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Lathrop Development Team Scales Back Plan, Still Too Dense, Say Critics

By Patty Wetli | January 29, 2013 4:57pm | Updated on January 29, 2013 5:42pm
 A rendering of the Lathrop Homes Riverworks concept, which would retain much of the current site's architecture.
A rendering of the Lathrop Homes Riverworks concept, which would retain much of the current site's architecture.
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Lathrop Community Partners

ROSCOE VILLAGE — Reacting to public criticism, the group charged with redeveloping the Julia C. Lathrop Homes has scaled back plans for a proposed 1,600-unit, mixed-use, mixed-income complex that included high-rise towers.

But critics say the CHA redevelopment project is still too dense.

Kerry Dickson, senior vice president of Related Midwest, a member of the five-party Lathrop Community Partners development group, told a meeting of the Hamlin Park Neighbors on Monday that the number of units has been reduced to a maximum of 1,300.

Dickson, who said he was responding to feedback collected at last fall's open houses, added that LCP was making a "significant difference in the height of the buildings."

That was not good enough for some.

"We think that number is still way too high," Paul Sajovec, chief of staff for Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), told DNAinfo.com Chicago. "We think there's a lot more work to be done on that issue."

A primary concern of the alderman's, according to Sajovec, is the potential stress on neighborhood schools from an influx of school-aged children that even 1,300 units could bring.

"They don't have a plan for where the kids will go," said Sajovec. "Are they all going to go to Jahn [Elementary]?"

LCP hosted a workshop in 2012 focused on education and "since that point, there hasn't been anything," he said.

Creating a Tax Increment Finance district around the 32-acre site would eliminate available tax dollars for schools, Sajovec said, a point Dickson conceded but didn't elaborate on.

"That's more than just an ask," Sajovec said. "That's a problem."

Lathrop in its current configuration consists of approximately 900 public housing units, the majority of which are unoccupied. Residents of neighboring communities object to the impact a super-sized Lathrop redevelopment would have on already congested streets, such as Clybourn and Damen Avenues.

"The community's very much focused on traffic," Dickson said, summarizing survey results.

One reason for the project's proposed density, he explained, was to create a critical mass that might encourage the CTA to bring back the Clybourn bus.

Retail space, he added, was planned with the intention of providing residents with shopping and dining destinations within walking distance, thereby cutting down on the need for autos.

The question for many is why the site can't remain at 900 units — be it all public housing, all market rate, or the proposed mix of public, market rate and affordable housing.

Charles Hogren, 76, has lived across from Lathrop Homes for 40 years. He favors a plan promoted in 2007 by Preservation Chicago that called for 800 units split between public and affordable housing.

"I'd open up the river to everybody," he said, envisioning benches, picnic tables and cafes.

But the density nut isn't so easy to crack, according to Dickson.

LCP, he said, is acting according to guidelines set forth by the Chicago Housing Authority, which owns the 32-acre Lathrop site. The CHA's Plan for Transformation was created in 2000 with the goal of redeveloping or rehabilitating all of Chicago's public housing stock.

"This is bigger than Lathrop," said Michael Goldberg, executive director of Heartland Housing, which is the affordable housing partner within the LCP consortium. "They want to end economic and social isolation."

The Plan for Transformation not only calls for developments that include a diversity of housing options for people across a wide cross-section of income levels — "The goal is for Lathrop to feel like the rest of the city" — but, according to Dickson, it also mandates that Lathrop include 400 public housing units.

"That's an immovable, fixed number," he said.

The question then becomes one of how many affordable and market rate units are needed to achieve the desired integrated community, both from a social and financial perspective.

"What does the mix need to be for the other units to make it sustainable?" Dickson said, adding that his experience with similar developments shows that 50 percent market rate tends to be the magic number.

How that goal is ultimately achieved is still a work in progress at Lathrop.

LCP is taking its feedback show on the road to various community groups over the next month and announced its intention to present the draft of a single master plan for the development in late February or early March, with more opportunity for public input at that point.

"The thing everybody needs to remember is this is a process," said Dickson. "It's all part of a conversation."