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Lathrop Homes the New Navy Pier? Redevelopment Planned for CHA Project

By Patty Wetli | January 8, 2013 7:29am
 Sandra Cornwell, who's lived at the Julia C. Lathrop Homes for 24 years, said residents have been treated like "second-hand citizens."
Sandra Cornwell, who's lived at the Julia C. Lathrop Homes for 24 years, said residents have been treated like "second-hand citizens."
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

ROSCOE VILLAGE — They say you can't please all of the people all of the time, but Lathrop Community Partners (LCP), a consortium charged with redeveloping the Chicago Housing Authority's Julia C. Lathrop Homes, is hard-pressed to say it's pleased any of the people.

LCP unveiled three vastly different schemes for Lathrop in November, all of which met with resistance for the size and scope from residents of the current housing project and its adjacent neighborhoods.

Among the most controversial elements: the development's density.

Each of the three plans calls for 1,600 housing units — nearly double the number of Lathrop's 900 original mid-rise units — and an increase from the 1,200 initially recommended for the site.

The increase was "an immediate question we asked," said Charles Beach, president of Hamlin Park Neighbors (HPN). That neighborhood group represents the slice of Roscoe Village that abuts Lathrop Homes, which CHA targeted for redevelopment in 2006.

Still in the process of surveying HPN's membership on the developer's designs, Beach noted the development's effect on traffic had quickly emerged as a major concern, particularly given the area's lack of public transportation options.

"It's almost an island, trapped on one side by the river," he said of the development site. "You can only really exit Lathrop on Diversey and Clybourn"  — a congested intersection already loathed by drivers.

The impact on local schools, given the number of youngsters likely to be found in 1,600 units, was another issue broached by Beach. He noted the nearest elementary, Schneider at 2957 N. Hoyne Ave., had closed and been converted into Alcott High School.

"If you're going to draw people in ... I've got three kids under 10," he said. "You're concerned about safety and schools."

That was precisely the dilemma facing Nevin Boparai, a 32-year-old Lincoln Park resident. In the market to purchase a single family home for his young family, Boparai had his eye on a house in Roscoe Village, but given the uncertainty surrounding Lathrop, he was wary of closing on a deal.

"I don't know how to react, it's difficult," said Boparai. "My selling agent...nobody has any idea" what's going to happen.

On the one hand, he said, Lathrop in its current state is "kind of an eyesore." On the other hand, he found 1,600 housing units worrisome in the way it might reshape the neighborhood's character.

"It could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing," he said. "If nothing else, it's just a lot of construction."

HPN posed the question of density to developer LCP. "The response we got was that was the density they felt was necessary for their over-arching plan," said Beach.

"It's not going to become a walkable neighborhood until it gets dense," explained Paul Blanding, a landscape architect who contributed to LCP's proposals.

"Good, vibrant urbanism requires density," Blanding said.

By walkable, Blanding was referring to retail and commercial components, in addition to the residential plan, that could be part of the new Lathrop.

Shopping, restaurants, an amphitheater, riverwalk, water taxi and kayak rentals are among the site's potential amenities, all aimed at turning Lathrop into a regional destination along the lines of Navy Pier and Millennium Park, according to Blanding.

"We're really moving toward celebrating the river as open space," he said.

Deborah Bayly, a resident of Roscoe Village for 32 years, bristled at the implication that the neighborhood wasn't already plenty pedestrian friendly.

"I can walk to Dominicks, Aldi, Jewel, Costco, the post office, three pet stores, Target, many Starbucks," she said. "A bowling alley, the vet, the emergency medical center, Walgreens, the library, banks — these are all less than a mile from my home."

She and Kelly Martin, a 20-year resident of the neighborhood, viewed the redevelopment proposals largely as a bid by private interests to get their hands on a prized piece of real estate.

"It sits right on the river," said Martin. "People were chomping at the bit."

The pair's claims were bolstered by LCP's switch from an even one-third split among market rate, affordable, and public housing to a formula that would create 50 percent market rate units and 25 percent each of affordable and public.

"I think we were probably hoping it would remain decent CHA," said Martin. "It's not like there's a shortage of market housing."

"All up and down Damen, we're surrounded by condos for sale," added Bayly.

John Gerut, executive vice president of development for CHA, defended the housing mix.

"Concentrating poverty and low-income people doesn't work," he said.

Yet Lathrop's current residents remained skeptical of CHA and LCP.

"We've always been treated like second-hand citizens," said Sandra Cornwell, who's lived at Lathrop for more than 20 years.

Cornwell, who was homeless before moving to Lathrop, worries that too many people like her won't find a place in the new development.

"They want to make Lathrop a showplace. I feel the homeless will be left out. Everybody deserves a start — look at me. If you don't have a key and you can't put it in a door...you don't have nothing," she said. "I know in Lathrop I still have what I said, a key. I can say I've had a roof over my head for 24 years. I'm thankful for that roof."

Mary Thomas, a nine-year Lathrop resident and member of the housing project's leadership team, shared Cornwell's concerns.

"Now all of a sudden they've announced 50 percent market rate. Why don't they give us 50 percent public?" she asked. "There's just too much of a need for housing right now."

Though "public housing" often carries negative connotations, Thomas said that Lathrop, built in 1938, was an exception.

"It was nothing like Cabrini or Henry Horner," she said. "It's a very diverse community where we all get along. Where do they get off saying we're an 'island of poverty?' "

The bells and whistles the new Lathrop would offer hold little appeal for Thomas.

"A vertical farm? I don't even know what that is," she said.

Mary King, 42, who moved to Lathrop six years ago after having grown up in Cabrini-Green, was more open to LCP's proposals.

She confessed she wouldn't mind a boathouse and the opportunity to live among people of mixed incomes.

"Some people is intimidated with people who have more. I'm OK with it," she said, allowing that, on the other hand, "there's people always scared of us."

"You got to get to know your neighbor," she said.

Still, one matter weighed on her mind.

"I like the plans but I'm kind of scared of the plans. Where they got a parking lot, that's where I live," she said. "I don't see my house."

CHA's Gerut is aware of residents' apprehensions.

"As part of our resident services, we also expect that there will be a community plan to bring people together," he said.

Whatever concerns Beach, the president of Hamlin Park Neighbors, has about the developer's plans, greater mingling between Lathrop and Hamlin Park neighbors is not one of them.

"I could almost drive a golf ball to Lathrop from my roof, but right now, there's nothing to bring me into Lathrop," he said. "In the end, I'm not displeased with the concept of there being retail — it drives interaction. Progress is change, so you have to be open to that."

Currently LCP is collecting feedback from November's public forums and expects to consolidate the three existing plans into two revamped proposals that take residents' suggestions into account. The goal is to present these new designs this spring.

Beach, a criminal defense attorney, remains optimistic that LCP will ultimately devise a plan that will make if not everyone happy then at least some.

"I don't think there's anything that can't be worked through," he said. "At least they're listening."