NORTH PARK — Property owners say they've received what they call "last chance" letters from Northeastern Illinois University in an ongoing tug-of-war over a plan to erect student housing in the 3400 block of West Bryn Mawr Avenue, a block occupied by a number of businesses and apartments.
"The University intends to file its complaint for condemnation . . . within the next two weeks," according to the letter, dated this week, sent by NEIU's lawyers to the owner of a building the university has set its sights on.
Patty Wetli breaks down why Northeastern Illinois University wants this land and how neighbors are fighting back:
The group NEIU Neighbors has countered with an online petition "No Eminent Domain Land Seizure for NEIU 'University Village,'" which charges that the housing proposal was developed without open dialog, will drastically change the neighborhood's character and displaces family-owned businesses in favor of corporate retail.
Launched on Tuesday, the petition had garnered more than 400 signatures by Thursday afternoon.
NEIU wants to buy eight commercial buildings on Bryn Mawr, between Kimball and Bernard avenues, to make room for a 280,000-square-foot mixed-use residential/retail development. The $50 million project would be built in partnership with a private developer.
Two of the eight building owners have sold to the university, but the remaining six are digging in their heels — organizing via the website NEIU Land Grab. The university has stated it will exercise eminent domain if the remaining building owners refuse to sell.
Garrick Beil, whose parents built and own the property at 5600 N. Kimball Ave. (at the intersection with Bryn Mawr), is among the holdouts. In an email to DNAinfo Chicago, Beil said the petition aims "to raise awareness that this is not just NEIU against a handful of ma and pa property owners."
"The hundreds of signatures we hope to achieve reflect much broader opposition to the project and NEIU's tactics of trying to ram this plan through without community feedback," Beil said.
The petition, he said, will be sent to NEIU President Sharon Hahs, NEIU Board of Trustees Chairman Carolos Azcoitia and various elected officials.
NEIU provided DNAinfo Chicago with a written statement in response.
"Northeastern Illinois University currently has no university-affiliated housing for students. Northeastern's 2008 strategic plan identified the addition of a student residential life component as one of the university's strategic priorities. Northeastern is the last Illinois public university to add a student housing program."
In addition to the Bryn Mawr development, the university's plans include a 160,000-square-foot dorm on Foster Avenue on land the university already owns. Residents said they want the university to build there first and prove demand for dorms before disrupting Bryn Mawr.
"Our counteroffer is 'build on your own campus,'" Biel said.
NEIU's statement expressed the university's intention to "move forward with plans for both locations."
"The Bryn Mawr location does require the university to acquire properties," according to the statement. "Northeastern hopes it can acquire the properties on Bryn Mawr without exercising its statutory power of eminent domain."
In the letter sent to landowners, the university says that "in addition to paying for the appraised value of the property," the landowners would be able to stay for "at least one year" without paying rent to NEIU.
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