Developer plans McHenry residential housing, vocational center for people with special needs

McHENRY – A developer is planning a residential home and vocational center in McHenry for people with developmental disabilities.

Lake Forest-based Swanson Development LLC wants to turn the 99-acre Chapel Hill Country Club golf course site, 2500 N. Chapel Hill Road, into an assisted-living center for people with autism and other development disabilities such as Down syndrome.

The center would offer up to 54 assisted-living units for people with autism and a 23,000-square-foot vocational training center, according to planning documents. Additionally, Swanson plans to build 100 duplex units and 160 apartment units in a two-story building on the site.

“We have been looking for a parcel that was a more broad scope so we can create a community that is inclusive,” said Rick Swanson, president of Swanson Architects. “The country is woefully misserved for this population. When a child turns 22, they don’t have a whole lot of options.”

Forty acres of the site will be dedicated to what Swanson calls the “Watercolors/Transitions” site, which consists of nine separate “neighborhoods” where the 54 assisted-living units will be. Residents will live in interconnected homes that each will have six studio apartments with a bathroom and surround a community area with a kitchen, dining area and great room.

Commercial greenhouses and an apple orchard also are proposed for the Watercolors portion of the site.

The vocational center would offer a gym, a pool for physical therapy and recreational use, a computer lab, horticultural training for the greenhouse and a community garden, job proficiency training and assessments, job skill placement, a lunch room and life skills training, according to planning documents.

Seventh Ward Alderwoman Geri Condon, who also is a licensed counselor, said she is thrilled with the proposal.

“I know the concern when this population reaches adulthood,” she said. “I know there is a necessity not only in the county but in the country as well.”

Plans are in the development phase and would need to come before the City Council for final approval.

McHenry Mayor Wayne Jett said he favored the proposal.

“I would like to see this project move forward, but at this point it is in the very early stages,” he said. “If the project moves forward we would need to annex them into the city of McHenry, which I have no issues in doing so.”

McHenry County has two assisted-living centers for people with development disabilities, including the Pioneer Center for Human Services in McHenry and Clearbrook Community Integrated Living in Crystal Lake, but both centers typically have a waitlist, McHenry County Mental Health Board Executive Director Scott Block said.

He said that in the next three years he plans to complete a study to identify the need for more residential housing for individuals with disabilities.

“As a community, we need to look at what McHenry County needs are before jumping to developing,” he said. “A lot of the feedback we receive at the Mental Health Board is anecdotal. What I would like to do is quantify it so we can make an informed decision on how to allocate local resources.”

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