Overflow crowd for meeting on housing project; protesters chant outside church


Resident Steve Gulyas wonders why Alderman John Arena (45th) did not solicit input on the redevelopment of the former Archdiocese of Chicago food processing plant months ago.

“This seems like a done deal,” Gulyas said at a Feb. 9 community meeting on a plan to build a five-story, self-storage warehouse and a seven-story, mixed-income housing project on the 1.54-acre site at Milwaukee Avenue and Northwest Highway.

The meeting drew a crowd of about 700 people to the Branch Community Church, 6125 W. Foster Ave., but only about half of them were allowed in due to capacity concerns. Admittance also was restricted to 45th Ward residents, as identification was checked at the door.

Gulyas said that community input on possible commercial and other uses for the site should have been solicited last spring when the city decided to downzone the property in an effort to attract a larger development than the initial plan to build only a storage warehouse there. Arena has said that a storage facility by itself would do little for the area’s economic vitality.

Gulyas said that he has attended too many community meetings where a formal plan is presented and “this is it.” He said that resident input should start before “all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.”

Arena said that he holds a community meeting on each zoning proposal in the ward and that he will make revisions based on input from the meetings. He also often vets proposals with his advisory committee but those meetings are closed to the public.

Arena said that while the storage component of the project is likely to move forward this spring, he has not made up his mind on the housing plan. He said that he will be taking into consideration viewpoints on the project which residents not at the meeting have expressed.

At the the 2 ½-hour meeting, little support for the project was voiced, and it was contentious throughout. “If you don’t stop shouting, I’m not going to answer any more questions,” Arena said.

Concerns were raised that the project would attract tenants with criminal and drug problems and that there was no guarantee that the building would cater to veterans. Representatives of Full Circle Communities, the project’s developer, have said that the building would be marketed heavily to veterans and that 20 of the units would be reserved exclusively for veterans.

Some of the social agencies which Full Circle works with to recruit veterans specialize in treating those with drug-abuse problems, according to some residents.

Monthly rents would range from $400 to $1,700. Sixty of the units would be reserved for those earning about $46,000, or 60 percent of the area’s median income, while 20 CHA-subsidized units would be reserved for those earning about $23,000. Tenants would be subject to background checks.

Arena said that the building’s tenants would be beneficial to area businesses. “They’ll purchase vegetables at grocery stores just like you,” he said.

Several residents expressed concern that too many dense projects are planned for Jefferson Park and that they would lead to more crime and would worsen the overcrowding at area schools. One resident objected to the height of a planned 15-story building at Ainslie Street and Lipps Ave.

About 3,700 people have signed online petitions against the mixed-income housing project, and about 200 people signed similar petitions which were distributed at the meeting.

“If it is such a good idea, why don’t you put it in Six Corners in your backyard instead of mine?” one resident asked Arena.

Arena responded that he approved a 98-unit affordable senior housing project in Six Corners several years ago. Several residents said that senior housing is not comparable to the project planned for Jefferson Park.

Some audience members asked Arena to hold a second community meeting because there was not not enough time for them to make their comments. Arena said he would take into consideration their request.

At times during the meeting protest chants could be heard from those outside the church.

Editor’s note: Additional coverage of the meeting will be posted at Nadignewspapers.com during the next few days.