or in a deck behind the building.
This image shows how the “traditional design” can be easily scaled up (or down) in height depending upon the final resolution of the store, office and parking locations and parking requirements.
2) REQUIRE that 120 S. State must have its own direct entrance and exit onto S. State Street. That will allow direct exit from the complex onto S. State Street, where it is level, straight, away from the train tracks, and where it will not add to the congestion that regularly occurs at Locust and S. State when St. Ed’s ends its school day between 2:30 and 3PM. This point MUST not be dropped whatever happens.
3) To obtain the needed parking space AND setbacks AND two-way driveway:
a) buy and tear down three small junky houses on Locust Street (303, 305 and 311)
b) build a parking deck on the present lot
c) build parking into the basement of the new building
d) make the new addition to 120 S. State be taller, thus requiring a much smaller foot print, thus saving land for parking, green space and storm water run-off.
A note on point 3d: City Staff seems to feel tall buildings are a mistake. That is their personal opinion, and is NOT code.
Notes on 3b and 3c: They will costs lots of untold extra dollars. Option a) may take a long time (305 &311 Locust were both for sale last year and had been vacant for a long time. I recommended in email to Bob Gilliam in June 2012 that the HAE purchase those properties.) But what is the rush?
4) Immediately deny the request for a store at 120 S. State. The mission of the HAE is public housing, not retail. And 120 S. State is one block from JJ Peppers and a slow 10 minute walk to Butera. (Butera shopping carts can regularly be seen in the parking lot of 120 S. State.) And the current design has made NO allowance for retail parking. And even in the event that parking is obtained, no one has presented a compelling case why there should be a store or ANY retail/commercial activity at this location. That is simply making another totally unnecessary change to the fabric of the neighborhood. Denial of the retail/commercial operation is absolutely mandatory if the existing HAE design with its insufficient parking is accepted!
5) Immediately deny the request for added office space. That will eliminate the need for 11 parking spaces. AND Elgin is full of empty office space. The mission of the HAE is public housing, not office building. This position could be compromised IF all three lots are acquired on Locust Street.
6) There is no compelling crisis that is demanding that this project at 120 S. State go ahead at full speed. The only urgency is due to the personal desires of the HAE. Instead of committing an error that will mar Elgin for the next 60 years, step back and commission a strategic plan for the high density housing along this stretch of S. State Street, from W. Chicago Street up to Walnut/National Street.
a) 222 Locust is past obsolescence, and the City is after them to install sprinklers.
b) 85 S. Crystal is a mess. Both 222 and 85 should be torn down and replaced with something better.
c) Look at using Central Park for low density mixed income housing. That property is wasted, and is nothing more than a home for hobos. A nice low density housing development there would make much more sense INSTEAD of adding high density housing into 120 S. State.
Step back, tell the HAE to relax, and then make a strategic plan for what is best for the City of Elgin. The proposed HAE expansion at 120 S. State is highly flawed and should be denied in its present conception.