4-story project in Jeff Park hits roadblock; commission fails to endorse plan


The Community Development Commission at its Aug. 11 meeting refused to endorse a four-story redevelopment project for the vacant lots at Lawrence and Laramie avenues, a move that is expected to delay the project and possibly make it not economically feasible for the developer

Alderman John Arena (45th) has said that any delays in the project could place its feasibility in jeopardy because it needs to be approved by the City Council prior to new rules on affordable housing taking place on Oct. 13. Under the city’s current program, the project’s developer, the Mega Group, would have to contribute $400,000 to the city’s affordable housing fund but after Oct. 13, the amount would be $500,000.

Delays could force the lots to be vacant for several more years, according to Arena.

The commission’s vote came as a surprise, as the commission routinely approves projects which have been endorsed by the city Department of Planning and Development and the local alderman. The department was seeking the commission’s approval to enter a negotiated sale of the property to Mega and to advertise for alternative proposals.

At issue is the city’s plan to sell the lots which the city purchased through eminent domain for $1.46 million in 2006 for $1 to Mega. At one time Mega had agreed to reimburse the city for all of its acquisition costs, but the deal fell through after Mega could not obtain a zoning change to allow for a 132-condominium complex in the 5100 to 5300 blocks of West Lawrence Avenue.

A Mega official told the commission that the company would be unable to obtain financing for the $16 million project without the city giving it the property.

In addition, a city planning official told the commission that selling the parcels for $1 was appropriate because Mega had held up its end of the agreement 10 years ago. At the city’s urging, Mega purchased several buildings for the 132-unit project and tore the buildings down. Several of those properties purchased by Mega are now used as gravel parking lots.

The city-owned portion of the site has been appraised at $530,000, and it makes up about half of the land which would be developed for the current project. Plans call for 39 apartments and several storefronts for the vacant lots to the east of the Sportif Importer bike shop, 5225 W. Lawrence Ave.

Arena has said that the project is a good fit for the community because the site would be developed under the site’s existing zoning, B3-2, and the proposed four-story height is reasonable compared to the planned 10-story height in 2006. The project would serve as a gateway to the Jefferson Park business district and hep attract additional development to the area, according to Arena.