Concerns raised on mixed-use project
by BRIAN NADIG and CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Editor’s note: William Swanson contributed to this report.
A proposed five-story, mixed-use complex at 5850 W. Belmont Ave. sparked a wide range of concerns ranging from alley use, increased traffic, empty storefronts and affordable housing at a July 18 community meeting.
More than 150 people attended the meeting, which was hosted by Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th) and held at Saint Ferdinand Church, 3115 N. Mason Ave. The developer is Radford Ventures, and the project is being designed by Wiley Architects.
"I think input from our community is important. That’s why you’re here," Reboyras said. "Just so you know this is not a low-income project. This is not anything to do with CHA or low-income housing."
However, news that Reboyras is requiring that 20 percent of the units adhere to the city’s affordable housing criteria was met with objections from many residents. Under city law only 10 percent of the units would have to meet the affordable standards. About 30 of the proposed units would be affordable housing.
"What the city is trying to do is to provide housing as the markets change and certain residents in the community get displaced out of their community and there are no places for people who would like to stay. Some of them would like to stay and how can they do that when their income is too low for market rate housing? This is a way for developers to offer housing for people to stay," project attorney Paul Kolpak said.
The affordable units, which are designed for working-class families, would be offered at a below-market rent to those households earning no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income. The other units would be leased at market rate.
"Is this a joke? Are you just having this meeting about zoning but a lot of this is already approved?" a resident asked. "You can’t trust City Hall. And they say one thing but the opposite goes through. I know several other people who live in other districts who say they’ve had meetings just like ours and residents were against it but somehow the alderman still wanted it there and you just ‘need to take our input.’"
Reboyras said that the project "is not a done deal" and that he welcomes community feedback. Residents can e-mail feedback on the proposal to ward30@cityofchicago. org.
The proposal calls for 29,400 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 146 residential units on the upper floors on the current site of U.S. Bank at 5850 W. Belmont Ave. It was reported at the meeting that the bank would be interested in having a smaller facility as part of the project.
The project would include 239 parking spaces, including two levels of underground parking and one level of ground-floor parking.
It also would include 28 554-square-foot studio units, 94 800-square-foot one-bedroom units and 24 two-bedroom units that would range between 968 and 1,176 square feet.
Developer Paul Freeman said that the preliminary rental costs for the units would be about $1,100 to $1,200 for the studios and from $1,500 to $2,000 for the bigger units.
Amenities would include a community room for up to 100 people that would connect to an outdoor deck facing Belmont and would include covered seating for barbeques. A second deck would be designed for yoga, tai chi and a dog run.
"For those who don’t like this project, what would you like?" Freeman said. "The reason why you haven’t seen retail or quality markets here is because there is not a lot of density here. We have tried to talk to grocery stores and it’s a marginal proposition from their point of view.
"We as developers, and as stupid and greedy as we can be, we’re smart enough to know that if were trying to get a market to come we need to find a market that wants to come," Freeman said. He said that the project would hopefully attract young professionals.
About a couple dozen residents of West Melrose Street attended the meeting, and several of them expressed concerns about use of the alley for the complex and about the project’s height and density. Truck deliveries to the building would be through a rear alley that homeowners on Melrose use to access their garages
One resident was concerned about not being able to park by his home now because some businesses don’t have parking spots so they park in the neighborhood. He asked the alderman about possibly having residentially zoned parking.
"What are you going to do about Belmont? It’s absolutely horrible. It’s a parking lot. Now they will go through our alleys at unbelievable speeds and we can’t get out of our garage without being afraid of getting hit," the resident said. "Everyone’s flying down the alley trying to get to Tony’s at 50 miles per hour. I see a congestion problem waiting to happen."
"You will never resolve traffic, but we need foot traffic to make the businesses work. This project will bring that," Reboyras responded.
The city Department of Transportation would be reviewing the project, including the plan to use the alley for deliveries, according to project officials. "The Department of Transportation will answer those questions I assure you," Reboyras said.
Under the proposal, the site would be rezoned from B3-1 to a plan development ordinance, which creates custom zoning for the 1.3-acre parcel.
The 45-year-old building on the site was once home to Colonial Bank. Immediately to the west of the site is Saint Patrick High School, 5900 W. Belmont Ave.
Other residents at the meeting were concerned about the affordable housing part of the project.
"The fact is if you have problematic people that come in there, you will have the good tenants leave, and in about 3 years, you will have a totally low-income property. That is a fact. That is not a joke," one resident said.
Another resident said that this was a meeting about zoning and that the developer bought it and he can do what he wants on the property if the zoning is approved by the city.
"Just so you know, you are going to get Section 8 in there. Whether you like it or not there will be some Section 8 folks because Section 8 pays. You can call it low-income but it’s going to be some Section 8 in there," the resident said. He also said that residents were not notified in advance of the meeting and that "things should have been transparent from the beginning. This should have been notified way before here."
Another resident said that she doesn’t expect out-of-town developers to understand the needs of the community, "but what I would expect is that the alderman would sit down and ask the community what they want for this site and solicit developers after you bring that to the community and not before."
Another resident said that she welcomed the development and that several business owners supported it.
"I live on Melrose Street and I am an immigrant," she said. "I love the idea of this development and we need quality development to come to this area. I think this will bring foot traffic and economic growth. People are not shopping here. I don’t need another vape shop or a dollar store to open.
"Not everyone wants to be a homeowner. A lot of professionals want to rent. This will have a lot of great amenities and we need young professionals. This will bring in value to the community as a whole and I don’t think they are doing it for selfish reasons," the resident said.