Panel to hear revised plan for Lawrence site


The Community Development Commission will hear a revised proposal for a four-story mixed-use project at Lawrence and Laramie avenues at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, Alderman John Arena (45th) said.

The development proposal has been revised to include four affordable housing apartments, Arena said. The alderman will hold a community meeting on the proposal at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2, at the 16th (Jefferson Park) District police station, 5151 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Despite the support that the $16.33 million project received from Arena and the city Department of Planning and Development at the commission’s Aug. 11 meeting, the commission voted not to approve the proposal. The commission’s Sept. 8 meeting will be held at 1 p.m. in the City Council Chamber at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

The department is seeking the commission’s approval to enter into an agreement to sell the city-owned portion of the 40,000-square-foot site to the developer, the Mega Group, for $1. In 2006 the city acquired the land through eminent domain for $1.46 million, and the city-owned lots, which make up about half of the site, recently were appraised at $530,000.

"I do not take subsidies of any kind lightly, but given the current market conditions and the fact that these long-vacant parcels have held back development in the Jefferson Park shopping district, this is a good investment for the city and our neighborhood," Arena said in his weekly newsletter. "This reduced land cost makes sense because the project will ultimately be an economic engine in an area that is otherwise barren."

The site generates $5,600 annually in property taxes, but the development would generate $175,000 in annual tax revenue, Arena said. Mega officials say that the company cannot obtain financing for the project without the land subsidy.

Two residents said at the commission’s August meeting that Mega owns several large undeveloped parcels in the commercial district and that it could build a similar project on those properties without receiving a subsidy from the city. The project would feature 9,000 square feet of retail space and 62 parking spaces.

Plans had called for Mega to comply with affordable housing requirements by contributing $400,000 to the city’s housing fund. However, Mega now plans to instead designate four of the planned 39 apartments as below-market rate in an effort to address one of the commission’s concerns, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said.

"The project will include four affordable-rate units (two one-bedroom and two two-bedroom units) that will be offered at 60 percent of the market rate for 30 years," Arena said. "This represents an estimated cost to the project of $2.6 million over that time."

Arena has said that a zoning change is not needed for the project. "The density and height are allowed within the current zoning," he said. "This was one of the key demands of the community for this location, and I am committed to honoring that demand."

A city planning official has said that a planned development ordinance may be required to regulate the development because Laramie Avenue separates the two parcels at 5161 and 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. which make up the site and 39 residential units would not be allowed on either parcel by itself.

The underlying zoning of the planned development would be the existing B3-2 zoning, which allows one residential unit for every 1,000 square feet of land, according to the official.

The proposed four-story building with interior parking would be constructed on an approximately 30,000-square-foot parcel at the southwest corner of Lawrence and Laramie, and a parking lot and a public plaza would be built on an approximately 9,500-square-foot lot at the southeast corner of the intersection.

There was a consensus at a recent board meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association that a four-story building would be appropriate for the site as long as a zoning change is not required, but concern was expressed about subsidies for the project and about prospective commercial tenants for the ground-floor storefronts. One association member said that some of Mega’s buildings in the area have had vacancy problems.

Mega owns the 10-story Veterans Square office building, 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave., the former Woolworth’s building, 4813 N. Milwaukee Ave., and several mini-malls on Milwaukee Avenue. The company also owns gravel parking lots at 5227 W. Lawrence Ave. and 4849 N. Lipps Ave., the latter of which has been targeted for a 299-car parking garage and retail uses. Mega officials have said that the garage is needed to attract more office tenants to the Veterans Square building.