Association concerned projects could worsen school overcrowding, parking congestion


Concerns that proposals for housing developments near the Jefferson Park CTA and Metra stations would increase school overcrowding and parking congestion were discussed at the Feb. 28 meeting of the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association.

"You’re talking at least 400 apartments with all these projects," association vice president John Garrido said. "There has to be a limit on density. Otherwise, why don’t you put two Sears towers next to the Blue Line."

The association opposes a proposal to build a seven-story mixed-income housing project with 100 apartments at 5150 N. Northwest Highway Hwy., and it has called for the site to be redeveloped with no buildings taller than four stories. The height limit was recommended in a Gladstone Park master plan for commercial areas north of the Kennedy Expressway.

Other proposals for the area call for a four-story building with 48 units at 5342-44 W. Argyle St., a 15-story building with 114 units at 4849 N. Lipps Ave. and a four-story building with 39 units at 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. A mixed-use project also is being considered for several properties at 4900-08 N. Milwaukee Ave., but plans have not been announced.

Garrido reported that he recently learned about a retail-residential development that is being considered for the site of TCF Bank, 4930 N. Milwaukee Ave. Under the B3-2 zoning of the property, about 50 apartments could be built on the site.

A bank spokeswoman said that TCF is re-branding its branches, which can involve remodeling an existing facility, building a smaller branch as part of a redevelopment or moving the branch elsewhere. "We have not yet made a decision regarding the branch located at 4930 N. Milwaukee Ave., but we are in active discussions," the spokeswoman said.

Each of the developments would be within a block of the transit stations, and city officials have said that most of the projects would be designed to attract young professionals who would take public transportation to work.

Alderman John Arena (45th) has said that an influx of new residents would attract businesses to the area and that he is committed to his campaign pledge in 2015 to bring "modest" density to the development sites near the transit stations. Arena was re-elected in an aldermanic run-off race against Garrido.

Residents expressed concern at the association’s meeting that the density of the projects would increase enrollment at Beaubien School and Taft High School, which are the neighborhood schools for each of the development sites. The Chicago Public Schools’ Web site states that Beaubien is operating at 130 percent of its capacity and that Taft is at 146 percent.

With 51three-bedroom units, the Northwest Highway project could have 80 to 100 children living there, Garrido said. Plans call for the development to include a small playground and 62 parking spaces, which is 38 fewer than the zoning code usually requires because exemptions are granted for properties near transit centers.

Arena has said that Beaubien would get some relief from overcrowding when pre-kindergarten classes are transferred to an early education center that the school system is opening at the former Saint Cornelius School. Construction of a freshman campus for Taft is being considered, but the Chicago Board of Education is about a year away from making a decision on that proposal.

The Northwest Highway project has stirred additional protests following news that Arena and zoning administrator Patricia Scudiero have agreed to support rezoning the 1.54-acre site to allow construction of a five-story storage warehouse and a dense residential project. The settlement agreement was reached in January, but it was not mentioned at a Feb. 9 community meeting that Arena held on the project.

The agreement resulted from a lawsuit that the developer for the property filed after the city revoked the company’s permit to retrofit the existing three-story industrial building on the site to a warehouse. Arena has said that he stopped the original project because building only a warehouse would do little to help revitalize the commercial area.

Association president Joe DiCiaula said that city officials "backed us into a corner" by approving a dense zoning designation before seeking the opinions of residents.

Association leaders are urging residents to collect signatures for a petition which calls for a scaled-back development for the site.

"Spot zoning and extreme density as planned will put a strain on our overcrowded schools, create congestion, cause a parking nightmare and have an adverse impact on the welfare of the community," the petition states. More than 5,000 people reportedly have signed other petitions against the project.

The association also is asking residents to donate money to pay for an attorney to help fight the development. An online "Go Fund Me" account has been set up to collect donations.

A resident said that if residents can file a lawsuit challenging the settlement agreement, it could slow the project and put its financing at risk with interest rates rising.

Another resident said that families move to Gladstone Park and Jefferson Park to avoid the traffic and parking congestion of neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park and that the housing proposals run counter to the single-family and two-flat character of the area.

The Chicago Plan Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on a planned development ordinance for the Northwest Highway site at its meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 16, at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. The ordinance calls for the site to be rezoned to B3-5, the densest classification for community shopping districts.

The ordinance includes details of the warehouse plan but not the residential portion of the project. Full Circle Communities is expected to return later this year to present its housing proposal to the commission.

The building would include 60 affordable apartments and 20 CHA-subsidized low-income units, with monthly rates as low as $400.

A man at the meeting that he was surprised that the project is being proposed as a seven-story building because the recent trend for mixed-income housing has been to construct low-rise developments. "They’re not putting these towers up anywhere else because they don’t work," he said.

The association’s next meeting will he held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at Rosedale Park, 6312 W. Rosedale Ave.