NORTH PARK — Opponents of Northeastern Illinois University's use of eminent domain to build student housing on Bryn Mawr Avenue declared a victory of sorts when the school announced this week it would first begin construction of dorms on its own campus.
"Efforts from community members in the fight against NEIU and eminent domain has paid off," Kim Moseid posted to North Park Neighbors Facebook page.
"Many community members have spoken at board meetings and to the media and have asked, 'Why don't you build on your own ample 67 acres of space?'" added Moseid, who was among a group that picketed outside the home of NEIU President Sharon Hahs last July.
Garrick Beil, son of one of the Bryn Mawr property owners fighting NEIU's eminent domain claim in court, called the university's decision "sensible," albeit one the administration and board of trustees only made following significant "community backlash."
Patty Wetli says property owners still have a fight ahead:
The latest turn of events does not mean the university is backing off its pursuit of eminent domain, however.
The university has always stated its intention to build student housing on both Bryn Mawr and its own property. The latest announcement simply represents a switch in order, with on-campus moving from phase two to phase one, according to NEIU spokesman Mike Dizon.
A combination of factors affected the university's decision, including community feedback, consultation with the project's contractor and timing, he said.
"Our goal had always been to provide housing starting fall 2016," Dizon said. "With eminent domain proceedings taking as long as they do, it won't be possible to open the Bryn Mawr residence hall by then."
Hahs shared the housing update at Monday's meeting of the Northeastern Neighborhood Network, which consists of delegates from area civic organizations as well as NEIU administrators.
Carmen Rodriguez represented Hollywood North Park Community Association at the meeting.
"We continue to have concerns about the university's land acquisition plans off-campus, and many members continue to express worry over the impact of on-campus development, as well," she said.
Gina Fong, a newly elected member of the community association's board, is one such resident.
"For me, I would have loved to have heard they were withdrawing their eminent domain lawsuit," said Fong.
"Six property owners are still in court fighting this. No one wants to go and that's heartbreaking," she said. "And [NEIU] has land — they've just proven it."
In fact, the university has shifted its on-campus housing away from its initially proposed site, an athletic field on Foster Avenue, north to a parking lot.
"We always knew ... it was tentative," Dizon said of the dorm's potential location.
Though he didn't have a firm timetable of when construction on the 400-bed residence hall would start, or be completed, he estimated "shovels in the ground" sometime around May following the spring thaw.
He said architectural renderings, layouts and pricing would be posted when available on a Web page — Northeastern Neighbors — that was created to keep the community informed about the project and other developments at NEIU.
Fong said she filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a project schedule, financial plan and conceptual designs related to the dorms and was denied access.
"The university is not being very transparent," she said.
NEIU has only held a single public forum, back in January 2014, regarding its "Decade of Dreams" expansion plans, which encompasses not only the residence halls but a half-dozen major building projects, Fong noted.
"That to me is a red flag," she said.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: