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Wicker Park Group Accuses Alderman of Favoring Businessman in Zoning Change

By Alisa Hauser | August 24, 2015 6:47pm
 The owner of Papajin at 1551 N. Milwaukee Ave. wants to demolish his existing one-story building and build a new three story building in its place.
The owner of Papajin at 1551 N. Milwaukee Ave. wants to demolish his existing one-story building and build a new three story building in its place.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — Members of a Wicker Park group are criticizing Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) for allowing the owner of a Milwaukee Avenue storefront to demolish his building and replace it with a four-story apartment building that will offer bigger units than what's currently allowed in neighboring properties.

"I believe this right-sized and architecturally-appropriate building will be a positive addition to the Milwaukee Avenue Landmark District," Moreno said in defense of a four-story, three-unit apartment building planned for 1551 N. Milwaukee Ave., just south of the neighborhood's main hub.

Eric Wang is planning to raze the 100-year-old building at 1551 N. Milwaukee Ave. and build a four-story brick building offering a trio of three-bedroom apartments, one on each floor above his restaurant, Papajin.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Wang said Sunday that Papajin, the Chinese food restaurant he has operated since 1995, will continue to be on the ground floor when the new development is completed.

The new four-story building planned to replace Papagin's 1551 N. Milwaukee Ave. would be no taller than two other similar buildings, housing a Jimmy John's to the north and Pint, a bar, to the south. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

Teddy Varndell, a member of the Wicker Park Committee's Preservation and Development Committee, said that the project's floor area ratio and fact it is "spot zoning" in an otherwise consistently zoned block "represents a potentially dangerous precedent for Wicker Park."

"He will get more floor area, more rental space and more income and it is breaking a consistently zoned block," Varndell said.

Wang's zoning change request was approved by the full City Council on July 29.

Under the previous zoning, Wang would have been able to build about 1,300 square feet per floor; with the new "up-zoning" he can build about 1,900 square feet per floor and offer three-bedroom instead of two-bedroom rentals.

Elaine Coorens, publisher of Our Urban Times, and a member of the Wicker Park Committee Preservation and Development group that unanimously opposed Wang's zoning request, reported that the "spot-zoning" by Moreno would set a precedent for other requests from developers.

In a news release issued Friday, Ed Tamminga, the Chairman of the Wicker Park Committee's P&D Committee said, "We are concerned about the potential that this spot-zoning will be used as precedent to up-zone more and more of the Milwaukee Avenue Historic District.” 

Varndell alleged that Moreno's up-zoning support was "essentially a favor for a long-time Wicker Park business owner that allows [Wang] to build a larger building and put more money in his pocket."

Moreno told DNAinfo Chicago that he chose to "support a long-standing Wicker Park business owner, who has operated his business in the community for more than 20 years" and disagreed that the zoning change would create a ripple effect.

"I do not see the upzone as precedent-setting, because all future Milwaukee Avenue upzoning proposals will be sent to the Wicker Park Committee for review and input," Moreno said.

Moreno said he has agreed with the Wicker Park Committee's recommendations "over 90 percent of the time."

"I value the hard work and the extensive knowledge and experience that the Wicker Park Committee provides on all the zoning proposals that it reviews. However, no one agrees with each other 100 percent of the time and, occasionally, I will disagree with the nine people on a committee that exists within a Wicker Park community composed of thousands of diverse residents and scores of long-time, independent business owners like Papajin," Moreno said.

Nick Novich, who owns a three-story building at 1516 N. Milwaukee Ave., said he supports Wang's building plan as long as the design fits in with the block.

"I'm in favor of everyone prospering. A brick building that looks more like the other buildings is better than glass and steel. The design of this new building must respect the character of what's here," Novich said.

Eric Wang, owner of Papajin and the building at 1551 N. Milwaukee Ave. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

A new 4-story building design by architect Allen Villanueva, planned for 1551 N. Milwaukee Ave: