16-story Jeff Park building on Lipps okayed; possible 30-unit building on Lawrence


A 16-story development in Jefferson Park crossed its first zoning hurdle last week, and documents show that the developer has considered building a nearby apartment structure at 5237 W. Lawrence Ave. in addition to a previously announced project at 5201 W. Lawrence Ave.

The Chicago Plan Commission at its May 18 meeting approved rezoning a 25,000-square-foot parcel at 4849 N. Lipps Ave. to B3-5 and then to a planned development ordinance to accommodate the construction of a 211-foot-tall building. Several storefronts, 114 apartments and 200 interior parking spaces are planned for the site, which is located next to the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The building, named "Jefferson Place," would be 70 feet taller than the 10-story Veterans Square, 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave., which is located across from the proposed development site.

While no structural changes are planned for Veterans Square, it is being included in the development ordinance "to create a unified planning approach to the area’s development and parking needs," said a city Department of Planning and Development spokesman. The ordinance would create custom zoning for both properties.

Concerns were raised at the commission hearing that Jefferson Place would not conform to transit-oriented development guidelines, or TOD, because of the planned 200-space garage. TOD guidelines call for a small amount of parking for developments next to transit centers to encourage less driving and more use of public transportation.

Alderman John Arena (45th) has said that the Lipps
development site may need to be an exception to the parking guidelines because of the large crowds which the nearby 1,900-seat Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., attracts to the area. Some residents have expressed concern that a large garage would bring too many cars to the area, worsening traffic congestion.

The Lipps garage would not be a public garage with paid commuter parking, but accommodations would be allowed for concert-goers from Copernicus to pay a fee to park there, according to the planning department. However, park-and-ride commuter parking would continue at the existing underground garage at Veterans Square.

Officials from the Mega Group, which owns Veterans Square and the Lipps site, have said that several office floors at Veterans Square have remained vacant for years due to insufficient parking. The company had hoped for a 250-space Lipps garage, which would be used for tenants of both buildings, but planning department later rejected the garage.

Currently the Lipps parcel is used as a gravel parking lot for tenants at Veterans Square.

A parking study for the Lipps project states that about 170 parking spaces for events at Copernicus would be lost due to the future redevelopment of longtime vacant lots to the east and west of the Sportif Importer bike shop, 5225 W. Lawrence Ave.

Mega is planning to build the four-story Jefferson Park Residences with 39 apartments to the east of the bike shop, while a similar project has been in the planning stages for a parcel to the west of the bike shop, according to the traffic study, which was updated in April.

The building to the west of the bike shop would include 30 apartments, a 25-sapce parking garage and 7,670 square feet of retail space. Access to the garage would be from a north-south alley that runs between Lawrence Avenue and Giddings Street.

"The redevelopment of the vacant sites will eliminate up to 170 parking spaces currently used in the evenings for events at the Copernicus Center. These lots are fully utilized for large events such as the ‘Taste of Polonia’ and ‘Jeff Fest,’ and the proposed Jefferson Place parking garage will provide an important nearby replacement parking resource for these events," the study states.

At the commission’s hearing, resident Ron Ernst objected to the height of the proposed Jefferson Place, which would be the tallest building in the area. Ernst said that the proposed B3-5 zoning, which is the densest designation for community shopping districts, restricts height to 80 feet but that the planned development ordinance would remove that restriction.

"You are shoehorning a huge building into a very small space," Ernst said.

In addition, several residents testified that the proposal was 12 stories at the time Arena held a community meeting in 2015 but that subsequent meetings were not held to gather feedback on changes to the building’s height.

Resident Jean Brennan said that Arena gets input from a "private group of urban planners" but that those meetings are closed to the public. The Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association filed an open meetings complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which ruled against the association.

Resident Ben Goldsmith, who supports the project, said that he hears residents comparing Jefferson Park to the suburbs and that many nearby towns have successfully revitalized their business districts with increased density. "I don’t know why we’d be an exception," he said.

Resident Pete Czosnyka testified that the site is ideal for a tall, dense building because it is isolated from the area’s single-family homes. "This is at the heart of what would be a great Downtown (Jefferson Park)," he said of the proposal.

Arena said that the project would generate a larger customer base for area businesses. Several development projects are in the works for sites located within two blocks of the transit center, and those projects are expected to bring at least 400 new apartments to the area.

The City Council Zoning Committee was scheduled to consider the Jefferson Place proposal at its May 22 meeting, but the hearing was deferred. Notice of the zoning change must be republished in a newspaper because the original legal notice was printed more than a year ago.