15-year odyssey for Jefferson Park development site almost over


The City Council Zoning Committee at its March 27 meeting approved a long-anticipated project for Jefferson Park which calls for a four-story building with 35 market-rate and four affordable apartments to be built on several vacant lots at 5201 W. Lawrence Ave.

Also at the meeting, the committee approved zoning changes to accommodate a planned car dealership at 5351-91 N. Milwaukee Ave., a three-story residential building at 4015 N. Narragansett Ave. and a renovation project for a two-flat at 3943 N. Lowell Ave. The committee deferred action on a proposal to convert a Chicago Housing Authority-owned building at 3754-56 N. Central Park Ave. from a four-flat to a six-flat.

The planned 39-unit building a Lawrence and Laramie avenues represents a significant reduction in the project’s density from when it was first proposed 15 years ago.

At the time the city entered into an agreement with the site’s developer, the Mega Group, to build 132 condominiums in the 5200 and 5300 blocks of West Lawrence Avenue, and the city acquired several properties through eminent domain to accommodate the project. Under one proposal, the project would have been 10 stories tall.

Community opposition led then-alderman Patrick Levar to reject the proposal, and the site remained undeveloped for the next decade, in part due to recession of the late 2000s.

“This redevelopment site has a long history that pre-dates me as alderman,” Alderman John Arena (45th) told the committee. “This (new proposal) is something we’ve been working with the developer on for like 5 years. There’s support for this in my community.” Arena has been the ward’s alderman since 2011.

Mega owns half of the 40,900-square-foot development site, and the other half it is acquiring from the city for $1. Initially Mega agreed to reimburse the city for its $1.46 million of acquisition costs, but that agreement was terminated when the city failed to allow Mega to build 132 condominiums.

City officials have said that selling the land for $1 is financially prudent given that the land currently generates no tax revenue for the city and that market conditions are different than 10 years ago. The city-owned lots were recently valued at $530,000.

City Department of Planning and Development spokesman Peter Strazzabosco said that the closing on the sale of the land to Mega is expected to occur this fall. In 2015 the Community Development Commission initially rejected the sale of the property for $1, but it re-voted the following month and approved the proposal.

The sale of the city-owned property to Mega triggered an affordable housing requirement that at least 10 percent of the apartments be offered at below-market rents, with a targeted audience of households earning 60 percent of the area’s median income. The affordable monthly rents are projected to be $787 for an 830-square-foot unit and $944 for a 1,190-square-foot unit instead of $1,040 and $1,488 market rates for those units.

The largest unit in the building would measure 1,305 square feet, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The projected rent is $1,631.

Tenants would be allowed to rent a parking space inside the building for $100 a month. Plans call for a 41-space, ground-level parking garage in the rear of the 50-foot-tall building, which would be situated at the southwest corner of the Lawrence-Laramie intersection. A 21-space outdoor lot would be constructed at the southeast corner of the intersection.

The building also would contain 9,900 square feet of commercial space on the first floor. A redevelopment agreement for the project states that liquor and payday loan stores, currency exchanges and animal shelters would not be allowed.

City officials have said that Mega would have to provide letters of intent from prospective tenants for at least half of the commercial space before the city would finalize the transfer of land to Mega, which owns a 10-story building at 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave. and is planning to build a 15-story building at 4849 N. Lipps Ave.

The four-story project cannot be built under the property’s existing B3-2 zoning because Laramie separates the two parcels which make up the development site. Under the current zoning, the building would be limited to about 30 apartments.

To accommodate the construction, the committee approved a planned development ordinance which would create custom zoning for the site and which would limit construction to the current proposal.

Arena said that the decorative designed of the building, which includes balconies, would dress up “the front door” of the business district.

Two residents testified against the project. Ron Ernst called the sale of the land for $1 “a shady deal,” and Steve Gulyas said that “it was mind-boggling” given the financial crisis which the city is in.

Also at the hearing, the committee approved rezoning four lots in the 5300 block of North Milwaukee Avenue from B3-1 to C2-1 to accommodate plans for a new car dealership. The site was once home to Gateway Chevrolet, and most of the property already is zoned to permit auto sales.

Marino Chrysler Jeep Dodge, 5133 W. Irving Park Road, is using the site for vehicle storage. Anthony Marino said that he hopes to open a new dealership on Milwaukee but that additional land is needed for the project.

A resident raised concerns that on-street parking would be lost if Parkside Avenue between Milwaukee and Lovejoy Avenue were to be vacated for the project. At a community meting last year, several residents recommended that the city sell Parkside to Marino, but Arena told the committee that no decision has been made on the issue.

Marino later said that he does not know if he would want Parskide to be vacated.

The committee also approved a plan to rezone from B3-1 to B2-2 the former site of a canoe shop at Narragansett and Cuyler avenues to allow for a 15-unit residential building. It also approved rezoning from RS-2 to RT-3.5 the site of a two-flat near Lowell Avenue and Irving Park Road to allow for the build out of the third-floor attic.