Land that city purchased for $1.46 million to be sold for $1 for Jeff Park project


A four-story, retail-residential project is being proposed for several vacant parcels at Lawrence and Laramie avenues in the Jefferson Park business district, including two properties which the city purchased through eminent domain in 2006 for $1.46 million and now plans to give away.

The city is planning to sell its lots at 5161 and 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. for $1 to the Mega Group, a local developer who already owns about half of the approximately 39,000 square feet of land which would be used for the project. The city-owned parcels have been valued at $530,000.

The tax revenue that would be generated from redeveloping the site, most of which is used as a gravel parking lot, justifies selling the land for $1, according to Alderman John Arena (45th).

“The city agreed to this reduced land cost as the property and sales tax, after completion of construction, will be an estimated $175,000 per year. Currently, the city collects zero dollars in tax revenue for its portion and a nominal $5,600 annually in (property) tax revenue for the privately owned portion,” a statement issued by Arena’s office said.

In the early 2000s, the city signed a redevelopment agreement with Mega that called for the developer to reimburse the city for all acquisition costs that the city would incur as a result of the condemnation proceedings, but that agreement was nullified when the city refused to let Mega build the agreed-upon 132 condominiums in the 5100 to 5300 blocks of Lawrence. Then-alderman Patrick Levar pulled the plug on the project due to community opposition over the planned 10-story height of the project.

The recent proposal only calls for the redevelopment of vacant lots located on the south side of Lawrence Avenue between the Kennedy Expressway and the Sportif Importer bike shop, 5225 W. Lawrence Ave. The vacant parcel immediately to the west of the bike is not part of the proposal, but that parcel, which is owned by Mega, had been part of the 132-unit proposal, when the city made a failed attempt to condemn the Sportif property.

The proposal calls for 9,990 square feet of retail space and 41 indoor parking spaces on the ground floor and 39 apartments on the upper three floors. The building would be constructed on the lots immediately to the west of Laramie, while a 21-space outdoor parking lot with several landscaping elements would be constructed on a lot immediately to the east of Laramie.

Plans also call for Laramie, a one-way northbound street, to be converted to a two-way street between Lawrence and the first alley to the south. Access to the indoor parking garage would from Laramie.

Because city-land would be sold for the development, Mega is being required to contribute about $400,000 to the city’s affordable housing fund, but that figure would be higher if the project were to be delayed past mid-October. “On Oct. 13, 2015, the city’s updated Affordable Requirements Ordinance will come into effect, in turn making the project too difficult to complete, which would cause the land to remain vacant for the foreseeable future,” Arena’s statement said.

Arena said that he has been working on the project for the past year, gathering input from the city Department of Planning and Development, residents and community leaders.

“I have met with Mega Group on several occasions regarding this proposal. The proposal was also thoroughly vetted through my internal zoning advisory committee,” Arena said. The advisory committee’s meetings are closed to the public.

The Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association has called for the vacant lots on Lawrence to be redeveloped under the existing B3-2 zoning for those properties. The zoning permits one residential unit for every 1,000 square feet of land, and the two parcels, one on each side of Laramie, can be combined to allow for up to 39 units over the entire site without the need for a zoning change, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said.

In his statement, Arena said that the proposal “comes after a decade of stagnation in the downtown commercial district of Jefferson Park.” Five years ago the business district had several unlicensed nightclubs and social clubs where drugs and liquor were being sold, and some storefronts near the Milwaukee-Lawrence intersection have been vacant for more than 20 years.

Arena plans to hold a community meeting on the project at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. “I look forward to discussing this opportunity with our community. I am sure we can work together to transform these blighted lots into a grand gateway to the Jefferson Park neighborhood,” Arena said.

The Community Development Commission was scheduled to hold a hearing on the project at its Aug. 11 meeting. Mega owns the 10-story Veterans Square office building at 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave.