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Are Renters Bad for a 'Hood? Debate Over Apartment Plan Near Trader Joe's

By Patty Wetli | June 18, 2015 11:02am
 A 62-unit apartment building is being proposed for the former Hines Lumber site, adjacent to the Lincoln Avenue Trader Joe's.
A 62-unit apartment building is being proposed for the former Hines Lumber site, adjacent to the Lincoln Avenue Trader Joe's.
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Jonathan Splitt Architects

NORTH CENTER — Developers hit the "reset" button on their plans for a 62-unit apartment building on the site of the former Hines Lumber — first presented to North Center residents in February 2014 — but a do-over meeting held Wednesday night to revisit the proposal suggested opposition to the project has only solidified in the intervening months.

Whereas complaints at the initial community forum centered on parking and traffic woes, particularly given the proposed building's proximity to the Lincoln Avenue Trader Joe's, new objections were raised Wednesday related to the issue of rental units versus condos.

"I don't understand why we need more rental. It's a revolving door with rental ... and we're not going to know anyone," said long-time resident Tony Moreno. "We're going to get strangers from this moment forever."

Echoing the comments of many of his neighbors, Moreno added, "I'd rather see condos."

North Center's preponderance of single family homes is precisely what some residents said drew them to the neighborhood in the first place as they fled denser more "transient" areas like Wrigleyville.

One attendee asked for a show of hands to see if anyone among the crowd was a renter. None were.

"They're not invested," he said. "They're not going to be at these meetings."

Building single family homes on the Hines' site, 1801 W. Grace St., is a nonstarter, given that the lot is sandwiched between Metra and "L" tracks, said the project's architect Jonathan Splitt.

Neighbors' desire for condos instead of apartments runs counter to recent trends in Chicago. According to a report in Crain's, developers are actually snapping up condo buildings and "deconverting" them into apartments to take advantage of a hot rental market.

Residents speaking out in favor of the proposal stated that apartments were preferable to a vacant lot.

"I was a renter ... I don't remember being an awful person," said Bryan Minier.

"I want something there," he said. "I want people living here, I want people spending money here."

The elimination of rental units in favor of single family homes has caused the neighborhood's population to dip, said Jim Nathan.

"I think we need young people coming into this community. Renters provide a lot of vitality," he said.

"I don't want to see this community turn into a gated community where the only way you can come in is to buy a $1.8 million home," said Nathan.

Jim Poole, chief of staff for Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), said the proposal was not a "done deal," with Splitt adding that he had yet to file for any permits.

Feedback on parking, traffic and density would all be considered by the alderman, and further community discussions would be scheduled, Poole said.

"We'll take it one step at a time," he said.

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