ROGERS PARK — Community members grilled their alderman and a development team Wednesday night at the first of what could be several public meetings about a proposed parking garage that would replace a Buddhist meditation center in Rogers Park.
Residents voiced both support and disapproval for the four-story parking structure that requires a zoning change and extra review under the lakefront protection ordinance.
"Sheridan Road in Rogers Park is like no other road in the world," said one of about 100 people crammed into a basement-level room at a Sheridan Road rehabilitation center. "We want our setback. We want our low-rise buildings. This is not the place for it. Don’t do it on the lake."
Yet others said the proposed parking structure at 7331 N. Sheridan Road was sensitive enough to the neighborhood character and would help ease an infamous neighborhood problem: Parking.
"I support the project," said John Lamping, 72. "It’ll be a substantial contribution to our tax base; and parking in East Rogers Park is a challenge for every one."
A zoning attorney, a traffic consultant, a parking consultant, an architect and a top official from Tawani Enterprises — the company owned by billionaire developer Col. James Pritzker that's proposing to build the structure — were on hand to field questions from the community.
The development team fleshed out details of the project before the marathon question-and-answer session began.
Out of the facility's planned 250 parking spaces, 166 would be reserved for residents of Farcroft by the Lake, a 12-story building being rehabbed by Tawani two blocks north, and for visitors of the Emil Bach House, another Pritzker-owned building nearby that is being restored.
The remaining spaces — and any reserved spaces that are not being used — would be available to the public for hourly and monthly parking. Neighborhood residents would pay $150 a month for one space, while Farcroft residents would pay $135.
Hourly parking would be available for $2 an hour and $8 a day, while overnight parking, from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., would be available for $4.
A healthy contingent of people who live on Sherwin Avenue, where the entrance and exit to the garage would be located, attended the meeting, and most were opposed to the project because of the increased traffic the 250-car garage would bring down their beach-end street.
They were also concerned about the nine months of construction and the noise it would produce.
"I don't care if this is as beautiful as the Taj Mahal," said one Sherwin Avenue resident. "I won't be able to stand the noise. I beg you to reconsider."
Seats began to empty as the three-hour meeting dragged on past 10 p.m.
Some of the other concerns expressed include light pollution from the building and public safety.
Others worried that if Tawani got a zoning change, the company would change its construction plans.
"Our reputation I hope stands for itself," said Mary Parthe, Tawani's chief of staff. "Our goal is to improve the community."
Parthe said an armed security guard would patrol both the Farcroft building and the parking garage at night.
Bruce Walker, a resident of Morse Avenue, said he had worked on similar projects in the city. He said he was worried about the extra traffic and construction equipment clogging the area during the estimated nine-month construction period. He also bet the project's contractor $1,000 that it won't be done in time.
Another resident wanted to know if it would be possible under the proposal to save the historic home on the property, but Parthe said it would not.
"We’re definitely preservationists," said Parthe, referencing Tawani's other developments in the area, like Emil Bach House that is undergoing extensive restorations. "This house, I’m not sure how we’re going to save it. But believe me, if we could save the home and find a decent use for it, we would."
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) remained mostly neutral throughout the meeting, but shared only positive thoughts about the project.
He said Tawani's reputation in the neighborhood should ease some concerns.
"They do pretty quality work, if you’ve ever been to the Mayne Stage theater or their other buildings," he said. "They don’t spare any expense."
Resident Mary Bao said she was "leaning toward saying this is OK."
"Parking is the biggest problem in Rogers Park. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity," she said. "I think this is doing a great thing for the area."
Another man commented forebodingly about the risk of changing the property's zoning from residential to commercial: "What is left if we let this slip from our fingers now?"
Parthe said after the meeting her plan is to "regroup" with the alderman's zoning and land use committee, which will decide whether to hold additional public meetings or request tweaks to the proposal.