EAST VILLAGE — A developer's plan to bring apartments and new retail shops to an empty lot on Chicago Avenue could be coming to fruition, even as an alternate plan to expand a city park adjacent to the lot gains traction too.
Developer Steven Fifield's request for a zoning change on an empty lot at 1822-50 W. Chicago Ave. that would enable him to build a four-story apartment building offering 59 apartments and retail storefronts is scheduled to come up for a vote on April 7 at the East Village Association's monthly meeting.
Located two blocks east of a former Dominick's at 2012 W. Chicago Ave. set to reopen as a Mariano's Fresh Market next week, the proposed development would offer a combination of studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.
The first floor would be reserved for four retail storefronts, two of which would be a daycare center and a restaurant, Fifield said.
If the members of the East Village Association agree to back the zoning request, Fifield said he has agreed to give $200,000 in "impact fees" to the city to improve Commercial Park at 1845 W. Rice St., which is behind the empty lot.
The money from Fifield would be used to repave the park's basketball courts and make repairs to the park field house and fences.
Fifield has also promised to build a "promenade" that would provide easy access between the park and the proposed development.
The promenade would be 9 feet across and allow for four people or three bikes to ride alongside each other versus a standard 5-foot walkway.
At the same time, another group is hoping the Chicago Park District can buy the 35,000-square-foot parcel from Fifield so Commercial Park can be expanded — an ambitious plan that the park's volunteer advisory council President Ronda Locke is calling "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
The expansion of Commercial Park would enable the park to have a full-size ball field; the existing field inside of Commercial Park is only for children up to age 12, Locke said.
With the help of a local landscape architect who volunteered to draft a rendering of what Commercial Park would look like if it were expanded into the adjacent lot, Locke said she presented her proposal to expand the park to the Chicago Park District Board last month.
Locke is basing her group's push for buying the land on a 2002 city planning study and the fact that in the early 1900s, Commercial Park was located along Chicago Avenue before it was moved just north of the main street.
The study recommends expanding Commercial Park to Chicago Avenue to add more open space to the Chicago Avenue commercial corridor.
Locke said the plan for bringing the park back to Chicago Avenue is in line with the Burnham Plan, where parks such a Eckhart Park, Garfield Park and Humboldt are located on commercial avenues.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward includes the proposed development, has agreed to contribute $100,000 of his ward's discretionary budget toward the possible park expansion, but has not issued a formal statement on whether he supports Fifield's zoning request or the park expansion.
Matt Bailey, a spokesman for Moreno, said on Wednesday the alderman is "waiting to hear" what the members of the East Village Association think about both plans before making any recommendations on the zoning change.
Some residents do not believe a park expansion is the best use of the vacant land.
"While an expanded Commercial Park would certainly be nice to have, I doubt the city can afford to support that option. The Fifield project will bring some much-needed density to Chicago Avenue and should really bring that block back to life," said Michael Van Dam, an East Village resident.
In an email to DNAinfo Chicago, Fifield emphasized he has "no interest in selling" the land.
Fifield paid $2.6 million for the land in April, and after a project that would have brought 39 apartments to the empty lot did not work out, Fifield introduced a new plan in December to members of the East Village Association Board.
Under the property's existing zoning, the maximum number of apartments or condos Fifield could build would be 37.
In his email, Fifield cited several challenges that those who want to expand Commercial Park would face if the Park District were to buy the land from him, including having to partially close the alley between the park and his land, which would require city approval.
"Then they have to get the City to agree to give them that land as well as ‘condemn’ my land and pay for it. All in this could be a pretty expensive proposition that the Parks Dept and the Land Trust have to pay for," Fifield wrote.
The key is whether the City and Park District think this is a high enough priority to spend $5 [million]-$10 million [on the project and] to divert funds from other Park District priorities," he wrote.
The next East Village Association Meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 7 at Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave.