Lawsuit filed to stop planned 16-story building in Jefferson Park
by BRIAN NADIG
A Jefferson Park resident has filed a lawsuit challenging the zoning for a planned 16-story building in Downtown Jefferson Park.
The lawsuit claims that the City Council’s long-standing practice of aldermanic prerogative meant that the community’s objections to the project were not considered and that the project would create a hardship on the community worsening traffic on streets.
The building would include ground-floor storefronts, several levels of parking and 114 apartments. It would be located on a former industrial parcel at 4849 N. Lipps Ave., next to the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal.
The lawsuit’s plaintiff is Ron Ernst, who is the former zoning committee chairman of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association and who is a frequent critic of Alderman John Arena (45th), who supports the project. The association collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition opposing the building’s height and other aspects of the project.
The defendants include the City of Chicago and Jefferson Park LLC, a limited liability company that was set up for the development.
The lawsuit alleges that objectors to the zoning had no hope of influencing the decision-making process due to the practice of council members’ deferring local matters to the alderman of the affected ward.
"The city’s recognized practice of aldermanic prerogative further deprived plaintiff of his guaranteed procedural due process rights, in that under such practice alderpersons on both the City’s Zoning Committee and at City Council hearings vote to approve rezonings strictly in accord with the local alderperson’s desire.
"The objections and concerns of both other alderpersons and the public are not considered, and thus there is no meaningful ‘public hearing’ which comports with basic principles of due process," the lawsuit states.
Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that there is a court ruling which acknowledges the existence of aldermanic prerogative. Brugh added that he would not comment on specifics of the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday afternoon, until he sees a copy of it.
The lawsuit also claims that the project was promoted as a transit-oriented development (TOD) but that it violates the concept of TOD because it would include a new 200-space parking garage, helping to turn the area into a busy park-and-ride for commuters. The site’s planned development ordinance also includes the existing 10-story Veterans Square building with 216 interior and exterior parking spaces at 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave.
While there will be restrictions on the type of parking allowed at the planned 200-space garage on Lipps, paid commuter parking will be allowed to continue at the garage at Veterans, according to the city Department of Planning and Development. Some residents have raised concerns that there would be an increase in commuter parking at Veterans once the new garage across the street opens.
The lawsuit alleges that the new parking garage would not be located on a major thoroughfare but on Lipps, which it compares to a side street "that is already overburdened with parking, pedestrians and CTA buses" and with no "conventional access to any major thoroughfares."
The lawsuits adds that transit-oriented-developments are intended to increase an area’s density without worsening traffic congestion because it should attract tenants who will not own cars and who will use public transportation and that the city’s TOD guidelines were designed to allow for reductions in parking requirements for developments close to transit centers. Normally one parking space per residential unit is required, but reductions can be sought if a property qualifies under TOD rules.
City officials have said that the new 200-space garage is needed in part to accommodate concertgoers at the nearby Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
Veterans Square was included in the planned development ordinance so that a significantly larger building than allowed under the site’s underlying B3-5 zoning could be constructed, according to the lawsuit.
The Veterans Square site on Milwaukee does not use all of the floor area permitted under B3-5 zoning, allowing the unused floor area to be allotted for the parcel on Lipps. Without the additional floor area allotment, the size of the intended building on Lipps would have to be reduced by more than 50 percent.
"With respect to floor area ratio, which controls the size/bulk of a development, the PD (Planned Development) was designed for no other reasons than to allow the unprecedented development of Sub-area A (Lipps site). Sub-area A and B (Veterans) are across the street from one another. They are not abutting or contiguous. They have had very different zoning classifications, scale and use for decades," the lawsuit states.
City officials have said that the two sites are being combined into one planned development ordinance to require the developer, the Mega Group, to use a professional parking company to manage the site’s parking garages and to require Mega to relocate dumpsters along the sidewalk behind Veterans to an enclosed area on the Lipps site.
The lawsuit states that the project would generate "a massive influx of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in an already burdened low-density residential and business neighborhood that will require additional curb cuts (and) that diminishes property values."
The lawsuit charges that the development would "force a large increase in traffic onto residential side streets," including Ainslie Street, which runs along the south end of the site.