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Local News

Redevelopment program improves homes in blighted Fairmont neighborhood

Long-term, multi-agency effort seeks to revitalize unincorporated community

It was 1950 when Janice Love’s father, Herb Pinnick, built a home from the ground up in unincorporated Will County’s Fairmont neighborhood near Lockport.

The single-story house in the 100 block of Harvard Street is where she grew up. Aside from 10 years working in Pittsburgh, Love has lived in the area her entire life. Her sister wanted to sell the house after their father died.

Instead, Love stepped up to maintain a piece of family history.

“I promised my father we would take care of the house,” Love said.

It’s been home for many years to Love, her husband, A.C. Love, and their dog, Blue – named for his blue eyes. They’ve seen how the neighborhood has changed. Former neighbors have died and left abandoned homes behind.

While occupied properties that remain are in need of improvements, Fairmont still is a quiet area where neighbors respect each other, Janice said. She doesn’t want to move.

“Staying here keeps me close to my father,” she said. “It’s our homestead.”

Fairmont Redevelopment Program

Volunteers recently applied a fresh coat of paint to the interior walls and the cinder-block exterior of the Loves’ home.

This, and other revitalization projects throughout the community, are part of the Fairmont Redevelopment Program, an effort that could last three to five years. In late July, 200 volunteers came to Fairmont to work on improvement projects and kick off the program.

A 2012 Fairmont Neighborhood Plan approved by the Will County Board sat without funding to act on its priorities, said Ron Pullman, Will County Community Development Division director.

The report stated that Fairmont has struggled to attract investment and in many ways has been “left behind by the growth” that occurred in other parts of the county. The number of employed adults in Fairmont had fallen dramatically since 2000. Pullman said about 45 houses in the neighborhood have been abandoned and torn down in the past 20 years.

With the help of a combined $1 million between two U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, the program took action. Leadership decided, with input from the public, that infrastructure and housing stability were most important.

The largest potential expense is that the area is prone to flooding, Pullman said. An engineering study indicated that to bring the drainage system up to modern standards, it would cost about $5 million – far more than what is available. That project likely will be worked on in small portions as more funding emerges.

A collaboration for revitalization

The county, community leaders, churches and other organizations are combining to stretch the $1 million as far as it will go. More than 60 residents have filed applications for improvements. The intent is to fulfill as many eligible applications as possible.

DeLinda Herod, acting president of the year-old Fairmont Community Partnership Group, has led a neighborhood initiative to bring concerned Fairmont residents together for the betterment of the community. Herod and the group serve as the direct connection between agencies and Fairmont residents.

The group has held a job fair, a health and safety fair, neighborhood cleanups and just launched the “Keep Your 50 Clean” campaign, to promote residents who keep their yards clean.

The Will County Center for Community Concerns has a connection to contractors, which helps in evaluating a property’s eligibility for the redevelopment program, Pullman said.

Will County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Nicole Murray said her agency holds the mortgages for 31 Fairmont homes.

“Habitat for Humanity has revitalization in its motto,” Murray said. “Hopefully we can make the money go further with our volunteers.”

Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. said the Fairmont Redevelopment Program is aiming to address quality of life issues for Fairmont residents and is seeing good participation from all partners.

Highway remains a threat

However, Walsh said the “800-pound gorilla in the room” is a proposed county plan to build a highway in Fairmont linking Caton Farm and Bruce roads through a new bridge over the Des Plaines River. He said the proposal, which has been talked about since the 1990s, could still be 10 to 15 years from coming to fruition.

The selected route – known as the Middle Alignment – would consist of a 12-mile, four-lane road connecting Caton Farm Road at Route 30 to 159th Street and Cedar Road in Homer Township. Roadway engineers believe it will alleviate traffic congestion along the river that is predicted to increase in the coming years.

But the proposal has been criticized by residents and elected officials in Lockport and Homer Glen.

“We don’t want it, at all,” Herod said.

Opponents have said the route’s selection disproportionately displaces and affects minority-heavy Fairmont, splitting the neighborhood in parts. The proposed route is more than just a bridge linking Caton Farm and Bruce roads, which are east-west roadways that line up on maps.

The bridge would also continue access southeast to Oak Avenue in Fairmont to avoid the habitat of the endangered Hines’ Emerald Dragonfly and veer back north to Bruce Road and east to Interstate 355.

Residents not running

William and Betty Byrd have lived at a Fairmont home in the 100 block of Riley Avenue for 52 years. They said they’re the only homeowners, within two or three blocks, who have lived there that long.

There’s an abandoned house next to the Byrds’. But like the Loves, the Byrds plan to continue to call their property home. They raised their children on Riley Avenue.

“We’re the last of the dinosaurs,” Betty said. 

Volunteers recently painted the inside of the Byrds’ home and installed a new roof.

“They did a great job,” William said. “It was a great team.”

Past neighbors of the Byrds have died, and inheritors usually sell the homes. The Byrds said the younger generation living in their neighborhood checks in on them. In the winter, they shovel the Byrds’ driveway.

“The young people respect us,” Betty said. “They know who we are. I don’t think we could have this anywhere else.”

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