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Group Votes for One Big Wicker Park 7-Story Building, Shoots Down Another

By Alisa Hauser | August 7, 2014 5:02pm
 Members of the Wicker Park Committee and other area residents met Wednesday at The Southern to learn about two big real estate projects in the works and to vote on two different developer's requests for "upzonings" on the properties.
Wicker Park Committee Development Meeting
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WICKER PARK — Zoning change requests needed to build two seven-story glass-and-metal apartment buildings presented by two prolific local developers received different treatment by members of an influential Wicker Park neighborhood group that voted in support of one but shot down the other.

At their August meeting Wednesday, members of the Wicker Park Committee voted 16-3 in support of LG Development Group's plan to bring a 58-unit apartment building to 1237-53 N. Milwaukee Ave. The plans include no new parking space. The committee voted 13-6 against Centrum Partners's plan for 77 apartments and 39 underground parking spaces at 1650-1660 W. Division St.

With commercial storefronts on the ground-level below the apartments, both proposed projects are within close proximity to the CTA Division "L" station and would built under the city's Transit Oriented Development ordinance, which allows new developments on "pedestrian streets" to offer less than 50 percent of the required one-to-one parking space-to-unit ratio.

Though 19 people voted, there were at least 40 in the packed upstairs dining room at The Southern, 1840 W. North Ave., indicating a high level of interest in the developments, which could significantly impact the local economy.

John McLinden, a principal with Centrum Partners, estimated that future residents of the proposed development on a mostly vacant lot in a prime area could bring $10 million worth of disposable income yearly to neighborhood.

After presentations were delivered by representatives from both developers —  who are requesting their respective properties or vacant land be rezoned to allow retail on the ground floor and housing above —  Ed Tamminga, chairman of the Wicker Park group's preservation and development subcommittee, told the attendees, "The opinions here are valuable so we can discuss with the alderman as these things go forward."

Though not present at the meeting, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) later said, "Progressive urban planning calls for higher density that does not rely on autos, near a hard rail line and low density on our neighborhood streets. I'm continuing to listen to all stakeholders."

Part of the reason one development was more favorably received was related to the fact that the LG Development's project offers a new, updated look to an outdated office building that houses a Bank of America branch near the Polish Triangle, while the Division Street building is too large and "out of character" with the street, according to some residents.

Designed by architect Howard Hirsch, the proposed Division Street development, next to Bangers & Lace,  would offer 77 apartments (a mix of studios, one and two-bedroom units), 39 underground parking spaces and about 12,000 square feet for ground-floor retail.

The development would necessitate the demolition of a standalone building owned by Centrum and rented by a dive bar, Wisla Cut-Rate Liquors at 1656 W. Division St., confirmed Larry Powers, a principal with Centrum.

Centrum also owns the Wicker Park Commons shopping complex near Milwaukee and Ashland avenues, where Pet Supplies Plus is scheduled to open this weekend.

Designed by LG's in-house architect Gabriel Leahu, the proposed building at Milwaukee and Ashland avenues would offer 58 apartments (primarily one-bedroom units with studios and two-bedrooms), no parking and about 10,000 square feet for ground-floor retail.

Architect Jonathan Splitt, who presented the plans at the meeting Wednesday, will serve as LG's "architect of record" as the plans move forward.

LG Development, which is based in Wicker Park, is also working on a new apartment development at 1643-57 N. Milwaukee Ave. and luxury condos with ground-floor retail at 2037-39 W. Division St.

Reactions from residents were mixed after the meeting.

Gerri Baginski, a Wicker Park resident, said that she voted against both projects.

"I think both are out of character with the neighborhood. Density is a growing problem in our area," Baginksi said.

Lindsay Kronk, a local Realtor, said she voted to support Centrum's zoning request because of a desire to make sure the vacant land has a higher zoning and not for the project itself. 

Kronk said she would prefer the developer reconsider its plan and build condos rather than apartments.

"It would be the third new building in a quarter-mile that will be apartment rentals. The rental market is increasing faster than the home market and it is more expensive to rent than own. It's a quick fix to make it rentals in the short-term but what about longer term?" Kronk said.

Scott Novack, a Wicker Park resident, is not a member of the neighborhood group and was unable to cast his vote, though said he supports both projects.

"I think [both proposed developments] are prime examples of responsible density.  Although Centrum's site sits off the Polish Triangle, it falls within a logical stretch of Division, just off the Blue Line, that calls for density.  The fact that it's a sharply designed building with ample retail space helps the cause as well," Novack said.

Plans for 1237-53 N. Milwaukee Ave., 1230-40 N. Ashland Ave. by LG Development

Plans for 1660 West Division St. Presentation by Centrum Partners LLC.

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