Alderman supports Argyle plan


Alderman John Arena (45th) has announced that he supports a proposed four-story, 48-unit apartment complex at 5342 W. Argyle St.

Winnemac Avenue resident Kurt Kuhlman said that the announcement is not a surprise. “From day one he has sided with the developers, insisting they cannot reach their price point by building single-family homes or staying within the current zoning,” Kuhlman said in reference to an online post by Arena in 2014.

The RS-3 zoning of the site is intended for single-family homes and two-flats. Project developer American Colony planned to build singe-family homes on the vacant former industrial site 8 years ago, but project officials said at a May 16 community meeting that their original plan is no longer economically feasible.

Arena’s advisory committee, which includes architects and urban planners, has discussed the project several times in the past 3 years, but committee meetings are closed to the public. The meetings are kept private to allow for a free exchange of ideas among members, according to an Arena aide.

The Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association has sought to have the committee’s meetings open to the public under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, but Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office recently rejected the group’s request.

Association board member Ron Ernst said that the alderman’s committee should have met with residents who live next to the site to ensure that their concerns were addressed “Those residents should have been brought in at the very beginning, not at the very end when the community meeting was finally held,” Ernst said.

Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that the alderman requested several changes to the project based on concerns which residents had expressed in the past 3 years and that it would be wrong to suggest that Arena decided to support the project in 2014.

“The building was split in two to lessen the massing,” Arena said in his weekly newsletter. “And the height of the building was reduced by one floor. Were the building proposed even a block north or east of Long and Argyle, I would not support it. However, this location, with direct access to transit, is perfect for a multi-unit building appealing to young professionals looking for quick access to the Loop and O’Hare.”

Arena said at the community meeting that the site of the project qualifies for a “reasonable” density increase due to its proximity to the Jefferson Park Metra station, but he stopped short of endorsing the proposal. Residents who live closest to the site tended to express opposition to the project at the meeting, while those who live farther away were more likely to support the proposal.

“Neighbors seeking to keep the character of their neighborhood have always felt pushback on this issue,” Kuhlman said. “Meetings with the alderman on his ward nights turned contentious when individuals and groups voiced their displeasure with the proposed development.”

Kuhlman said that the number of planned rental units has remained unchanged since the project was first reported in the spring of 2014.

“This high-density development will have a major impact on our neighborhood,” Kuhlman said. “Those that dictate what’s good for us won’t be the ones dealing with a revolving door of 48 new neighbors, unprecedented alley traffic, and everything else that goes with high-density living.

“It is totally out of character with the existing neighborhood, and saying that the project wouldn’t even be considered if it was one block in any other direction is of little consolation. The neighborhood’s existing character is no different one block in any other direction.”

Kuhlman was an organizer of a petition drive against the project which was signed by about 1,500 residents.

The neighborhood to the north and east of the site consists primarily of single-family homes and two-flats, with multi-family buildings to the west. The proposal calls for the apartments to be built over enclosed ground-floor parking, with one space per unit, and for a 4,700-square-foot courtyard between the two buildings, each with 24 units.

Arena has expressed support for several new apartment projects in Jefferson Park in recent months. The four projects, the largest of which is a 13-story building, would bring 206 new rental units to the area.

“The area needs some density to help spur business activity in the Jefferson Park shopping district,” Arena wrote in his 2014 statement on the Long-Argyle plan. “I have been open and transparent about my economic development approach. The important part is finding ways to achieve that while holding close to the residential feel of the neighborhood. I believe we can find a balance without over building.”

Some opponents of the plan have said that national retailers are more interested in the average household income of an area than density when deciding where to open a new store.

Jefferson Park Forward president Ryan Richter said that the neighborhood organization has not taken a position on the Long-Argyle proposal. However, he said, “We view increased transit-oriented development around our transit center as a key tool for economic development and are fully supportive of projects of this type.”

The City Council is expected to approve a zoning ordinance for the project this fall.