JPNA board discusses proposed 12-story building, city budget, Facebook group
by BRIAN NADIG
Concerns about the height of a proposed 12-story building at Lipps Avenue and Ainslie Street, recent shootings and the city’s budget shortfall were expressed at the Oct. 12 meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association Board of Directors.
The meeting was the first following a record turnout for the association’s board elections, in which the two candidates vying for president disagreed on the need for more density in the neighborhood. The meeting also included a discussion of guidelines for removing people from the association’s Facebook Group, where debates have become contentious.
Board member Ron Ernst said that 153-foot height of the proposed building, which would be next to the Jefferson Park CTA terminal, would be nearly double the 80-foot height maximum allowed under the densest zoning designation for neighborhood business districts. The zoning code allows for an exception if the project is approved as a planned development, which would create custom zoning for the site.
"This is unbelievable, if not appalling," Ernst said. "This is zoning exploitation. A planned development is basically tearing up the zoning code, and it does not exist."
Alderman John Arena (45th) has said that he normally would not consider such a tall structure but that the site is unique because it is separated by the Kennedy Expressway from the closest single-family homes.
The building would feature six floors of apartments, five floors of parking and ground-floor storefronts. Arena has said that having more residential units near the commercial district will attract more stores, and he opposed a 6 1/2-story parking garage for the site in 2011 in part because the project had no residential component.
Association treasurer Ed Irsch expressed concern that the 12-story building would reflect noise from the expressway toward the homes to the east.
The site at 4849 N. Lipps Ave., which currently is used as a parking lot, is Lipps across from the area’s tallest building, the 145-foot tall, 10-story Veterans Square, 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave. The Mega Group owns Veterans Square and the Lipps site, which for many years was occupied by Cowhey Materials and Fuel, a concrete company.
The planned development would require Mega to remove its dumpsters from the sidewalk on Lipps. The alderman’s office has received complaints about the dumpsters, which at times are overflowing, and citations have been issued, an aide to Arena said.
Ernst said that it is ridiculous that the dumpster issue is being touted as one of the benefits of the proposed development when there are existing mechanisms to force their removal. The dumpsters are used by tenants of Veterans Square.
The association has a platform against upzoning, but 5 years ago it made an exception for the Lipps site, which is zoned for manufacturing uses. The association’s directors believed that a future manufacturing facility on the property was unlikely and called for the site to be rezoned to B1-2, which would allow a 50-foot building.
Association vice president Brian Wardman said that the density and height restrictions under B1-2 represent the prevailing conditions in the commercial district. The underlying zoning of the proposed planned development ordinance for the project would be B3-5.
A recent posting on the association’s Facebook Group page asks for comments on the proposal, and many of the first dozen respondents said that that they do not object to the concept but that they would like a building that is not as tall. In addition, some respondents said that the project would increase traffic on Ainslie, which is used by many motorists as a cut-through.
Also at the meeting, the board discussed the possibility of creating a neighborhood safety committee in response to an article about an increase in the number of shootings this year in the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District. Through Oct. 4 the district experienced a 180 percent increase in reported shootings compared to the same period last year, according to the Chicago Police Department.
However, some board members said that percentage increase is misleading because the 14 shootings in the district ranks near the bottom of the 22 police districts in the city. Eight of the shooting victims were suspected gang members, and most of the incidents occurred south of Irving Park Road, according to police.
The board also plans to send a letter to city officials asking them to consider using revenue from tax increment financing districts to address the city’s pension crisis. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed budget calls for a $544 million property tax increase over 4 years to cover city and fire pension payments.
TIF district funds generally are used for infrastructure improvements, including new roads and schools, but critics argue that the districts take revenue from other taxing bodies. At the time a TIF district is created, the assessed valuation of existing property is frozen for other taxing bodies, and the incremental increase in property tax revenue generated from increases in the assessed valuation goes to the district.
The association has a platform calling for the Jefferson Park Tax Increment District to be dissolved.
The board also decided to clarify its rules for those posting inappropriate comments on the association’s 600-member Facebook Group page. The rules include the immediate suspension of a poster’s account for making a derogatory, hateful or discriminatory comment. In addition, political ads will not be allowed, and one warning will be given to those who make a personal attack.
New association president Bob Bank recently removed Arena from the group, but a consensus was reached at the board meeting that the alderman should be allowed back into the Facebook Group if he makes a request to rejoin. Some board members said that Arena did not break any of the rules.
Bank has charged that Arena posted inaccurate information about the amount of property taxes that some Jefferson Park home owners would have to pay under a proposed special service area, which is intended to help revitalize the commercial district. Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh has said that the figures given by the alderman are accurate.
Bank also had some people removed because they were considered to be campaigning on behalf of a candidate. In one instance, a poster reportedly used a campaign sign as his Facebook picture.
Bank said that there will be increased communication among the administrators of the Facebook Group to help ensure that the rules are enforced fairly. He said that some instances a comment may be temporarily hidden while administrators discuss its appropriateness.
At one time the association’s Facebook Group was public, but it was changed to a private group because of amount of time it took to monitor comments, according to several board members. Those requesting to join the group do not have to be a paid member of the association.
Wardman said that when he receives a request to join the group, he confirms that the person has the correct "Jefferson Park," as there are other communities with the same name.
The association will hold a general membership meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, at the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St.