Fundraiser set for lawsuit against planned 16-story building in Jefferson Park
by BRIAN NADIG
A lawsuit against the planned 16-story building in Jefferson Park and school funding concerns were discussed at the Jan. 31 meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.
Association president Colleen Murphy said that resident Ron Ernst filed a lawsuit last fall objecting to a zoning change which allows for what would become the tallest building in Jefferson Park. Ernst is an association board member, but the association is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The structure, which would include a ground-floor commercial space and 114 apartments, is being built on a former industrial parcel at 4849 N. Lipps Ave., which is located behind the 10-story Veterans Square office building at 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave. The new building, which is being developed by the Mega Group, would be about 70 feet taller than Veterans Square.
More than 1,000 people signed a petition against the project, but Alderman John Arena (45th) has called for more density around the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave., in an effort to revitalize the area. The association has a general policy of opposing up-zonings.
While the City Council has approved a planned development ordinance to accommodate the project, a construction permit has not been issued. The Veterans Square site was included in the ordinance to allow for a larger land area so that a bigger building than permitted under the project’s underlying B3-5 zoning could be built, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit charges that the project would violate the tenants of transit-oriented development because its planned 200-space garage would turn the area into a busy park-and-ride for commuters. The building would be located not on a major thoroughfare but on Lipps, which compares to a side street that "is already overburdened with parking, pedestrians and CTA buses."
While the project’s development ordinance does not allow for paid commuter parking at the new garage, there would be no restrictions at Veterans Square, which also owned by Mega. Veterans Square has a total of 216 outdoor and indoor spaces.
Murphy said that donations to help Ernst pay legal expenses can be made at gofundme.com and that a fund-raiser will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Paterno’s Pizza, 5303 N. Milwaukee Ave. The cost is $30, which includes food and pop.
A status hearing on the lawsuit is set for Thursday, March 8, in Cook County Circuit Court.
Also at the association’s meeting, Chicago Teachers Union policy adviser Kurt Hilgendorf expressed concerns about the student-based budgeting which the Chicago Public Schools has used the past few years. On the average about $4,300 is allocated to each school for each of its students, according to the union.
Hilgendorf said that the funding formula treats "every kid regardless of need" the same and that schools with declining enrollments face a difficult time recovering because they keep losing resources due to their smaller budgets, with predominantly black and Latino schools hit particularly hard.
"That creates great inequity among the schools," Hilgendorf said. The lack of proper funding has led to a reduction from 454 to 139 librarians in the school system since 2012, and there is a great need for more counselors and social workers to help students with college planning and a variety of personal issues, he said.
Hilgendorf also raised concerns that tax increment financing districts in the city are taking away large amounts of revenue from the school system. Under TIF rules, the city receives the property tax revenue generated from increases in a district’s assessed value of land, with the other taxing bodies not sharing in that increment.
The city uses TIF funds to pay for roadway and other public infrastructure projects, including school building improvements, and TIF funds also can be used to subsidize private developments. Some elected officials have called for TIF fund surpluses to be allocated to the school system.
Ernst, who serves as the association zoning and development committee chairman, said that the association opposes TIF districts.
"It’s just siphoning money (from other taxing bodies)," Ernst said. "They should all be abolished."