WICKER PARK — A plan to revitalize an Aldi grocery store and bring more than 100 apartments to Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street was met with excitement for the concept but resistance over the size by some members of a neighborhood group earlier this week.
Centrum Partners is proposing a mixed-use residential and retail development at 1759-67 N. Milwaukee Ave. that would span 171,426 square feet near the elevated Bloomingdale Trail.
The plan calls for a seven-story building with 128 apartments, as well as a cafe. It also includes two three-bedroom single-family homes on North Wilmot Street, behind the Aldi.
Alisa Hauser discusses the likelihood of the proposed plan:
Most of the apartment building, designed by Hirsch Associates, would face Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street, and about one-third of the apartments would abut and overlook the Bloomingdale Trail, according to renderings.
"We have a great opportunity to do something with this site. Aldi has for years been approached with offers [from other buyers], but the offers have been to buy the building and get rid of Aldi," said Graham Palmer, a partner at Centrum Partners.
Palmer added, "Aldi has been there 28 years; it does very well. Aldi is very important for the neighborhood. This deal will not happen without Aldi."
The proposed building would be 80-feet tall, so there would need to be a significant "upzone" to allow the project, which prompted Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) to ask Palmer to meet with area community groups.
The plan would have a 17,500-square-foot Aldi grocery store on the ground level, along with another 1,792 square feet of retail, an on-site leasing office and 62 parking spots. The cafe would not be run by Aldi.
The second floor would house a parking garage for 72 cars, and floors three through seven would offer 128 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.
Palmer told members of the Wicker Park Committee that Centrum Partners does not plan to offer any affordable housing in the building, and the firm will likely pay $1.3 million to "opt out" of an ordinance that requires affordable housing.
The city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance requires that certain new buildings over 20 units either allocate 10 percent of units as affordable housing or pay $100,000 per unit to a city-managed trust fund that helps to develop low-income housing elsewhere.
Palmer said if all goes as planned and the zoning changes were approved, Centrum Partners would introduce a zoning ordinance for the Planned Development in April and begin construction in the fall.
Ed Tamminga, chairman of the Wicker Park Committee's preservation and development subcommittee, which has not yet voted on the plan, expressed reservations about the size of the units and asked if Centrum could offer "more family-friendly," larger dwellings.
Primarily studio and one bedroom apartments, the average apartment size would be around 747 square feet.
Championing a case for density, Palmer said, "We are urbanizing the site, bringing life, economic vitality" to the area.
Despite his concerns about the height of the building, Tamminga said, "We are all excited to see something go in there."
After the meeting, which was attended by about 10 people, area resident Teddy Varndell said he did not see why Centrum Partners "needs that big of a zoning bump."
"I didn't see the benefit to the community. I don't see much reason to go over four stories tall," Varndell said.
Next, Palmer is scheduled to meet with members of the Bucktown Community Organization's Zoning and Planning Committee at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Map Room, 1949 N. Hoyne Ave.
Sam Marts, a Bucktown resident, architect and member of the Bucktown Community Organization's Zoning and Planning Committee said he was "very excited the Aldi is going to stay."
"The question is how do we best develop the site's potential? As a neighbor, how will [the proposed development] impact Milwaukee Avenue and the traffic on Leavitt and the trail? The building is obviously kissing the trail. We are unsure if we want something looming over the trail," Marts said.
Marts did not express any concerns over smaller apartment units and density.
"Where do the divorced dads go? Bucktown needs more one-bedroom apartments," Marts said.
See the Centrum Partners Preliminary Proposal for Milwaukee/Leavitt here.
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