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East Village Developer Adds Affordable Units, But Local Group Not Satisfied

By Alisa Hauser | October 6, 2014 2:06pm
 A developer's plan to build a four-story, 59-unit apartment building with retail on the first floor continues to be discussed by a local community group.
Proposed Fifield Development at 1822-50 W. Chicago Ave.
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EAST VILLAGE — The developers of an apartment and retail complex that could revitalize a vacant lot along Chicago Avenue have agreed to offer more affordable housing than initially planned as well as donate money to a park that abuts the project, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) says.

For several months, developer Steven Fifield has been at odds with some members of the East Village Association over a zoning change request needed to build a 59-unit apartment building with retail storefronts at 1822-50 W. Chicago Ave.

As part of the zoning change, Fifield would either be required to offer six apartments that meet the city's affordable housing requirement or "buy out" of the requirement by giving money to develop affordable housing elsewhere.

Until last week, Fifield's most recent plan, according to Alan Schachtman, a vice president of Fifield Companies, had been to offer two affordable units and pay $400,000 into a trust fund to for affordable housing at other locations.

On Friday, Schachtman confirmed that he had met with Moreno, who asked the group to offer more than two units.

"We believe we can make this work. We would not have agreed otherwise," Schachtman said of the plan to add two more affordable units to the complex, for a total of four.

In an email to his constituents on last week, Moreno heralded the compromise he had reached with Fifield, which also included securing a donation of $100,000 for improvements at nearby Commercial Park.

Moreno predicted that "the East Village community will greatly benefit from this high-quality development project." 

"I am committed to increasing the number of new affordable, workforce housing units in the 1st Ward," Moreno said.

Meanwhile, Neal McKnight, president of the East Village Association, said on Monday that his group is still continuing to hope that Moreno "changes course and fully supports affordable housing and Commercial Park."

"Although, the increase in the number of affordable units is a move in the right direction, it is still less than a full commitment to building affordable housing in the 1st Ward. Fifield Co. previously offered to pay $200,000 as an impact fee to improve Commercial Park. It is unfortunate that the alderman appears to have allowed the developer to reduce its commitment to Commercial Park in return for 2 additional affordable units," McKnight said.

In May, members of the East Village Association had voted against Fifield's zoning change request and had asked for more time to seek out a way to expand Commercial Park, which abuts the vacant lot.

In a letter to Moreno, members of the group indicated they would not be comfortable with Fifield's offer to donate $200,000 to the park if the group gave it a positive vote to re-zone the land for the purpose of building more units.

Fifield's plan is set to come before the city's Planning Commission for a vote on Oct. 16. 

Just a few blocks east of a new Mariano's, the apartment building would include 49 parking spaces and 14,656 square feet of retail on the ground level. (See the project application from "FRC 1850 W. Chicago LLC" here.)

The building would offer five studio apartments, 17 one-bedroom apartments, 26 two-bedroom apartments and 11 three-bedrooms.

Rents on the studio apartments, one and two-bedrooms would range from $1,350 to $3,150 monthly, Fifield said on Sunday.  

Fifield said he does not yet have rent rent ranges available for the 3-bedroom units.

Within that mix, one studio apartment, one one-bedroom apartment and two, two-bedroom dwellings would be made available to lower-income renters, Fifield said.

Since they are not meeting the full requirement of offering six units, Fifield will pay $200,000 to the city's Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund, which has collected about $43.5 million since its inception in 2003.

The affordable requirements ordinance specifies that 40 percent of the fee goes to the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund and 60 percent goes to the construction and rehab of affordable housing.

For experts in the real estate community, the project is a significant indicator that Chicago avenue is becoming a desirable place to live.

"It's [Fifield] a well-heeled, well-known developer making a splash in one of Chicago's up and coming neighborhoods.  That stretch of Chicago Avenue needs revitalization to attract the young professionals that they are targeting," said Greg Dietz, vice president of investment sales at Baum Realty.

Dietz predicted the proposed project will bring "better retail and well-known names" to Chicago Avenue. 

Though the majority of developers "buy out" of the affordable housing requirement, Dietz said he agreed with the plan to offer some affordable housing.

"It's important to keep the character of the neighborhood by making rents affordable so everyone can live there," Dietz said.

Provided the city's planning commission votes favorably on the development, Schachtman said that construction would begin in February or March, with an anticipated delivery in spring 2016.

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