Residents hit plan for Long-Argyle property
by BRIAN NADIG
Alderman John Arena (45th) recently told a group of residents that he would ask the developer of a proposed five-story apartment complex on a vacant a parcel at Argyle Street and Long Avenue to consider their suggestions for a scaled-down project.
"Why don’t I go back to him now and share with him the comments you have made," Arena said at the end of the impromptu 75-minute meeting. The group of 15 residents showed up unannounced at Arena’s weekly "ward night" to give him a petition with 673 signatures against the project.
The proposal calls for the site to be rezoned to RM-5, which would be the densest residential zoning in the area.
Several residents said that the maximum height of the project should be three stories, while one woman said that she prefers that townhouses be built. Another woman said that the zoning of the site should remain RS-3, which is for single-family homes and two-flats.
Many of the residents wore "no upzoning" buttons, and all responded "yes" when Arena asked if they live "within a stone’s throw" of the site, which until10 years ago was occupied by a storage yard for Cowhey Materials and Fuel Company. The Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, which has been promoting the petition drive, has a policy of opposing upzoning.
"We urge you to scrutinize the enclosed petitions and maps and notice that the vast majority of signers reside on what should be termed as ‘core blocks,’ that is, those blocks that are in immediate proximity to Long and Argyle," petition organizer Kurt Kuhlman said in a statement that he read at the meeting.
Signers of the petition include at least one resident of each building in the 5300 block of West Winnemac Avenue and of about 80 percent of the buildings in the 5300 block of Argyle. That block consists mostly of single-family homes and two-flats.
Signatures could not be collected from some homes on Argyle because they are vacant and in some instances petition circulators did not speak the language of those who reside there, residents said.
"The opposition comes from a widely varied demographic," Kuhlman said. "Contrary to social media stereotypes, signers were not all older residents with a ‘not in my back yard’ mentality. It is our hope that you will take notice of the numbers and represent the community accordingly.
"Please be advised that the community represented here is not opposed to all development. What most everyone is opposed to is the ‘upzoning’ and/or ‘spot zoning’ of the property. The general consensus is that the current proposal calls for a development that is too high and too dense."
The developer of the project, American Colony Homes, announced plans to build seven single-family homes on the Cowhey site and two more on an adjoining lot in 2006, but the plan was dropped due to the decline in the real estate market. The new proposal calls for two five-story buildings, each with 24 units and interior parking on the first floor, and for a 6,000-square-foot landscaped courtyard between the buildings.
"As you know, this property and the adjacent property to the east were both originally purchased to make way for up to nine single-family homes," Kuhlman said in the statement. "The neighborhood remembers this well. Petition circulators reported frequent comments to the effect of: ‘This is not Lincoln or Wicker Park.’ People move here for the neighborhood feel it has and to know their neighbors, not for high density."
Several residents expressed concern that the project would add to the traffic congestion which the neighborhood faces during dismissal time at Beaubien School, 5025 N. Laramie Ave., and during Sunday services at Debre Genet Kidist Mariam Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, 5009 N. Northwest Hwy.
Arena told the residents that he would not be considering the proposed size of the project if the 28,635-square-foot site were "across the alley" on Winnemac, where predominantly single-family homes and two-flats exist.
Arena said that "just up the street" from the site is a row of multi-family buildings in the 5000 block of Northwest Highway and that the site is across from a neighborhood transit center with the Jefferson Park CTA and Metra stations. He said that allowing greater density near transit centers should not be ruled out, especially since the area lacks the higher residential density which national retailers look for when choosing a location.
Initial plans called for the development to consist of one large building, but a panel of local architects and urban planners made suggestions on how the faces of the building could blend in better with the neighborhood, Arena said.
"What was originally proposed was horrid," Arena said while displaying a rendering of the first proposal. "It was nondescript. It was not Chicago."
An attorney for the developer has said that the approximately 1,100-square-foot apartments would have balconies, half of which would overlook the courtyard, and the facade would have row house-style features, similar to a senior housing complex that is under construction at 4117 N. Kilpatrick Ave. A total of 51 parking spaces is planned.
"I don’t take projects like this lightly," Arena said. "I have very high standards."
In response to comments from residents, Arena said that while he is not concerned about whether a project is profitable, the realty is that nothing will be built unless the developer feels that the project is financially feasible.
"It is an empty lot now," Arena said. "What was being built in 2000 is not what developers are looking to build now. It is a different market."
Arena told residents at the start of the meeting that he is waiting for the developer to provide additional information, including shadow studies, before a community meeting is held on the project. However, at the end of the meeting he said that he may give the developer additional time to consider the residents’ recommendations.