Long-Argyle developer says reduced density for apartment plan not feasible




by BRIAN NADIG

Representatives of American Colony Homes said at a May 16 community meeting that the only option for development of a former industrial site at Long Avenue and Argyle Street is the proposed four-story, 48-unit apartment complex.

The proposal drew a mixed reaction from the more than 150 people who attended the meeting.

Project attorney John Pikarski Jr. said that his client could go to court seeking a declaratory judgment that would allow it to build the apartment complex if the city denies the zoning request.

Pikarski said that it would be "difficult to defend denying this project" because to the west of the site are existing multi-family buildings and the Jefferson Park Metra station. Recent revisions to the zoning code were intended to encourage dense residential developments near around transit centers.

"If you want a concrete yard, you can have a concrete yard," a company official told residents. "There’s not another option." The site was once a storage yard for the Cowhey Materials and Fuel concrete company.

The company acquired the property in 2004 and proposed building single-family homes on the site. American Colony Homes’ Web site has a rendering of the project, stating that the homes start in the mid-600,000s, but company representatives have said that the original plan for the site is no longer economically feasible.

A woman asked project officials to consider building only 24 apartments with some houses next to it, while a man said that if the project is "a done deal" the company should be required to address the concerns of the immediate neighbors. The man said that he would like more landscaping around the perimeter of the property and for access to the first-floor parking garages to be from Long instead of from the alley.

Alderman John Arena (45th) did not endorse the proposal at the meeting, but he said that he feels that the site qualifies for a "reasonable" density because of the nearby transit center. Arena has supported several recent zoning projects in and near the Jefferson Park commercial district because he has said that the area needs more people to support local stores.

Jefferson Park Forward co-founder Ryan Richter said that proposals like the one by American Colony Homes would give the commercial district the "shot in the arm" which it needs. He said that having more people who live within walking distance of the commercial area is important because some stores have little or no parking.

However, several residents said that increasing the density in the area would not necessarily attract more stores and restaurants and that average household income is the most important factor that national chains consider when choosing a location.

Other residents contended that the site is part of a residential block that consists mostly of single-family homes and two-flats and that a large apartment complex would not be appropriate. Plans call for construction of two 24-unit buildings, with interior parking on the first floor and rents projected to be from $1,600 to $1,900.

Many of the 30 residents who spoke at the meeting commented on the planned 48 interior parking spaces. Some residents said that the apartments would attract tenants who do not need more than one parking space because they would commute to work via public transportation and that some would rely on ride-sharing services when they need a car.

Others said that side streets in the area already are congested with parked cars and that it would be foolish to assume that the average family in the building would have only one car. A woman said that the site is a short drive from both the Edens and Kennedy expressways, making the project ideal for families with automobiles.

Arena said that there may be an opportunity to create additional public parking on Argyle by lifting a parking ban in front of the site but that he would not support requiring two on-site parking spaces per unit.

The transit-oriented development section of the zoning code reduces parking requirements for projects like American Colony Homes’ proposal because the city recognizes that projects near transit centers attract tenants who do not have cars, Arena said.

Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association Zoning Committee chairman Ron Ernst said that the proposal does not address the concerns of residents because Arena’s zoning advisory committee vetted the project without inviting residents who live near the site to its meetings. "This is a completely flawed process," Ernst said.

The committee’s meetings are not open to the public, and Arena has said that the committee, which includes architects and urban planners, discussed the project on several occasions. Project representatives have attended some of those meetings.

Arena said that changes to the project, including a reduction in height from five stories to four stories, have been made based on a consensus of opinions expressed by residents. He said that a few residents have told him that they would prefer that the project remain at five stories.

"I’ve heard a broad set of concerns," Arena said. "To say I didn’t hear the community is patently false."

Arena has a policy of letting his committee vet projects before holding a community meeting. In 2014 about 1,600 people signed a petition opposing the project.

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