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Neighbors Clash Over Proposed Transit-Oriented Development on Montrose

By Patty Wetli | December 11, 2014 9:41am
 Neighbors complained about the density, height and lack of parking of a  proposed transit-oriented development, Montrose Green, at 1819 W. Montrose Ave., during a community meeting Wednesday night.
Neighbors complained about the density, height and lack of parking of a  proposed transit-oriented development, Montrose Green, at 1819 W. Montrose Ave., during a community meeting Wednesday night.
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Harrington Brown

NORTH CENTER — Tempers flared as neighbors clashed during a community meeting Wednesday night to debate a zoning change request for a proposed transit-oriented development on Montrose.

Opponents of the mixed-use Montrose Green project took issue with its density, height and the lack of parking spaces.

Under the property's current B3-2 zoning designation, developer David Brown, who has owned the lot at 1819 W. Montrose Ave. since 2009, would be limited to building a maximum of 13 residential units at 47 feet tall, with 10 required parking spaces, including those set aside for the building's commercial activity.

A zoning change to B3-3 would officially characterize the project as a transit-oriented development — a citywide designation created in 2013 — also allowing for 10 parking spaces, but increasing the number of rental units to 24 and the height to 55 feet.

"This is a classic site" for a transit-oriented development, Brown said. "It's a project right next to the 'L,' for people that don't need to drive a car."

Neighbors immediately disputed Brown's assumptions regarding his prospective renters.

"Most of these people, I believe, are going to have cars and park on our streets. Taking the train does not mean you don't own a car," said Kristina Stevens, who lives in the apartment building immediately to the west of Montrose Green.

"It just seems ridiculous to put more people in a space that's already starting to burst," added Katie Fearon-Peon, a longtime area resident. "I don't understand why we're doing this."

For some neighbors, the commercial/retail space — potentially a restaurant — was even greater cause for concern than the development's residential component, citing the likelihood of increased traffic on side streets, including the prospect of "18-wheelers" barreling down Wolcott Avenue where children play.

Others were most upset with the five-story building's height, worried about the precedent it could set for other developers and unhappy with its scale relative to other neighborhood structures.

"I cannot live with a 55-foot building," said Elizabeth Miller, who owns the apartment complex where Stevens lives.

"You are going to block all of the back porches," Miller said, adding that her tenants will "be looking into a wall."

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who ultimately will make the decision on the zoning request, frequently stepped in to referee the often-heated discussion.

"I hear you, there are people who are experiencing a lot of pain when it comes to parking," he said.

But citing the city's declining population and tax base, he noted, "We need people to move into the city, and not just Downtown. I don't think it makes sense that we don't want vibrant business on Montrose. I voted for TOD [transit-oriented develpoment], and I believe in it."

In making his case for Montrose Green, Brown, who lives and works in the neighborhood, attempted to clarify a number of conceptions about the development.

Regarding height, he pointed to the five-story building's significant 80-foot setback on the top floor.

"It presents as four stories from the street," he said, and is in line with the adjacent 42-foot Montrose Brown Line station.

In terms of density, the majority of the 24 units would be one-bedroom apartments averaging 750 square feet, with an expected total occupancy of fewer than 30 people, he said. 

If he were to build the 13 units allowed under the existing zoning, those larger two- to three-bedroom units would be sizable enough to accommodate small families, amounting to about 40 residents, according to Brown.

"Our proposal is likely to have fewer people," he said.

While the most vocal speakers at Wednesday's meeting objected to the development, several others stated their support for Montrose Green.

"This is the new reality," said Susan Levin. "I'm over 50, I don't have a car, I own a bicycle, I take the train. I am for this."

Community member Cayden Fitzgerald said matters related to development always come down to parking.

"People want their space," he said. "But building fewer parking spots changes the mindset — you don't need a car."

As the three-hour meeting came to a close, Pawar said he would take everyone's feedback into account and encouraged residents to call or email his office with their comments.

"At the end of the day, I make a decision," the alderman said. "I fully recognize not everyone's going to be happy."

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