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Controversial Luxury Development in Uptown Moving Forward

By Mina Bloom | April 2, 2015 6:14am
 The former site of Maryville Academy, at Clarendon and Montrose avenues in Uptown.
The former site of Maryville Academy, at Clarendon and Montrose avenues in Uptown.
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Flickr/Mark Susina

UPTOWN — After months of uncertainty, plans to build a controversial luxury high-rise on the lakefront have resurfaced.

This week JDL Development struck a deal with the owner of the former Maryville Academy site that will "move the project forward," said Tressa Feher, chief of staff for Ald. James Cappleman (46th). 

The new agreement means the high-rise may be coming to Uptown's Montrose/Clarendon TIF District despite setbacks that included financial uncertainty and criticism from residents and community groups.

It comes after months of no updates, which left Uptown residents questioning if plans to build a more than $200 million luxury high-rise at Montrose and Clarendon avenues were dead or alive.

While Feher could not provide the terms of the new agreement, she said JDL has drastically cut the number of residential units proposed for the building to 300, which is at least 500 less than originally proposed. The new plan will also include a slight increase in commercial space, she said.

Multiple calls to JDL's president James Letchinger were not returned.

According to Cappleman's office, the project exists to generate the tax revenue needed to rehab the deteriorating Clarendon Park Field House, which was recently named one of the seven most threatened buildings in the city by a local preservation group.

Back in 2012, when the plan was first introduced, JDL wanted to build a two-tower, high-end housing development with 26,000 square feet of retail space, 800 residential units — 10 percent of them affordable — and a private park.

Since then, Uptown residents have been divided over the plan, which is expected to cost at least $220 million. Affordable housing advocates said the proposed rent of $1,200 was too much and preservationists were not in support of demolishing the historic Cueno Hospital to make room for the high-rise. 

Residents also opposed granting TIF money to a private developer after a record number of schools were closed in 2013 and the ward's recent reduction of affordable housing stock.

The project was stalled because the city offered JDL a tax increment financing subsidy that was about $20 million less than what the development company wanted.

"The issue has always been that any developer who takes on this project must have a sufficient net operating income return rate that would be sufficient enough to get a bank loan," Feher said in an email.

In other words, the development can't move forward if the bank believes it's too risky to provide a loan, she said.

But Feher called the latest agreement a "key" step in bringing the development to fruition.

After JDL works out the details with the city's Department of Planning and Development, the development company will supply the alderman's office with new renderings, specifications of the building and financing, Feher said. All materials will be posted on the alderman's website, she added.

Then the members of the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee will get a chance to weigh in.

It is unclear if JDL will have details ready for the committee's next meeting, which is slated for April 27, Feher said.

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