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West Loop Condo Building Plan 'Unsafe' in Case of Fire, Neighbors Say

By Stephanie Lulay | August 12, 2015 11:33am
 More than 200 residents attended Monday night's meeting at Merit School of Music to hear LG Development's latest proposal for the site near Mary Bartelme Park.
More than 200 residents attended Monday night's meeting at Merit School of Music to hear LG Development's latest proposal for the site near Mary Bartelme Park.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

WEST LOOP — A developer's latest proposal for a site near Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop is shorter and less dense, but neighbors believe the plan may put them in danger.

More than 200 residents attended Monday night's community meeting at Merit School of Music as Wicker Park-based LG Development pitched their latest plan for 111 S. Peoria St. — a nine-story plus penthouse building that would see 95 condominium units available for purchase developed on site. The site now houses a parking lot. 

At the meeting, Brian Goldberg, LG Development partner, said the group has gone to great lengths to address the community's concerns, now presenting an all-condo project that is shorter, from 140 feet to 115 feet, with fewer units. The plan calls for 99 parking spaces in the building and a rooftop pool and large common area were eliminated from the plan.

Goldberg said the new plan addresses life-safety issues raised under the previous plan, too, adding that the plans have been reviewed by the Chicago Fire Department, the city's Fire Prevention Bureau, city planning officials and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

But neighbors living near the site disagree.

Leo Cox, a retired battalion chief who served 34 years with the Chicago Fire Department, said the new building's design would prevent a ladder truck from easily reaching Monroe Manor balconies. Now a consultant with KVCL Safety, Cox was one of a few expert witnesses hired by neighbors who oppose LG Development's plan for the site.

"We will get to you eventually, it will just make it a lot more difficult," Cox said.

The building is simply too big for the Peoria site, said Ken Scales, president of Monroe Manor's condo board. About 43 residential units and 10 retail spaces are located in the Monroe Manor building.

The West Loop Community Organization plans to address concerns over fire safety with the developer this week, said Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the group.

LG Development's latest plan for 111 S. Peoria calls for 95 condos to be built at the site. [DNAinfo]

After the meeting, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said he will consider "reasonable" concerns about the project raised by community groups.

"I'm going to make my decision," Burnett said. "But I'm going to tell you right now, some of these things I don't agree with. I'm not afraid to disagree if it's what is right."

Burnett reminded neighbors that he doesn't make decisions on new development based on how it will impact other residents' existing views. No one has "a right" to a view, he said.

"And I can tell when there's a lot of B.S. going on and people are really talking about views," Burnett said. "I've done heard every excuse and story when it's really about views."

The West Central Association will "fully" support the project, said the group's president Armando Chacon. The group did not support previous versions of LG's proposal.

"In my view, the [developer's] outreach to residents was aggressive and adequate," Chacon said.

The West Loop Community Organization and Neighbors of West Loop have yet to weigh in on the project.

The 111 S. Peoria St. property is currently zoned DS-3 and the developer seeks a DX-5 zoning designation.

Alternative community center plan

A group of neighbors opposed to LG Development's condo proposal aimed to pitch a two-story community center as an alternative plan for the site, but Ald. Burnett said he could not consider the plan because the group had not reached out the property's owner.

"Until you get the property owner to tell me they are A-OK with [the project] on their property, I won't entertain it," Burnett said.

Peter Cacciatore, president of the group that currently owns the 111 S. Peoria site, wrote a letter to Agostinelli indicating that neighbors pushing the community center plan have not reached out to him.

"I'm not going to bore you by reading the letter, but basically it says 'nope,'" Burnett said.

Instead of condos, neighbors want to see a community center developed at the 111 S. Peoria site. [West Loop Residents Association]

The community center plan, developed by the West Loop Residents Association and other neighbors, calls for a two-story community center to be developed at the 111 S. Peoria St. site instead of condos. The West Loop Community Center would be privately financed through fundraising, and neighbor Richard Dees said he already has a $2 million commitment that would be used to purchase the property.

The community center would include a green rooftop community garden, gym and meeting space for West Loop residents, according to the proposal. Neighbor Sam Tenenbaum, a proponent of the community center plan, said the group of neighbors who oppose LG Development's latest condo proposal wanted to offer a viable alternative for the site to the community.

LG Development does not currently own the lot, but does have a contract with the property's owner Cacciatore to buy the property for $6.25 million. The sale is contingent on a zoning change that would allow for their condo proposal to be developed at the site, according to Goldberg.

Neighbors who want to build a community center at the site contend that the 111 S. Peoria property is not valued at $6.25 million without the zoning change. They said the entire community center plan will cost about $10 million.

After the meeting, Dees noted that the group pushing the community center cannot legally negotiate with the property's owner before LG Development's pending deal with the seller expires.

Goldberg said that LG's pending contract to purchase the property does not expire "anytime soon."

The group of neighbors opposed to LG Development's condo plan have circulated a petition that has been signed by 357 people to date.

LG Development's team, including acquisitions manager Dan Haughney, partner Brian Goldberg and development manager Gabe Leahu, presented a new plan Monday night that would see 95 condos built at the 111 S. Peoria site in the West Loop. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Developer slashes density

LG Development previously planned to build a 13-story apartment tower at the site, but hundreds of West Loop residents slammed the project in June, leading Burnett to kill the rental development. Under that plan, 215 apartment units were proposed compared to the current 95 condo units.

The typical floor plan under LG Development's latest all-condo proposal at 111 S. Peoria. [DNAinfo]

At the June meeting, the crowd took issue with the height of the building and the number of apartments. Neighbors said they did not want more rentals in the neighborhood and were concerned the new building could present safety issues for existing condo owners.

Comments made at that meeting about renters led Burnett to say in July that he thought the West Loop was starting to become "a bigot neighborhood."

"When I left that meeting, I felt that [some residents] were very discriminatory against [renters]. I felt bad that there was people sitting in that room that rent. You don't actually recognize that you are talking about people in the meetings. I thought it was wrong, I thought it was bad, and I tell you ... it turned me off," Burnett later said.

The West Loop Residents Association and others strongly opposed the 13-story apartment building over months, ultimately hiring an attorney to fight the project.

The new 111 S. Peoria St. condo plan calls for a mix of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units and up to 141 parking spots on site. Previous plans called for up to 177 parking spots.

A one-bedroom condo would be 900-square-feet and a four-bedroom unit would feature 2,500-square-feet of space, according to renderings obtained by DNAinfo Chicago.

The nixed apartment plan called for apartments that ranged from about 495 square feet to 2,045 square feet.

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