LAKEVIEW — For more than a year, the CTA has been delivering slick presentations on the details of the proposed Belmont Flyover project to residents in the area. On Tuesday, Lakeview locals turned the tables on them.
In the garage of 3252 N. Wilton Ave., a condo building and one of 16 structures slated for re-purposing or demolition if the project goes as planned, the Hawthorne Neighbors group laid out a series of concerns, suggestions and grievances to CTA representatives. Chief among them was a lingering uncertainty over how soon they'd be forced to move out.
"People's lives are on hold here, and what we're really worried about is, what if this thing gets really protracted?" said Earl Fenner, who owns one of the building's 14 condo units, at the outset of the meeting. "People are already starting to sell their homes and businesses around here, and it leaves us feeling like we're living in a condemned building."
Throughout the meeting, attended by about 10 residents, CTA Senior Manager of Community Relations Jeffrey Wilson attempted to quell fears and soothe tempers. But with a drawn-out government approval process and a unclear construction timeline on the horizon, his answers were limited.
"Uncertainty is a horrible way to live, and I get that — this project is going to be a serious headache for some people," Wilson admitted. "That's not lost on us. But I don't have a crystal ball to say exactly what is going to happen when. ... The only thing I can say for sure right now is that every organization, from the [Federal Transit Authority] down to the CTA, has said that this project needs to happen."
Now that the project's Environmental Assessment period has closed, capped off by last month's community open house, Wilson said the CTA is sending all its data — including resident's unedited comments — to the Federal Transit Authority. If all goes forward, the agency will issue a "Finding of No Significant Impact" by the end of August, clearing the way for the CTA to make plans for "preliminary engineering" by November. Between a six-month Request for Proposals Period and a search for the right developer, engineering consultant Tom Williams said, the first shovel wouldn't hit the ground until the spring of 2017 at the earliest.
"And this is all what would happen in a perfect world, but there's any number of factors that could change" the timeline, Williams said.
What the CTA could commit, Wilson said, was to keep a reliable two-way tether of information between the community and the CTA all throughout the process.
"We need your input at every stage, we want to hear that ... and I promise that if there's ever any infomation we have that I can share with you, we will. We're not trying to hide anything," said Wilson, offering residents one-on-one meetings over coffee. "The CTA wants a community process to make sure we're moving forward in a way that gives the least amount of headache and heartache as possible."
For owners of doomed property like Fenner, Wilson said, that could mean the CTA buying their space and renting it out, acting as a "de facto landlord" until they've found another place to live.
Fenner has other plans.
"I'm invested here — this is a great neighborhood to start a family, that's why I moved in eight years ago," said Fenner, who lives in a condo with his fiancee. "All the uncertainty adds a lot of stress, but I want to be here to see it play out. I don't plan on leaving any time soon."
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