WICKER PARK — A plan to bring 51 new apartments and two retail storefronts to a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue just north of Wicker Park's main hub was criticized by members of an influential community group which didn't think a developer's plan merited an "up-zoning."
After a presentation by a team from LG Development to six members of the Wicker Park Committee's Preservation and Development subcommittee Tuesday, the proposal to erect a six-story masonry building with a metal corrugated panel facade didn't get the green light for a zoning change.
Spanning five city lots from 1643-57 N. Milwaukee Ave, architect Jeff Zelisko's designs for the building turned out to be larger in scope than previously discussed by developer Brian Goldberg.
Goldberg's project would require the demolition of a 119-year-old office building, a shuttered restaurant and a car wash.
The building would have two retail storefronts on the ground floor with the five floors above street level offering 51 housing units. The proposed residential mix would be 12 studio apartments, 24 one-bedrooms, and 15 two-bedrooms, offering monthly rent at $2 per square foot, Goldberg said.
While Goldberg described the stretch of Milwaukee Ave. where he hopes to build as having "a lot of old crummy buildings," and said he wants to "make something everyone is proud of," members of the group countered, with several noting that Wash Express at 1657 N Milwaukee Ave. is a popular car wash and they take their cars there.
"Overall, it's pretty damn big," resident and committee member Paul Dickman said of the proposed building, while Teddy Varndell asked Goldberg if it were possible to work within a B3-2 zoning, which would permit fewer units and not be as tall.
Goldberg told Varndell it "might not be a viable project" if he worked within a B3-2 versus the requested B3-3 zoning.
When asked by Varndell if he would plan to buy the properties even without a zoning change, Goldberg said he's "in a partnership to make this project go forward" and "working with the seller to improve the properties."
Neal McKnight, a resident of East Village, asked Goldberg if he would consider "an adaptive reuse" of the existing office building at 1643 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The building, which currently has a "For Rent" sign advertising office space, is "not a very well kept" building, argued Goldberg's zoning attorney Stephen Stults.
A man who said he lived across the street and claimed to be able to look into the top floor of the vintage office building told the group, "It's falling apart."
Greg Stammich, a spokesman from Stammich Management, a family trust that owns the properties spanning 1643-57 N. Milwaukee Ave., has declined comment and was not present at the meeting.
The Cook County Assessor's website lists the office building, currently home to a 1 on 1 Fitness on the ground level, as being 119 years old. The building is not included in a Milwaukee Avenue Landmark District report on significant buildings.
Varndell and the group also expressed concern over national retailers that have moved into the area, replacing independently owned shops like Psychobaby and Riley that were forced to close or relocate in recent months.
Both boutiques were located inside buildings that Goldberg's firm developed for New York City-based investor Joseph Dushey, who owns several properties in Wicker Park.
"We don't want to be another Lincoln Park or Schaumburg," added Claudia Langman, a local landlord who said she rents to small local business owners.
Goldberg said he would court "not major retailers but tenants that can stay in a longer term lease and can withstand [the] rent."
The group's six members voted unanimously not support the zoning change request under grounds "the height doesn't warrant the density" and there was "no architectural merit" to the building, Dickman said.
Tim Stevens, chief of staff for Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), took notes at the meeting and said he would be briefing Fioretti.