NEAR NORTH — It's been nearly 20 years since the demolition of the former Cabrini-Green public housing development began, and finally, a plan is in place rebuild the long-vacant area.
The vision for a new community focuses on mixed-income developments spread across a range of densities in the 65-acre area.
At its peak, 15,000 people lived in Cabrini-Green in more than 3,600 housing units.
The public housing renewal project scattered the former residents around the city and state, many using a voucher program to find living quarters elsewhere, but soon a fraction of those residents could return to the Near North Side community.
The Chicago Housing Authority unveiled its long-awaited redevelopment plan Wednesday night, calling for a three-phase building process.
The goal is to build 2,330-2,830 housing units in buildings on 14 parcels on 50 acres. The mix of rentals and privately owned units hasn't been determined.
The first building phase, considered the most significant, will add 970-1,270 housing units.
The buildings will be built by private developers and bid out in three phases, the first of the bids going out this summer on four parcels of land. Construction on those four developments is expected to start between next year and 2018 and be completed a year later.
CHA anticipates different developers will be selected for each parcel, speeding the building process.
In developments that fall under a 2000 consent decree, the units will be 30 percent public housing, 20 percent affordable and 50 percent market rate.
"I'm glad that we are finally putting something down so that we can move on," said 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett. "A lot of people have been waiting in limbo for many years to deal with this."
Paul Biasco outlines the redevelopment plan:
The first building phase includes a mixed-use higher density commercial and residential building just west of the Target Store at Halsted and Division streets.
The phase also includes a parcel on the east side of Clybourn Avenue, site of the former Near North Metropolitan High School, 1450 N Larrabee St., now serving as a police training facility. That parcel calls for mixed-use high density residential and retail on Clybourn and low-density residential on Larrabee Street.
The first phase also includes two more plots, one directly south of Seward Park on Oak Street and the smallest plot at Oak and Larabee streets.
The density of the buildings has been the biggest point of contention during the planning process.
During a presentation of the plan Wednesday night, some community members argued that the project should include more housing, given its proximity to the Loop and the market for housing in the area.
They also argued that the total number of replacement units doesn't come close to the number of housing units that once stood on the site.
"I'm not against change. A lot of good things have come of it, but they are still trying to minimize us," said Tanita Cofield, a 54-year-old resident of the few remaining public housing units in Cabrini-Green. "They are not trying to bring us back."
Other residents want a plan with fewer housing units, a stark contrast to the crime-ridden towers that pushed some residents out of the area.
"To create more green space was not the goal of tearing down the buildings," Burnett said.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) (seen with hat) speaks with community leaders before Wednesday's meeting. (DNAinfo/Paul Biasco)
Burnett said the current plan includes more units than an earlier proposal, and he thinks it strikes a balance.
"I've been the alderman here for 20 years and grew up over here, and before these high-rises came down, there was 10 times more density, and we lived just fine," Burnett said.
During a luncheon to discuss the redevelopment of the area Wednesday, Burnett said the planning group will have to deal with anti-development folks with "NIMBY Syndrome" (Not In My Backyard).
"I saw lots go from $10,000 to a half-million in this community," Burnett said. "If it were not for the residents in CHA, a lot of folks wouldn't live over here and have the value that they have in their homes."
The massive project presents a number of challenges, including transportation limitations in an already congested area and creating a successful mixed-income community.
The biggest planning question remains the future of the the Frances Cabrini Row Houses.
A quarter of the row houses were rehabilitated in 2009, but 440 of the homes were fenced in and boarded up in 2008 and have remained that way.
A community group of some of the last public housing tenants in the Cabrini-Green row houses filed a lawsuit against the CHA in May of 2013, claiming the housing authority reneged on a promise to keep hundreds of housing units.
The case is pending, and CHA is not releasing its plans for the row houses until the lawsuit is over.
A CHA table estimating the construction phases estimates construction will start on the row houses between 2017 and 2019, but it is not clear what the agency has planned for the site.
The residents of the homes that are boarded up said they were under the impression they were temporarily relocating and would eventually move back in.
"People are waiting," Cofield said. "[The CHA] promised that. They are hopeful."
The row houses are eligible for historic status, and any work on them must follow a federal historic preservation review process, according to CHA.
"We cannot make any plans while it's under litigation," said Kathy Caisley, development manager at CHA. "As soon as litigation concludes, we expect to go out with a request for proposals."
CHA has been working to create the development plan since 2011 in an area that has seen rapid growth both economically and literally, as numerous high-rise condo buildings have popped up in the area surrounding Cabrini-Green.
Part of the reason for the boom is the reliability of Burnett when it comes to zoning, according to Chicago powerhouse developer Michael Drew of Structured Development.
Drew has numerous projects in the area including the soon-to-open $265 million New City Development just north of the Cabrini-Green area.
"What we look for in development is consistency from public officials," Drew said. "That's why the 27th Ward and the area around Cabrini-Green has prospered."
Wednesday's meeting was held at the Seward Park Field House. (DNAinfo/Paul Biasco)
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