Plans Commission Approves Rezone Along North Main; Moving Housing Project Forward

By Benjamin Cox on March 2, 2023 at 5:47pm

Preliminary renderings of Downtown Villas along North Main Street.

The Jacksonville Plans Commission has approved a rezone request of multiple properties along North Main Street for potential extension of the Downtown Commons.

Attorney Eric Hanson, counsel for the Morgan County Housing Authority, says that getting more housing similar to the Downtown Commons is contingent on funding: “Currently, we have an application in with the Illinois Housing Development Authority for tax credits. We should hear about that in the next couple months. If we are awarded tax credits, then, we’ll begin putting together the rest of the financing and hopefully breaking ground in the Spring of 2024. Right now, it’s dependent upon the application that we have got in with IDHA for funding.”

Hanson says a site plan for all of the homes that will run along North Main, West Dunlap, and West Independence is still being finalized. Two residents of the neighborhood and one business owner brought questions and concerns to the Plans Commission. The main concerns about adding the homes to the area appear to be about a rise in crime, traffic congestion, litter, and child safety. Hanson says that MCHA has been attempting to deal with problematic tenants and complaints. He says that they had to wait during the Covid-19 pandemic to do evictions because the federal government had forbade any housing authorities to evict people during the pandemic emergency declarations. He says that he has been in court fairly steady over the last year dealing with evictions and MCHA has been working hard on fixing complaints: “With the trash in the street, I’ll speak with the Housing Authority on that to make sure it’s addressed. At the Housing Authority’s last board meeting, this issue was brought up and the Housing Authority has taken the steps to attempt to address the problem. With regards to some of the other concerns that were brought up tonight…with the children in the street issue, the Housing Authority doesn’t really have a lot of things they can do if kids are riding their bikes in the middle of the street. As far as the crime issue, the same thing…the Housing Authority is aggressively seeking eviction for anybody that’s committing crimes, trespassing on the property, or if there are residents allowing unauthorized guests or people that are trespassing on the property. The residents that are doing that are subject to a lease termination. I think part of that is the mention of cameras being put up in the area. We worked with the Jacksonville Police Department to put up Flock Cameras to also help with crime prevention and hopefully address any of the issues that are out there.”

Hanson says the current plan calls for 44 units being built on the properties that could house between 80-100 people. He says it will be a similar aesthetic as the Downtown Commons, which were also built using the same tax credit program that are being applied for in this round. Hanson says the site plan also will include some recreation opportunities in a park and a retention pond.

Jacksonville City Planner Brian Nyberg says the project’s site plans will be subject to upcoming public meetings in front of multiple boards, code enforcement, and public scrutiny after the Morgan County Housing Authority submits their final site plans. He says citizens of the neighborhood can then bring up questions about curb, gutter, sidewalks, and traffic at that time as well as the placement of any screening and parking lots.

Nyberg says the project though would likely fulfill a massive need in the city’s north side for low-income housing: “For the last couple of years, we’ve been working with the Illinois Housing Development Authority on a community revitalization plan. That plan shows where the housing needs are in Jacksonville. The need is in that area on North Main Street and east of North Main, so this fits right into the plan for a need of affordable housing. That’s why there is a very good chance that the Morgan County Housing Authority is going to get this grant from IDHA.”

Nyberg says that the critiques he heard last night were the first negative things he’s heard about the project from the community so far after multiple articles and pieces of information released to the public about it over the last few months. He says the city has made every attempt to be as transparent as possible about this process with the involvement of local media and through public meetings: “We want the public to give us some input. So far, the overwhelming majority has been positive because the first phase of Downtown Commons has been really positive. It’s been kept up very nicely. It’s been several years since it’s been built, and we’re hoping to add on to that and continue the positivity.”

Nyberg says the new project is a better alternative to the vacant homes, vacant lots, and criminal activity that were common in that block in recent years.