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Meeting embarrasses Momence officials

January 27, 2019

MOMENCE — Momence Mayor Chuck Steele and two city aldermen said Thursday they were embarrassed about how opponents of a proposed low-income, senior development treated the project’s developer.

The night before, representatives of Springfield, Mo.-based Four Corners Development held a public meeting about their project, which would include 23 duplexes and a community building.

They had planned to give a presentation on the development, but after only a few minutes, residents jumped in with questions and accusations. The meeting never got back on track.

Steele described the audience as “more like an angry mob than trying to get educated answers,” with the meeting turning into a “runaway train.”

“Unfortunately, the crowd was so determined to get their point across, they never allowed the developer to get his presentation out there,” Steele said in an interview. “I’m pretty embarrassed about the way it transpired. Everyone should be entitled to have their say, the developer and the residents.”

About 75 people attended the meeting at City Hall. Many of the audience members said they did not want a low-income development in their neighborhood, which is in northeastern Momence next to Berkot’s grocery store.

They said such a project would reduce their property values. One woman said the neighborhood was the most attractive place to live in Momence.

To make the development a reality, the company is asking the city to rezone the 12-acre property in question to multi-family housing, from single-family.

The neighbors questioned whether the tenants would maintain their properties and suggested the tenants might allow more people than allowed to live in their units. They speculated that the development company would abandon the project and break its promises. Often, when the company representatives made an assertion, audience members would say it wasn’t true.

Adam Horton and Kim Holaday, of Four Corners, said a federal tax-credit program would help pay for the development, allowing tenants to get below-market rents. Federal law, they said, requires annual inspections to ensure that tenants abide by standards.

When the representatives said their company would come up with, at most, 15 percent of the project’s cost, one woman said that amount was “laughable.”

Others questioned why such a project couldn’t go some other place in town.

At one point, Holaday pleaded with the audience, “You don’t need to be hateful with us.”

‘BOTHERS ME’

In his interview, Steele said he saw both the pros and cons of the project, but wanted to hear more from the development company, which he said was prevented from talking much about the plan.

“I can see the residents’ point of view, but so far, I got to only hear the negative side. I have to be open-minded and listen to everyone,” Steele said.

As for the neighbors of the project, Steele said, “I don’t like to think they think they’re better than the rest of the community. That really bothers me. None of us are above the others.”

He acknowledged his opinions on the meeting might get him in trouble with constituents, but said, “That’s just the way I feel.”

He said he has taken a lot of heat about the project, but he said the developer brought the proposal to the city and that city officials didn’t go to the developer.

At the meeting, residents wondered how Four Corners became interested in Momence for the project. The property in question is owned by Jeff Van Drunen, a local businessman, who didn’t attend the meeting.

Horton said he became acquainted with Momence through a church mission trip and liked the town.

Steele said he didn’t speak at the meeting because most of the City Council was there and a majority of members cannot discuss public business outside of a scheduled session.

‘WASN’T PLEASANT’

Alderman Tom Temple, 4th Ward, was among those attending the meeting.

“The mayor is correct in what he is saying,” Temple said. “It was just an embarrassment. The (developers) should have been given a little more respect than what they were given.”

Alderwoman Rebekah Cope, 4th Ward, agreed. She said neighbors came in with closed minds and misunderstood the proposal.

“It wasn’t pleasant. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an angry mob, but I was embarrassed on behalf of the community,” Cope said. “I think (the audience) threw out its position without hearing (the developer). They didn’t give them a chance. I think they behaved badly.”

John Rehmer, 3rd Ward, stopped short of saying he was embarrassed, but said people’s “choice of words could have been a little bit better.

“When you’re upset about something, you don’t always choose the best words. They were upset, afraid that their property values would go down,” Rehmer said. “The opposition seemed overwhelming.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, the city’s zoning board is slated to take up the proposal to change the zoning for the proposed development. The matter would then go to the City Council the following week.

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