The Mata Amritanandamayi – or M.A. – Center at 41W501 Keslinger Road in Blackberry Township is seeking a special use from Kane County to allow additional housing, campus buildings, a farm stand and a Montessori School on its campus. Several representatives from the M.A. Center attended the Elburn Committee of the Whole meeting on April18 for the board’s discussion regarding the M.A. Center’s application.
The M.A. Center was initially founded in 1989 in San Ramon, Calif., as an independent 501c(3) tax-exempt, non-denominational humanitarian organization. It purchased the Blackberry Township property – previously owned by the Broadview Academy – in 2012. At that time, Kane County approved a special use for the religious and spiritual retreat center, which included the existing 13 single-family homes, plus two additional single-family homes and a duplex.
The M.A. Center website states that – in close affiliation with M.A. Center, California – the Blackberry Township center will conduct regular spiritual activities, include spiritual discourses and retreats, guided meditation, yoga and selfless service.
According to M.A. Center President Ron Gottsegen, the center has upgraded and renovated the existing buildings and infrastructure where feasible, and demolished buildings, such as the old boy’s dormitory and the old administration building, that the center determined to be beyond the scope of renovation.
Gottsegen said that some of the buildings were in such poor repair and had suffered such abuse, such as the girls’ dormitory, that renovation would have cost twice as much as demolition and reconstruction.
Elburn Village President Dave Anderson said he knew that the center had hired a number of trades people and others in Elburn to do the work on the property.
“You’ve been very, very good neighbors,” he said.
Gottsegen said that now that the initial renovation of the properties has been completed and they are fully insured, there are a number of members of the organization who would like to settle at the center. The initial plan is for 20 single-family residences to accommodate a number of people, most of whom are empty-nesters.
The plan is to add a total of 72 single-family homes and a 192 multi-unit residential facility during the next 10 to 15 years.
Representatives of the M.A. Center have met with members of the surrounding communities, with the assistance of Kane County Board member Drew Frasz, in an attempt to inform residents of their proposed plans, and to answer any questions they might have.
There are currently seven couples ready to move into the center, all of them empty-nesters, Gottsegen said. The housing will be modest, with the largest of four home sizes measuring 2,100 square feet.
There are currently 60 acres of dedicated farmland on the property, which has been leased to tenant farmers. Several acres have been set aside to grow medicinal herbs such as Echinacea and vegetables. Gottsegen said the center’s hope this year is to open a farmstand that will sell organic vegetables, with the ultimate goal of becoming a sustainable community.
He said the goal is for the farmstand and the proposed Montessori school, which will be open to the public, is to serve as the bridges to the surrounding community.
“The question on most people’s minds is the spending on tax breaks,” Gottsegen said. “We have agreed to pay all the taxes on the residential property.”
Trustees were generally favorable to supporting the special use request, but said they wanted it in writing.
Attorney Bob Britz suggested that it would be a simple matter for the county to approve the special use, with the condition that the residential properties not be tax-exempt.
Gottsegen was concerned that adding a legal step to the process would result in a delay in the construction and told the board that he would prefer that it accept his organization’s pledge on the basis of their goodwill.
The board was firm about its recommendation, however, and Britz told Gottsegen that adding the condition should not slow anything down.
Trustee Bill Grabarek said that he saw the M.A. Center taking over the property as a positive thing – that the property had been “just sitting there, going downhill.”
“I wish you folks well,” Grabarek said.
“We’re happy to be here,” Gottsegen said. “We want to contribute to the community and grow with the community.”
Kane County will schedule a public hearing on the special use application and will notify neighbors in the surrounding area of the time and place.