Long-Argyle apartment plan approved after years of debate





by BRIAN NADIG

The City Council Zoning Committee at its Nov. 29 meeting approved zoning that allow construction of a four-story, 48-unit apartment building at the northeast corner of Long Avenue and Argyle Street, across Northwest Highway from the Jefferson Park Metra station.

About 1,500 people signed a petition opposing the project, which was an issue in the 45th Ward aldermanic election. Alderman John Arena called for increased density near transit centers in an effort to help revive area shopping districts, while his runoff challenger, John Garrido, pledged not to upzone the former industrial storage lot.

Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that the petition was circulated before the 2015 election and before the first community meeting on the project was held earlier this year. Brugh said that the proposed height of the building was reduced from five stories to four stories after the petition drive and that other concerns of residents were addressed at the community meeting.

“The alderman has not kept it a secret that he supports reasonable density in places adjacent to mass transit,” Brugh said.

The development is designed to attract young professionals who work Downtown or in the suburbs and who use public transportation, Brugh said. “We’ve already had inquires from people to live there,” he said.

Reaction to the project was mixed at the community meeting, with opposition coming from people who live closer to the site than supporters of the proposal.

The neighborhood north and east of the site is occupied mostly by single-family homes and two-flats, while several larger multi-family buildings are on Northwest Highway west of the site. Arena has said that he would have rejected the proposal if the site were a block further east or north.

A group of residents who live near the site sent a letter opposing the project to committee members. The proposed RM-5 zoning would allow 70 living units on the 28,181-square-foot site, but the proposed zoning amendment for the project would restrict construction to 48 units.

“People choose to live here because of low density,” the letter states. “It is a neighborhood of backyard barbecues, block parties and long-term residents. The development as proposed would not only be greatly out of character with the surrounding area, but also be the densest residential zoning in the immediate area.

“Neighborhood residents wish to keep the current RS-3 zoning intact. Many voiced concern that if this spot zoning is allowed at Long Avenue and Argyle Street, it could possibly establish a precedent and open up the whole neighborhood to high-density development.”

Developer American Colony proposed building single-family homes on the site when it acquired the property about 10 years ago, but company representatives have said that their original plans are no longer economically feasible. RS-3 zoning is intended for single-family homes and two-flats.

The letter also argues that higher density is not necessarily an effective way to attract businesses to the area.

“As for the benefits to the Jefferson Park business district, there are no guarantees that ‘if you build it, they (businesses) will come,’” the letter states. “Everyone wants a thriving business district, but will this high-density development really do much to bring in new businesses?

“In determining location, businesses look more at average household income versus neighborhood density. Nearby Park Ridge is an excellent example.”

The proposal calls for construction of two four-story buildings, each with 19 indoor parking spaces on the first floor and 24 apartments on the upper floors. The building also would have 10 outdoor spaces along the alley.

Project attorney John Pikarski Jr. said that efforts were made to have all of the parking indoors but that doing so would have required construction of an underground parking level and that would have been too costly. Access to the indoor parking would be from the alley, and there would be bike storage in an enclosed walkway that would connect the two buildings, Pikarski said.

Due to its proximity to the Metra station and the Jefferson Park CTA station, the development is eligible for a waiver of all parking requirements, but plans call for one parking space for each apartment, Brugh said.

Monthly rents are expected to range from about $1,600 to $2,200, Pikarski said. Construction is expected to start next year and to take up to a year e.

Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association board member Ron Ernst testified against the project at the Nov. 29 committee hearing.

Ernst has expressed concern that the ward’s advisory panel, which includes urban planners, discussed the project for 2 years behind closed doors before Arena held a public meeting on the proposal. Ernst said that the panel’s meetings should be open to the public so that interested parties can give their opinions early in the review process instead of months later when a community meeting is held.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office ruled in response to a complaint filed by the association that the advisory meetings are not subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The committee has no decision-making powers, and its meetings are kept closed in order to facilitate open dialogue among members, according to Brugh.

Arena has said that he received early reaction from home owners who discussed the proposal with him at ward nights at his office and that he requested revisions from the developer based on comments by residents.

Area resident Kurt Kuhlman, who was one of the organizers of the petition drive, said that he is disappointed that the views of people who live near the site did not take priority over those who live in other parts of Jefferson Park.  Kuhlman said that he and his neighbors would be affected by traffic and parking issues associated with the project.

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