Arena to hold teleconference instead of traditional community meeting on 5150 project
by BRIAN NADIG
The controversial proposed mixed-income housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. in Jefferson Park appears to be moving forward, as Alderman John Arena (45th) plans to hold a teleconference Aug. 14 regarding the plan before taking steps to rezone the property.
Arena announced earlier this week that he would hold a teleconference town hall from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, so that residents can learn more about the project and ask questions before the site is rezoned to accommodate a seven-story building with 75 apartments. The Chicago Plan Commission could hold a public hearing on the proposal as early as September.
Additional financing for the project is required, but it is not unusual for the Chicago City Council to approve a zoning ordinance prior to the applicant being ready to complete the purchase of the land. The Illinois Housing Development Authority denied the issuance of low-income housing tax credits for the proposal in 2017 and also earlier this year. The developer can re-apply for the tax credits in January for 2019.
Those wanting to participate in the teleconference are asked to call 312-792-3983 on Tuesday evening.
News of the teleconference quickly sparked a debate on social media. Some project opponents charged that Arena does not want to face his constituents at a traditional community meeting, while some supporters said the teleconference accommodates those with disabilities and others who would otherwise struggle to travel to a meeting.
“Neighbors for Affordable Housing is pleased to learn that the proposal is moving ahead and looks forward to a productive conversation about ways that the building can meet community needs for lower-income families, veterans and people with disabilities. The teleconference format should allow more people to participate and receive information in a less emotional format, and it will be easier for people with disabilities, childcare needs and transportation difficulties to participate,” the group said in a statement.
Northwest Side Unite has called for a community meeting with live streaming and call-in options so residents can participate in person or from their home.
“This controlled and limited phone-call (conference) further seeks to stifle the community’s voices by not providing adequate notice and not allowing open discourse,” Unite said in statement. “This shows a lack of leadership and courage to seek compromise that we have been fighting for (and) to address the community’s concerns about overcrowded schools, lack of police presence, increased traffic, lack of parking, both regular and only two handicapped accessible spaces.”
On Facebook, Arena has indicated that the “teleconference is to address any questions that haven’t been addressed already at the large community meeting (in 2017), the numerous meetings with community organizations, the multiple plan commission and zoning committee meetings, the dozens of ward nights or the hundreds of phone calls, e-mails, Facebook messages or conversations at the door over the last 18 months.”
Hundreds of people were denied entry to the community meeting last year due to capacity issues or because they lived outside of the ward, as identification was checked at the door.
Plans call for 15 of the units to be leased at the market rate and for the other 60 apartments to be leased at a discounted rate to those families with household incomes at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income.
“The CHA units will be interspersed throughout the affordable units,” said a spokesman for the developer, Full Circle Communities.
Arena has signed a pledge calling for at least 50 new Chicago Housing Authority units in the ward by 2019 in an effort to help end segregation in the ward’s communities.
Several other North and Northwest Side aldermen also signed the pledge for their wards.
Plans also call for 15 of the units to be reserved exclusively for veterans, while the remaining 60 units will have a tenant preference for veterans, following by a preference for those with a disability, according to Full Circle.
Plans have called for the first floor of the proposed building to include offices for nonprofit agencies. A 2017 document submitted to the state housing board showed that the Night Ministry was under consideration as one of the office tenants.
Initial plans called for only a storage facility on the 1.54-acre parcel, but Arena had the property downzoned to halt that plan.
The parcel’s owner, LSC Development, later sued the city, and a subsequent agreement between the city and owner calls for the five-story storage facility, which is under construction, to be built on the northern half of the site and a housing development on the southern half. Full Circle plans to purchase half of the parcel.