Long-Argyle project clears last zoning hurdle at Nov. 17 hearing





by BRIAN  NADIG

A plan to build a 48-unit apartment complex at 5342-52 W. Argyle St. cleared its last zoning hurdle when the Zoning Board of Appeals at its Nov. 17 meeting approved a series of yard variations.

About 1,600 area residents have signed a petition opposing the project, but board member Sam Toia said that it seemed unusual that only one resident, former Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association president Robert Bank, was testifying against the project at the board’s hearing.

Bank told the board that he was not surprised by the low turnout because residents have become cynical when it comes to trusting the powers-to-be to follow the community’s wishes. He said that hundreds of residents attended hearings on a controversial zoning proposal at 5150 N. Northwest Highway but that the City Council Zoning Committee approved the zoning despite the objections.

The council already has approved the zoning required for the four-story Argyle project, but several variations to allow reduced yard setbacks are needed from the zoning board, which acts independently of the council.

“I think the general public does not see the difference between the (council’s) zoning committee and the zoning board,” Bank testified.

“We are the people’s board,” Toia said. “I come at it from the neighborhood’s point of view, and why didn’t it fit in with the neighborhood?”

The project would be out of character with the neighborhood because the block consists primarily of single-family homes and two-flats, and residents are concerned that an influx of living units could worsen the overcrowding at Beaubien School, 5025 N. Laramie Ave., Bank said.

At a community meeting last year, residents living near the site tended to oppose the proposal due to parking, traffic and height concerns, while those living farther away supported the project.

Alderman John Arena (45th) has said that he supports the project as part of an effort to bring increased density near transit centers, as the development site is kiddie-corner to the Jefferson Park Metra Station at Northwest Highway and Milwaukee Avenue.

Zoning board chairman Blake Sercye asked project officials to demonstrate “a hardship” which would necessitate the need for the yard variations, which include a reduction of the rear setback from the required 32.4 feet to 7.25 feet and the west setback from the required 10 feet to zero.

Project attorney John Pikarski Jr. said that the variations would allow for a planned the U-shaped design of the complex, with a landscaped courtyard in the middle. He said that without the variations, a rectangular building with smaller apartments would have to be situated in the middle of the site and that some of the planned 48 parking spaces may have to be eliminated.

Pikarski said that the project’s design is based on suggestions from the 45th Ward’s advisory committee, whose meetings are closed to the public. The committee includes urban planners and architects who are appointed by Arena, and an aldermanic aide has said that the meetings are kept private to facilitate a free exchange of ideas.

If the variations were denied, nothing could be built under the site’s new RM-5 zoning because it was approved as a Type 1 zoning amendment, which requires the building to be constructed without any changes to its design, Pikarski said. It was known that some variations would be needed at the time the zoning was approved, he said.

Also at the hearing, Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran of Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park testified that while her organization was not taking a stance on the proposed variations, the group supports plans to designate five of the 48 as “affordable,” which would be provided at below-market rents to families earning about 60 percent of the area’s median income.

The development site was once a storage yard for cement-mixing trucks. About 10 years ago the project’s developer had proposed building single-family homes on the site.

Also at the board’s meeting, it approved a special use request to establish an indoor sports and recreation facility with batting cages at 5596 N. Northwest Hwy. Windy City Baseball will be managing the facility, which will be used for baseball and softball training.