Ald. Gardiner nixes controversial Six Corners senior housing development
by BRIAN NADIG
Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th) has announced that he is not supporting the proposed 10-story senior housing complex at Six Corners and that he wants redevelopment in the ward to be focused on the community rather than on developer profits.
“The day of development being in the best interests of the developer’s pockets and not in the best interests of our community is over in the 45th Ward,” Gardiner said. “I want what’s best for the community, period.”
“Based on community feedback received through a multitude of forums over the course of several months, I am unable to support the current proposal. Going forward, I am eager to work towards identifying compromises that bring in new investments to Six Corners and better resemble guidelines set forth by the Six Corners Economic Development Plan,” Gardiner said.
The project would set a precedent for the shopping district in terms of its height, and other developers could have legal recourse if their 10-story proposal were to be denied, Gardiner said.
“Once the 10-story goes up at Six Corners … Sears will want 10 stories, Peoples Gas will want 10 stories,” he said.
The master plan, which was completed in 2013, calls for a four- or five-story building on the site. During the master plan’s creation, many residents said that the five-story Klee Plaza at 4001-17 N. Milwaukee Ave. should be the focal point of the district and that future development should not be taller than that building, which is similar in height to the former Sears store at 4730 W, Irving Park Road.
Gardiner’s comments signal that he may be taking a more cautious approach to redevelopment than his predecessor, former alderman John Arena, who supported the “Point at Six Corners” project.
During his second term as alderman, Arena approved dense zoning for several Jefferson Park parcels, including a 16-story, 114-unit building at 4849 N. Lipps Ave., a 75-unit building at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy., a 48-unit apartment complex at 5338-52 W. Argyle St., a 39-unit building at 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. and a 31-unit building at 4900 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The proposed senior building would be constructed on the former Bank of America site at 3973 N. Milwaukee Ave. and include 261 apartments, most of which would be for assisted living and memory care. The ground-floor retail portion of the complex would be anchored by an Aldi grocery store.
Initial plans had called for a one-story retail center with rooftop parking on the parcel, but Clark Street Real Estate dropped those plans after the bank on the site was demolished in 2016. Some residents had objected to the bank’s demolition due to its ornate lobby.
In early 2017, Clark Street partnered with Ryan Companies to add the senior housing component to the project, but Arena did not seek City Council approval of the project until his final weeks in office, and the Zoning Committee was unable to vote on the proposal due to a lack of a quorum at its last meeting before Gardiner took office.
Since becoming alderman in May, Gardiner has been critical of the senior housing proposal due to monthly rents that the typical senior in the ward would be unable to afford. Housing rents at the facility would not be eligible for Medicaid coverage, and tenants who run out of money would have to move out, he said.
Those rents would range from about $4,000 to $7,800, with the highest rents for the memory care units. Project officials have said that the building would include cruise ship-like amenities and that the rents would be in line with costs at other senior living complexes in the Chicago area.
Gardiner said that one of his priorities for the ward will be the housing needs of working-class families and seniors on fixed incomes and that is why he fought to include 10 on-site affordable units in the project, with rents from $800 to $1,100. Plans previously called for the project’s affordable units to be constructed at an undetermined location within 2 miles of the development site.
Gardiner also has said that the site may have been better suited for apartments geared toward young professionals given its location in the heart of the business district. Some opponents to the project have said that the seniors would be taking advantage of the in-house meal service instead of dining at the nearby restaurants.
Gardiner said that he also has traffic concerns about the proposal given that all of the access to parking at the complex would be from Kilpatrick Avenue, which he said already is congested. New driveways on Milwaukee Avenue and Irving Park Road are not allowed because the parcel falls within a “pedestrian street” zoning district, which is designed to maintain a continuous wall of storefronts.
Many supporters of the project have said on social media that the site has been vacant for too long and that it is time “to fill the hole,” in reference to where water collects on the parcel.
Gardiner said that while he appreciates the sentiment that anything on the site is better than a “hole,” he would like to see a better long-term solution than the current proposal. “If you build a 10-story building, it could be there for 150 years,” he said. “Is it the right fit for the community?”
Gardiner said that he plans to work with the developer to make sure the vacant parcel is maintained and that he is interested in having the city conduct a new land-use study that would examine the district’s major redevelopment sites, including the Peoples Gas North Shop at 3955 N. Kilpatrick Ave. The utility company is relocating to a new facility in Sauganash.
Supporters of the project have argued that turning away a potential $130 million investment in the struggling shopping district makes little sense given that the project would generate millions in property taxes and serve as an economic catalyst for additional construction and business openings in the area.
Gardiner held a Sept. 17 community meeting on the proposal and also met privately without about 10 groups of residents and merchants to discuss the proposal.
Several hundred people attended the 2 1/2 meeting at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. At the meeting, Gardiner announced that he would not be taking campaign contributions from developers who are seeking a zoning change in the ward.
The Six Corners Association and the Old Irving Park Association support the project. It is estimated that the development would generate over a 10-year period more than $1 million in tax revenue which would go toward the Six Corners Special Service Area, which funds beautification projects and helps promote local businesses. Those groups have said that the senior project would meet several of master plan’s walkability goals, including plans for a pedestrian plaza.