4-story Jeff Park proposal for Lawrence well-received at community meeting

by BRIAN NADIG

At a Sept. 2 community meeting, Alderman John Arena (45th) urged residents to judge a proposed mixed-use development at Lawrence and Laramie avenues on its own merits and not in the context of past mismanagement that left the area with gravel parking lots.

“We’re already 10 years into this mess. For me it is time to do something,” Arena said. Overall the project was well-received by the 110 people at the 2 ½-hour meeting.

Arena said that he is tired of having to apologize to his guests when they come to Jefferson Park because of the way the business district looks and that the proposed four-story building, which would include 39 apartments and several 1,300-square-foot storefronts, would serve as a catalyst for other development in the area.

Leamington Avenue resident Kathy Renkosiak said that the proposal is vastly improved over past plans to build seven and 10-story buildings and that she hopes the storefronts would be filled with businesses that fill a void in the neighborhood. “This is absolutely fantastic,” she said. “I don’t want a nail salon, and I don’t want a lawyer’s office.”

Currently a portion of the 40,900-square-foot development site is used as an overflow parking lot for concerts and other events at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. Arena said that off-site parking is needed for about 300 vehicles for the center and that solutions to the parking problem will be explored as part of a master plan that will be put together for the business district.

Several years ago a 299-space parking garage was proposed for the northeast corner of Lipps Avenue and Ainslie Street, less than a block from the center, but the project failed to materialize. Arena said that he does not want “a straight-up parking garage” for the site and that any parking proposal should include a retail component that serves as an “economic engine” for the business district.

Some residents expressed concern that the proposed building would be too close to the curb, leaving no space for landscaping or outdoor cafes along Lawrence.

A “pedestrian street” designation, which the city implemented several months ago at Arena’s urging, requires that new construction in the business district be within 5 feet of the sidewalk. The designation is intended to preserve the urban feel of the district by maintaining a continuous street wall of storefronts along the sidewalk, and it eliminates parking requirements for commercial uses with a floor area of under 10,000 square feet.

City officials said that they are working on a redevelopment agreement with the project’s developer, Mega Group, that would include safeguards to ensure that the project proceeds in a timely manner and guarantees the city a portion of the project’s profits if they were to exceed the projected profit margin. Construction should take 18 months from the time that building permits are issued for the project, Mega representative Loukas Kozonis said.

Mega owns about half of the development site and is looking to buy for $1 the other half, which recently was appraised at $530,000 and which the city acquired through eminent domain for $1.46 million in 2006.

In the early 2000s, the city entered a redevelopment agreement with Mega which called for the developer to reimburse the city for all of its acquisition costs in exchange for being allowed to building a 132-unit condominium complex, but the proper zoning was not obtained for the project.

Under a new agreement, Mega would be required to provide letters of intent to lease for at least half of the retail space before the city-owned land would be transferred to Mega, and the land would have to be returned to the city if Mega were not build the project.

Also at the meeting, project officials said that zoning relief in the form of a planned development ordinance, which would create custom zoning for the site, would be required. Previously Arena aides said that a planned development would not be required.

The underlying zoning of the planned development would be the site’s existing B3-2 designation, but the planned development would be required to regulate the site because Laramie separates the two parcels, neither of which is large enough by itself to accommodate 39 residential units.

The proposed 49-foot height of the apartment building at 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. would conform to B3-2 standards.

Under a planned development, the city can regulate items, such as building materials, which it otherwise may not be able to control, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said.

Plans call for the façade to include varying colors and construction materials and recessed balconies, project architect Matt Haylock said.

Rents for the apartments, which would include 24 two-bedroom and 15 one-bedroom units, would range from $1,000 to $1,500, with the largest unit measuring about 1,400 square feet, Kozonis said. Four of the units would be offered at below-market rate in order to meet the city’s affordable housing requirements.

A one-story, 41-space parking garage would be located at the rear of the apartment building, whose top three floors would be set back about 50 feet from the rear alley. Haylock said that landscaping would be located along the back of the garage.

In addition, an outdoor, 21-space parking lot and plaza with a sculpture and benches are planned for the lot at 5161 W. Lawrence Ave. It would be difficult to construct a building there because of a Deep Tunnel vent and underground utilities, Arena said.

It also was reported that Mega has agreed to install a “permanent sculpture” near the southeast corner of the Milwaukee-Lawrence intersection in front of the CVS Pharmacy parking lot. Mega had agreed to so 15 years ago as part of a plan to build a drive-through facility for the pharmacy but no sculptures were installed until 2014, and those have been temporary and were paid for by several businesses and organizations.

Plans also have been in the works to install a pedestrian refuge island on Lawrence near the site, Brugh said. It is intended to give pedestrians who get stuck in the middle of the street a safe place to wait, he said.

Last month the Community Development Commission rejected the proposal but is scheduled to reconsider the plan at its Tuesday, Sept. 8, meeting. Resident Greg Sedlacek said that the city should not be selling land to Mega for $1 given that Mega created the “dump” that the district has become by demolishing buildings and not replacing them.

Arena has said that project would get the city-owned lots back on the tax rolls and would generate $175,000 in yearly tax revenue.

The Chicago Plan Commission is scheduled to hear the proposal at its meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, in the Council Chamber at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

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