As the Thomson prison becomes a reality and the need for more housing grows, the city has decided to use the open space at 22nd Avenue for industrial purposes instead of housing.
After considering two proposals for development at the 100-acre site, one for mixed use housing and another for commercial and industrial growth, the aldermen voted to create more space for industry, with the intent to further explore housing growth at a meeting on Monday.
“I think we should move forward and promote this as an industrial area, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at innovative housing areas,” Alderman Randy Boonstra said.
Despite the lingering housing issue, the council voted unanimously in favor of pursuing the area for industry. The city recently hired the consulting firm of Rumery & Associates to perform an assessment on the city’s readiness as the facility promises 1,100 jobs and is set to open soon. Terry Rumery, who presented the assessment, also suggested that the city use the industrial plan.
Aldermen were in agreement that while housing is a major issue, the plot of land situated in an already industrial area is not ideal for families or developers.
“We are not going to find a developer to build houses down there,” Boonstra said. “Plus it is a good spot for industrial. It’s close to major roads.”
The mixed use housing plan would have provided 115 single family lots, 40 two family lots and 88 town home units. The industrial plan chosen could potentially house 27 businesses. While the council chose to go with the industrial plan, the issue of housing was still very present in the discussion.
“I don’t think it’s the right housing area, but it’s a shame we can’t offer more housing,” Alderman Charles Dykstra said.
This decision comes shortly after the announcement that staff will start as early as April at the prison from Bureau of Prisons Activation Coordinator Cathi Litcher.
She also said that they plan to let as many people in the local commuting area of about a 1 1⁄2-hour drive of the prison know when vacancies are listed.
The Bureau of Prisons has signed a “Memorandum of Agreement” with the Illinois Department of Corrections to allow one staff member from the initial construction work at the prison to aid in the transition and currently has a contract with a local security guard service that is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Litcher.
Fulton is one of the closest communities to the prison, only 8.8 miles away. While the federal facility is set to open in the near future, there are few homes available for new families in Fulton.
“We do have a serious residential housing issue,” Mayor Larry Russell said. “We have some options, we just don’t have the empty cornfields needed for housing.”