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Neighbors Speak Out Against Proposed River North Tower

 Renderings of a proposed 32-story tower at 353 W. Grand Ave. was shown to River North neighbors Monday.
Renderings of proposed 353 W. Grand development.
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RIVER NORTH — A Canadian developer has shared its plan for a 32-story apartment tower it wants to build near the corner of Grand Avenue and Orleans Street, drawing ire from neighbors who feel the proposal leaves them no room for a view.

Vancouver, B.C.-based Onni Group pitched neighbors Monday on its 330-unit proposal for 353 W. Grand Ave., a mixed-use project that would also include street-level retail, 271 parking spaces, and what Onni Development Manager Brian Brodeur calls a "lushly landscaped" fifth-floor amenity deck with a pool and cabanas.

If built, the project would join a growing gaggle of new towers sprouting in River North as developers rush to build a record number of Downtown apartments. But Onni's plan drew backlash Monday from residents of The Sexton building directly south of the development site, many of them upset they would stand to lose their views and share a narrow alley with the new tower.

"We've asked to participate [in the process] but no one ever offered to let us," said Richard Staback, president of the The Sexton condominium association at 360 W. Illinois St.

The Pappageorge Haymes-designed project would be comprised of two buildings, including the tower and an adjoining five-story building for retail and parking. Brodeur said the tower was moved to the middle of Grand, from the corner, in an effort to "be better neighbors" to The Sexton, but many residents of the 11-story loft building were still outraged they would lose their views to a new neighbor right in front of them.

Plans also call for The Sexton and the new tower to share an alley off Orleans Street that would handle loading for both properties. The alley, which lies between both properties, would separate the buildings by less than 20 feet and would admittedly require "carefully controlled" deliveries so trucks don't jam it up, traffic consultant Tim Doran of Gewalt Hamilton said.

Doran said the proposed tower would bring more traffic to the area, but only to a level that adheres to "traffic standards" issued by the Chicago Department of Transportation [CDOT]. Sexton neighbors weren't impressed.

"I don't trust CDOT any further than I can throw them," one man said Monday. The meeting was held at the East Bank Club, 500 N. Kingsbury St., and hosted by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and the River North Residents Association.

Reilly, whose ward includes the pending development site, assured that Monday's presentation was merely the beginning of the project's public vetting.

"Under no circumstances is this thing cooked," he said.

Onni, which is also building a 25-story tower at 750 N. Hudson Ave. and leading the 1,500-unit Atrium Village development at Division and Wells streets, seeks city approval for the Grand Avenue plan because the project's size requires it. Brodeur said "national" retailers and local restaurant groups are interested in the project's street-level space, but no tenants have been signed yet.

If approved, the project would still not break ground for at least another year, Brodeur said. Rents would range from $1,500 to $1,800 for studios, $2,100 to $2,300 for one-bedroom units, and $3,500 to $4,000 for two-bedroom apartments, he said. Onni bought the development site, which includes the former Clark & Barlow hardware store, in 2012.

In a bizarre twist, former Ald. Burt Natarus (42nd), Reilly's city council predecessor, told Sexton residents at the end of the meeting they could "blame" him for pushing the once-industrial neighborhood into a high-rise haven where views are often threatened by new towers.

"I rezoned this area residential and high-rise," Natarus said. "This business of 'don't block my view' doesn't go. Not everybody is entitled to a view."

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