Alderman Gardiner to announce decision on 10-story senior project within 2 weeks
by KEVIN GROSS
Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th) plans to make a decision within two weeks on whether to move forward with the planned senior housing complex at 3973 N. Milwaukee Ave. at Six Corners at a meeting Sept. 17 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
“I will continue to listen after this evening is over and collaborate with residents to help guide us forward to ensure the most positive addition to our community. Within a couple of weeks I will debrief with my team, leaders within the area, (developers) Peter Eisenberg (and) Dan Walsh, my colleagues, and other elected officials as well as business owners and neighbors to bring forth a decision,” Gardiner said.
Developers Dan Walsh of Ryan Companies and Peter Eisenberg of Clark Street Real Estate provided updates regarding the mixed-use, $130 million development that would feature a 261-unit Clarendale at Portage Park senior home and ground floor retail anchored by an Aldi grocery store.
Several hundred people attended the 2 1/2-hour meeting.
“One of the things we’re missing is people over (age) 75, because a lot of them got priced out of our neighborhood. I’m really looking forward to having a vibrant community of older adults who can be involved and volunteer,” said the Reverend Kara Wagner Sherer, from Saint John’s Episcopal Church, 3857 N. Kostner Ave., who welcomed the senior housing as a way to possibly grow their congregation.
Other supporters focused on revitalizing the business district.
“For 7 years we’ve been waiting to have areas where we can walk down and do more things,” a resident said. “I get very frustrated walking down the 4000 block of Milwaukee on the east side, and seeing these boarded-up storefronts, and how that particular investor is holding that block hostage. Here’s an opportunity for a developer to invest a lot of money in a very beautiful building that I think will be dynamic.”
Project officials said that many of the area’s storefronts are vacant because modern retailers want more “contemporary” spaces with updated loading docks and ample parking. Walsh said that a new anchor business would be needed to bring people back to the older, vacant storefronts.
The development would bring 650 construction jobs and at least 200 senior facility and retail employment positions, with $5.2 million in annual revenue to senior facility employees. Within a 20-year period the developers estimate a total $731 million economic impact to the Six Corners area, including $40.6 million in property tax revenue.
During the meeting Gardiner did not indicate whether or not he would back the project and grant developers the needed zoning change approval, but he said that he has been educating himself on all aspects of the development since his election in May.
“For the past 4 months I have dedicated the majority of our resources, manpower and energy towards listening, educating and answering questions of residents and community groups,” he said. “I have visited other facilities in Algonquin and Addison to see for myself what exactly this development would look like in our neighborhood.”
Following the meeting Gardiner said that he had held about 10 private meetings with groups of residents and merchants to discuss the plan and that input from those meetings would factor into his final decision. The senior development has been in the works for more than 2 1/2 years and received the support of former alderman John Arena.
Gardiner said that he was pleased to bring the required 10 affordable housing units on-site, as earlier plans called for the affordable units to be built within 2 miles off-site after developers said it wouldn’t be financially feasible to include the units in the same building as units with much higher rent ranges.
“I did everything possible to get the affordable housing on-site,” Gardiner said. “Just so you know, this development would not have been built until they identified where they were going to build those off-site units. They never identified where those off-site units were going to be, but with my encouragement we were able to put it on-site, which in the past was said that it was impossible.”
Chicago’s affordable housing ordinance mandates new developments set aside 10 percent of units as affordable (below-market rents), with some options to buy out of the requirement or to build the affordable units off-site.
For senior housing, the affordable housing requirement only applies to the independent living apartments. Most of the planned 261 units would be for assisted living and memory care.
Many of the residents mentioned the building’s proposed 10-story height, which some said was “excessive” or didn’t meet the Six Corners Master Plan, which recommends four or five stories for the site.
“What we don’t want is this neighborhood to turn into Logan Square, Wicker Park, East Humboldt Park, with their monstrous buildings,” an opponent said.
“When you set a template of 10 stories on that corridor, every one of those sites is going to come begging for 10 stories,” said former 38th Ward alderman Tom Allen, who mentioned the People’s Gas facility, 3955 N. Kilpatrick Ave., the former Sears site at 4730 W. Irving Park Road, the former Sabatino’s restaurant site, 4441 W. Irving Park Road, or the Irving Park YMCA at 4251 W. Irving Park Road as large lots that developers could target for tall structures.
Some supporters of the project said that denying the project could scare investors and developers away from the area.
“There comes a time when we have to make a decision and accept compromise, and I think we’re at that point,” a resident said. “If this project falls apart, all of these other major developers are looking at what’s happening and they will not want do business with us, and you will set us back 20 or 30 years.”
Many residents welcomed density and said that the tall development could serve as the neighborhood’s gateway landmark and bring more people to the struggling Six Corners district.
“We all know that Six Corners is a mess. It’s not just the hole, it’s the entire intersection, it looks like a blighted area. It’s my belief that this will never improve unless we get a (big building). I want a building that sticks out like a sore thumb,” said Bart Goldberg, secretary of the Old Irving Park Association that supports the project. “When people drive down Milwaukee Avenue and get to our intersection, they need to know this is a desirable place. Business will come, residents will come.”
Former 45th Ward Alderman Patrick Levar said, “I think this is a great project, but I wish it was a bit smaller, like I did with the Senior Suites of Jefferson Park” at 5400 N. Northwest Hwy. He also mentioned possible parking shortages, a concern shared by many other residents who disliked the project.
Several other residents were dissatisfied with the projected rents for seniors, with rents ranging from approximately $4,400 for independent living units up to about $7,400 for assisted living or memory care units. Of the 10 affordable units, seven 1-bedroom units would rent at $800 per month, and the remaining three 2-bedroom units would rent at about $1,100 monthly, according to Walsh.
Gardiner said that rent prices are a large factor and concern in his decision-making process.
“To go back to the price…about the memory care – and this is why it draws some concern – we talked about the independent living pricing from $3,950 to $5,700 (per month), we talked about assisted living from $5,575 to $7,400 (per month). The memory care, just so everybody is fully aware, is $6,300 to $7,400 (per month), and some of these … we get (projected rents of) $7,800,” he said. “I just want to make sure that everybody is fully educated on those prices. So long as everybody is aware of that and you’re in favor, then I’m willing to listen.”
Gardiner has said that the typical senior household in the community would not be able to afford to live in the building and has expressed concern that those who do live in the building would use up their life savings in a few years and be forced to then move out since it would not be a Medicaid facility.
The Six Corners Association has thrown its support behind the project, while the Six Corners Chamber of Commerce is requesting that a new land-use study be conducted examining the commercial district’s major development sites prior to any approval of the senior housing proposal.
“Developers have expressed interest in the former Sears and Peoples Gas sites, and we anticipate that formal proposals will be forthcoming in due course that reflect the land use decisions made for the former Bank of America site (where the senior complex would be built).
“Current discussions suggest that the former Sears proposal may include market-rate housing plus entertainment, retail and restaurants, and the Peoples Gas proposal may include large retail,” the chamber said in Sept. 15 letter to the city Department of Planning and Development.
The former bank and Sears sites along with the Peoples Gas parcel total about 20 acres.
In a Sept. 19 statement, the association said that “overwhelming support” for the senior project was demonstrated at the community meeting and that the project would serve as a catalyst for future development that supports small businesses and public amenities, including pedestrian plazas.
(Photo provided by Six Corners Chamber)