Lawsuit to stop 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. project filed
by BRIAN NADIG
A lawsuit challenging the city’s settlement agreement on the proposed site of a storage warehouse and a mixed-income housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway was filed Thursday, April 6, in Cook County Circuit Court.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several home owners, a business and Northwest Side Unite, a community organization which is opposing the height and density of the planned seven-story, 100-unit apartment building and five-story, self-storage warehouse.
Northwest Side Unite has collected more than 4,500 signatures on a petition against the proposal, and at least 80 percent of the owners of homes within 250 feet of the development site have signed affidavits opposing the development plan.
It is not known if the lawsuit would cause additional delays in the rezoning of the 1.54-acre site to accommodate the redevelopment of the property. A city Department of Law spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit because the department had not reviewed it.
Last month the Chicago Plan Commission approved rezoning the site from B1-1 to B3-5, the densest classification for a community shopping district, and then to a planned development, which calls for a warehouse and an unspecified residential development, which currently is the 100-unit proposal. Later this year project officials plan to file an amendment to the development ordinance to allow for the 100 apartments.
However, the City Council Zoning Committee at its March 27 meeting delayed voting on the proposal due to a lack of quorum but not before committee member Alderman Ed Burke (14th) raised several concerns about the settlement agreement. Burke said that the agreement had not been submitted to the council for review, and he raised doubts about whether the agreement was properly signed by the law department.
The committee could hold another hearing on the proposal at its meeting on Wednesday, April 12, but the agenda had not been posted. The meeting will start at 10 a.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.
Members of Northwest Side Unite have expressed concern that the city failed to solicit input from residents before Alderman John Arena (45th) and zoning administrator Patricia Scudiero agreed to support the B3-5 zoning as part of the settlement agreement.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Peter Stasiewicz said that while the zoning code requires the administrator to review proposals, the agreement violates the stated duties of the position by also requiring Scudiero to support the rezoning. “The city code cannot be modified by agreement. You just can’t get together and say we’re changing city law,” he said.
The settlement agreement was in response to a lawsuit which the site’s owner, LSC Development, filed last June against the city after Arena had the property downzoned to stop a plan to retrofit the existing building there for a self-storage facility. At the time there were no plans for apartments on the site, and Arena has said that a storage facility by itself would do little to improve the economic vitality of the area.
In early 2016 LSC Development completed the interior demolition of the former food processing plant on the site, and then on April 26 it received a construction permit to convert the plant into the storage facility, but the city revoked the permit the next day. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the new plan calls for the building to be demolished.
The lawsuit filed by residents seeks to invalidate the settlement agreement and asks for an injunction which would prevent the city from taking further actions on rezoning the site in accordance with the agreement. A hearing on the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order to halt the zoning approval process has been set for Thursday, April 13.
The lawsuit claims that the settlement was an attempt by the city to circumvent the normal zoning process by securing approvals from key figures in the process before the community was notified of the project. “They basically bargained away the neighborhood’s rights,” Stasiewicz said.
Arena held a community meeting on the proposal two weeks after he signed the settlement agreement in late January, and there was no mention of the agreement at the Feb. 9 meeting. News of the agreement broke about a week later.
The agreement appeared to have influenced the vote of at least one plan commission member. Michael Kelly, who also is the superintendent of the Chicago Park District, cited the agreement as a reason for his “yes” vote.
The city could be forced to pay to LSC hundreds of thousands of dollars if the rezoning is not approved. The agreement grants LSC the right to reinstate its lawsuit, which sought monetary damages and the re-issuance of its original construction permit.
LSC claimed in its lawsuit that the downzoning and subsequent delays have put the company in jeopardy of defaulting on a loan of $6,375,000 for the project. The company spent about $3.5 million on the acquisition of the property and on the interior demolition of the building.
Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that he had not seen the residents’ lawsuit but that the alderman is “looking forward to bringing affordable housing for our veterans and those with disabilities in our community.”
Representatives of Full Circle Communities, which plans to buy half of the property from LSC, have said that the apartments would be marketed heavily toward veterans and that 10 units would be fully accessible for the disabled, with additional ones being adaptable to fit a tenant’s special needs. The project would include 60 affordable units for those households making about 60 percent of the area’s median income and 20 units for low-income families which are on a Chicago Housing Authority-waiting list.
The project has the support of the Service Employees International Union and several housing advocacy organizations, while it is opposed by the Gladstone Park and Jefferson Park neighborhood associations and the local chambers of commerce.
Some supporters of the project have said that fears about low-income housing are driving the opposition more than concerns about the project’s height and density. A master plan which was compiled with input from residents, businesses and elected officials, recommends a four-story height limit for the Northwest Highway and Milwaukee Avenue commercial corridors north of the Kennedy Expressway.