Jefferson Place plan approved by zoning panel
by BRIAN NADIG
The City Council Zoning Committee at its June 22 meeting approved plans to construct the proposed 16-story Jefferson Place project on a former industrial parcel at 4849 N. Lipps Ave. next to the Jefferson Park Transit Center.
Alderman John Arena (45th) said that the proposed project would help end stagnation in the area’s business district and that project opponents have the option of voting for another candidate in 2019 when he is up for re-election.
Arena reportedly made his remarks at the meeting when a resident asked how the project could be stopped.
Jefferson Place, with 114 apartments, several storefronts and 200 parking spaces, would be about 70 feet taller than the existing 10-story Veterans Square office building, 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave. The planned development ordinance approved by the committee would govern both buildings.
The Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association collected about 1,000 signatures on a petition against the 16-story project, charging that it would be too tall for a community of mostly single-family homes, worsen school overcrowding and increase traffic congestion. Several association members have said that Arena should have held a second community meeting on the proposal, which initially called for 12 stories and 96 apartments. The only community meeting on the proposal was held in September of 2015.
The building’s height was increased by four floors to improve its design, Arena said. Residents complained that the original design resembled a "mammoth" brick wall but that a revised plan calls for a staggered design which breaks up the building’s mass, he said.
Arena has said that increased density near the commercial area would play a key role in attracting more businesses to the area, and the Jefferson Park Forward neighborhood group has endorsed that concept. He said that the "face" of the commercial area has become vacant lots in recent years.
"By increasing density in a responsible way, Jefferson Place will support neighboring businesses such as the Copernicus Center, the Ed Paschke Art Center, the Gift Theater, Windy City Musical Theater, Gorilla Sushi, Weston’s Coffee and Tap Co. and others," Arena said after the committee’s hearing. Weston’s, which will feature craft beer on tap, is opening later this year at 4872 N. Milwaukee Ave., across from the transit center.
"Jefferson Place will help breathe new life into downtown Jefferson Park by answering the demand for quality rental housing, leasable retail and flexible parking," Arena said. "It leverages the multiple transportation options that are Jefferson Park’s best assets."
About 400 new apartments are in the works on properties located within two blocks of the transit center at 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave.
All of those units would be located in the attendance areas of Beaubien School and Taft High School, two of the city’s most overcrowded schools, but developers have argued that these developments would appeal mostly to empty-nesters and young professionals who do not have school-age children. The school system is looking into opening a new freshman campus on the Northwest Side to alleviate overcrowding at Taft.
Opponents of the project have argued that there is no guarantee a density increase would attract retailers, given the competition brick and mortar stores face from online sales. Several national retailers have announced plans this year to close stores.
At the hearing, resident Frank Suerth expressed concern that the planned parking garage for Jefferson Place would be too large given the area’s public transportation options. The city’s zoning code was recently rewritten to allow for more transit-oriented developments, which call for increased density and less parking near transit centers in an effort to increase bus and train ridership.
"There is no need for a parking garage at the largest transit center outside of the Loop," Suerth said.
The project’s developer has contended that additional "parking is needed to rent office space in the adjacent 10-story (Veterans Square) building. Sign on that building tells a different story: Park and ride – $15 cash," Suerth said.
Veterans Square has about 215 outdoor and indoor parking spaces, and the building’s owner, the Mega Group, has maintained that it cannot attract enough tenants to the site because of a lack of parking. At least two floors in the building have been vacant for years.
Under the terms of the planned development ordinance, Mega would be prohibited from using the new garage for paid commuter parking but that there would be no such restriction on Veterans Square, according to the city Department of Planning and Development. The new garage would be available for concerts at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
Suerth said that there area several existing parking portions in the area, including a new 36-space Spot Hero parking lot at 4829 N. Lipps Ave. Northwestern College recently relocated classes from its Lipps building to its facility at 4811 N. Milwaukee Ave.
About 15 residents reportedly testified against the Jefferson Place development and three in support of it. It would include 11 affordable housing units and a rooftop solarium, and the parking garage would be on the second through sixth floors, with the apartments on the upper levels.
In other development news, a TCF Bank spokeswoman recently said that a decision on the future of the company’s branch at 4930 N. Milwaukee Ave. could be decided in about 2 months. TCF is rebranding all of its branches, and the Jefferson Park location could be redesigned as part of a larger mixed-use development.