5150 teleconference addresses school issues, veterans’ preference for planned apartments
by BRIAN NADIG
At an Aug. 14 teleconference town hall, several of the questions about a proposed mixed-housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway centered around its impact on the area’s overcrowded schools, financing for the project and plans to give veterans a preference to live there.
Alderman John Arena (45th) said last week that the project is moving forward and that the teleconference was intended to give residents a chance to ask questions on issues which have not been previously addressed.
Project developer Joshua Wilmoth of Full Circle Communities said that “on average” a 75-unit building would generate less than five children per grade.
Arena said during the teleconference that while plans to open a pre-kindergarten center at the former Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., have been delayed, school system officials have assured him that plans are “still moving forward,” possibly in a year, and that it would help free up classrooms at area elementary schools. The school system has not signed a lease for the former parochial school.
The Full Circle development would be one of several new apartment buildings which are expected to be built in the attendance area of the Beaubien School, 5025 N. Laramie Ave.
Fifteen of the planned 75 apartments would be leased at market rate, while the remaining 60 units would be leased at a below-market rate to families with household incomes at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income. In addition, some of the units would be subsidized by the Chicago Housing Authority, and 15 of the 75 units would be reserved exclusively for veterans, who would be giving a preference for the remaining units, followed by a preference for those with a disabilities, according to the project’s developer, Full Circle Communities.
The upper floors of the seven-story building would be set back from the sidewalk to reduce its “massing” effect and that the sidewalk on the Northwest Highway portion of the site would be widened as part of the project’s pedestrian-friendly goals, Wilmoth said. He said that the site’s proximity to a transit center would open up job opportunities to the building’s tenants, as they could easily travel to the Loop or O’Hare Airport.
Financing has not been secured for the project, but it is not unusual for the City Council to approve a zoning change prior to the developer being able to buy the land or build the development. The Chicago Plan Commission could hold a public hearing on the project as early as its meeting on Thursday Sept. 13.
Wilmoth said that the process for obtaining low-housing tax credits for the project is highly competitive and approval is “not guaranteed” for 2019 but that “the goal is to have people moving into the building by the end of 2020.” The state housing board rejected tax credits for the project in 2017 and 2018.
The proposal was reduced from 100 apartments to 75 to help make the project more feasible. “Shrinking the building … made it more possible to finance down the road,” Arena said during the teleconference.
Another caller asked if preferences for tenants in the building would be given to existing “rent-burdened” families in Jefferson Park in addition to veterans and the disabled.
Wilmoth said that it is against the law to give a preference based on where one lives but that marketing efforts would be directed to those living in Jefferson Park to facilitate their chances of becoming a tenant in the Full Circle building.
It also was reported during the teleconference that the first floor of the building would be managed by a local nonprofit agency which operates a church in Norwood Park and that it would include administrative offices for a variety of nonprofit agencies and start-up businesses.
Arena said that while an agency which serves the homeless has been looking at having an office there, reports of a homeless shelter on the ground floor are false. He said that the site is not zoned for a shelter and that “it’s not what we’ve looking for here,” adding that there would not be sufficient space for a shelter.
The seven-story, mixed-income housing proposal has been in the works for 2 ½ years, as project developer Full Circle met with Arena in early 2016 to discuss a 150-unit development in the ward.
Hundreds were turned away last year at a community meeting on the 100-unit housing proposal due to capacity issues or because they did not live in the 45th Ward, as identification was checked at the door.
It was never announced at the meeting that Arena had signed a legal document to support the site’s rezoning to allow a housing development and a self-storage facility on the property about a week before the meeting. The document was part of a settlement agreement to a lawsuit between the city and the site’s owner, LSC Development, after Arena had the property downzoned to halt original plans to have only a storage warehouse on the parcel.
The housing plan has sparked a storm of controversy on social media, and some city workers are facing disciplinary for their online comments against the housing proposal. Arena’s office kept a spreadsheet of about 80 current and former government workers who allegedly made racially charged comments regarding the proposal, including comparisons to Cabrini Green.
In recent weeks the firefighters reportedly have been asked questions about their views on race during disciplinary hearings, and an investigation is pending by the Chicago Office of Police Accountability against 31 police officers for their comments.