Zoning change sought for housing proposal
by BRIAN NADIG
Large groups of residents and housing advocates are expected to testify at City Hall about a controversial mixed-income housing proposal in Jefferson Park at public hearings that could be held in a few months.
Hearings on the first phase of the project were contentious last year and ended with the City Council approving a planned development ordinance that permits a five-story storage warehouse on the north end of a parcel at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. and an unspecified, multi-unit residential development on the south end.
Zoning notices were mailed last week to area property owners stating that the applicant, Full Circle Communities, is filing a zoning application, which detail the specifics of the housing portion of the development ordinance. "As is common in development, we are moving ahead with financing and zoning concurrently," Full Circle president Joshua Wilmoth said.
Current plans call for a 75-unit, seven-story complex with market-rate and subsidized apartments, including Chicago Housing Authority units. The building also would include commercial space on the ground floor and 40 on-site parking spaces.
About 6,500 people have signed a petition against the proposal, according to Northwest Side Unite, organizer of the petition drive. Alderman John Arena (45th) supports the project and has signed a petition calling for 50 new CHA units in the ward by February of next year in an effort to help desegregate the area.
Arena is encouraging developers in the ward to consider a variety of housing options in their developments in an effort to keep rents affordable and to help maintain a mix of income levels in the community, according to Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh.
At the request of the alderman, the developer for the former firehouse at 4835 N. Lipps Ave., met with the Chicago Housing Initiative to discuss a site-specific voucher program in which the developer would enter into an agreement with the CHA to set aside some units for low-income tenants.
The program allows for bonuses in "mobility areas," which have low poverty and crime rates, and with the additional voucher bonus the landlord can offer apartments at discounted rents to tenants but collect a total amount of revenue close to or at the market-rate for the units.
In a published report last year, Arena called for an increase in affordable housing requirements in Portage Park and Jefferson Park in an effort to stop gentrification, which some argue can lead to high housing costs and force longtime residents to move. At the time, Arena was seeking to increase affordable housing requirements in the area.
Currently, developers seeking a zoning change for projects with at least 10 units must designate at least 10 percent of the apartments as affordable housing, which are intended for those households earning about 60 percent of the area’s median income. Developers also have the option of buying out of the requirement and paying into the city’s housing fund.
Meanwhile, dozens of city workers who oppose Full Circle’s plan face possible disciplinary action, as Arena has alleged that their comments were racially charged. In some instances the workers compared Full Circle’s proposal to Cabrini Green, a subsidized housing complex that the city had demolished in 2011.
Arena’s staff kept track of comments made on social media against the Full Circle proposal and filed complaints with city investigative agencies that oversee employee conduct.
Full Circle’s housing plan is one of several residential proposals in Jefferson Park in the past 2 years, sparking concerns among some residents about overcrowding at Beaubien School and Taft High School. Those proposals would create about 300 new living units within the attendance area for those schools.
The Chicago Public Schools is planning to open a freshman campus for Taft at 4071 N. Oak Park Ave. in a building that is being constructed to relieve overcrowding at the high school’s main campus at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Plans for a new pre-kindergarten center at the former Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., were expected to free up at least one classroom at Beaubien and other area elementary schools, but those plans appear to be delayed. It had been announced that the center would open this fall, but CPS reportedly has not signed a lease with the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Arena has said that Full Circle’s proposal "is not expected to add pressure to the local schools" and that "we see most school-aged children residing in the single-family homes that make up 85 percent of the (Northwest Side) housing stock."
Opponents of Full Circle’s proposal argue that most of the planned apartments would have two or three bedrooms, making them ideal for families with children.
Full Circle is seeking low-income housing tax credits for its development, and the Illinois Housing Development Authority will be choosing the winning projects later this year. Full Circle sought tax credits last year but did not receive them.
Additional financing and grants, including one which would require that some units be set aside for veterans, are being sought. In addition, preferences for veterans seeking the CHA-subsidized units would be in place, and units in the building would be handicapped accessible or be adaptable so that accessible options could be added at a later time, according to Full Circle.
Arena held a community meeting on Full Circle’s proposal last year, but a second meeting is not planned, Brugh said. Arena does not always hold follow-up community meetings on revised proposals.
The current proposal represents a 25-percent reduction in density from last year’s plan in response to community concerns, and the alderman’s office continues to accept input on the project, Brugh said.