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A 'Grand Gateway' to Jefferson Park Proposed For Blighted Land

By Heather Cherone | August 10, 2015 12:09pm

[45th Ward Office]

JEFFERSON PARK — Ald. John Arena (45th) Monday unveiled a plan to transform the long-vacant gateway into Jefferson Park along Lawrence Avenue with a mixed-use development featuring 9,900 square feet of retail space and 39 rental apartments.

The four-story project at 5161 W. Lawrence Ave. and 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. would be built on empty lots that have been vacant for nearly 15 years after city officials tore down a tire shop, a bank and a two-flat apartment building to make way for a seven-story, 132-unit condominium complex that was never built.

"I am sure we can work together to transform these blighted lots into a grand gateway to the Jefferson Park neighborhood,” said Arena, who vowed to make the revitalization of the Jefferson Park Business District his highest priority after winning re-election in April.

Vacant parcels dot Lawrence Avenue east of Milwaukee Avenue. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

The project would include space for 11 stores on the ground floor, with 41 parking spaces in an indoor garage for residents and 21 parking spaces for shoppers. A public plaza would also be built between Laramie and Avondale avenues, according to project rendering.

[45th Ward Office]

The city has agreed to give the portion of the property set to be developed that it owns — worth $530,000 — to Mega Realty, led by Demetrios "Jimmy" Kozonis.

Kozonis did not return a phone message Monday morning.

Heather Cherone details what happens next for this proposal:

The project is expected to generate $175,000 in sales and property taxes a year once it is completed, Arena said.

That will be a significant benefit to the city and neighborhood — as well as making the entrance to Lawrence Avenue more inviting, said Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff.

Kozonis first tried to develop the land in the early-2000s before fierce opposition to the height of the tower and number of condos torpedoed the plan, and prompted former Ald. Patrick Levar (45th) to drop his support.

A community meeting to discuss the project will take place at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.

Several buildings were torn down along Lawrence Avenue nearly 15 years ago to make way for a massive condo complex that was never built. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

The project — located in the Jefferson Park Tax Increment Financing District — would not require city officials to change the property's zoning, Arena said.

Last year, the Chicago City Council designated Milwaukee Avenue from Giddings to Higgins avenues and Lawrence Avenue from Long to Laramie avenues a pedestrian overlay zoning district, which is designed to protect walkable shopping districts, at Arena's request.

That change was opposed by the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, whose members said they feared the change would pave the way for dense developments with limited parking.

Because less than 10,000 square feet of retail space is proposed, the development will have to provide fewer parking spaces than typically required.

To move forward, the project must be approved by both the Community Development Commission, which oversees projects with in TIF districts, as well as the full City Council.

The 45th Ward zoning advisory committee — which holds its meetings behind closed doors — "vetted" the project, Arena said.

Arena said project must be approved before Oct. 13, when a city ordinance requiring developers of projects like the one proposed for Lawrence Avenue will require four apartments to be set aside for low-income residents.

The law would also allow the developer to choose to pay a $375,000 fee and building one affordable apartment or condominium elsewhere on the Far Northwest Side.

"That would make the project too difficult to complete, which would cause the land to remain vacant for the foreseeable future," Arena said.

Brugh said the additional costs would make the project not financially feasible.

The project would be built on either side of the Sportif bike shop owned by Donald Zordani, who blocked city efforts to use eminent domain to purchase the shop at 5225 W. Lawrence Ave., across the street from the Copernicus Center.

Zordani said Monday he would be willing to sell his property and business for "a reasonable price."

A proposal to build a photography museum on the vacant land is not "viable," because those who wanted to build it do not own the property in question, Brugh said.

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