Pastor Jim Nolan and his congregation see a planned community for low-income seniors as part of their mission from God. The city of Fairview Heights sees it as a necessary housing component that could help revitalize the Lincoln Trail area.
“We’re not just a church within four walls, our parish is the community,” Nolan said.
St. John United Church of Christ is seeking a zoning change to allow for the 60-unit building behind the existing church at 10207 Lincoln Trail in Fairview Heights. The units would be age-restricted to those 62 and older, and likely limited to those who make less than 60 percent of the median income in St. Clair County. The latest estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau has a median income of less than $51,000 for the county.
Most of the apartments would be one bedroom; six would have two bedrooms. The initial plans by EWR Architects of Fairview Heights is for an L-shaped three-story building, with a patio entry and green space in the existing parking lot. The building would have elevators, a lounge, multipurpose room, game rooms and indoor trash chutes.
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“The people we envision living here built this community,” Nolan said. “They are now finding that they are outliving their resources.”
The church is partnering with RHF, a developer based in the United Church of Christ that specializes in low-cost senior housing. RHF has approval for the project and next will be seeking the zoning change and approval from the federal Housing and Urban Development.
Potential cost is not yet known, Nolan said, but RHF would assist the church in getting financing, ultimately with a finished building in 2017.
A Fairview Heights city official said the city suspected it lacked senior housing, and those suspicions were confirmed with a study by Development Strategies in St. Louis.
The study showed an opportunity along Lincoln Trail for 60 senior housing units and identified six locations as potential sites.
The “most suitable for senior housing” area found by Development Strategies is the 2.8 acres on Bunkum Road near Lincoln Trail, a former Regions Bank. The study cited the proximity to City Hall, the library and access to public transportation among the reasons for its recommendation.
The city was preparing to send out requests for proposals to developers for the six sites.
“Once this group RHF got wind of it, via Jim Nolan, they picked right up on it and all of a sudden it looked like we have a project,” said Mike Malloy, director of economic development in Fairview Heights.
The city is not pursuing plans with the other sites at this time.
Malloy was careful to specify the city has “nothing to do with the project at this time ... We’re certainly hoping it comes to fruition.”
Nolan said the church sent about 80 invitations to an information meeting about the apartments, but only four residents attended. He said their reaction was somewhat mixed; they were concerned about the size and scope of the project.
No neighbors would comment to a reporter last week.
Malloy says the neighbors could ultimately benefit from any additions to the area.
“There is a potential for this project to generate some directly related services, but it would certainly be beneficial to the people in the immediate neighborhood as well as the people in the senior housing facility,” Malloy said.
Nolan said most of those living in the apartments would likely take advantage of the easy access to bus lines and the MetroLink station. He said the development would add “a handful” of parking spaces to the existing lot.
In order to make space for the apartment building, a detached garage and the parsonage would have to come down, displacing Nolan.
“I’m not particularly worried about (losing the home),” Nolan said. “It’s a small price to pay for a project that will help so many.”