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Jefferson Park Gateway Project Gets Thumbs Up From Most Residents

By Heather Cherone | September 3, 2015 7:52am
 The project will have 9,900 square feet of retail space and 39 residential units, officials said.
The project will have 9,900 square feet of retail space and 39 residential units, officials said.
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45th Ward Office

[45th Ward Office]

JEFFERSON PARK — A plan to transform blighted land into a "grand gateway" into Jefferson Park with 39 apartments and nearly a dozen shops is the best way to jump-start development in the area, a majority of those who attended a community meeting hosted by Ald. John Arena (45th) Wednesday night agreed.

But the project drew fire from some residents at the meeting who criticized it as a giveaway of city-owned land to to Mega Realty, one of the area's largest landowners.

The development would correct mistakes made more than a decade ago by city leaders and bring new life to the struggling business district around Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues, said Arena, who made revitalizing Jefferson Park his top priority after winning re-election.

"None of us can change the history," Arena said. "The question is now what we are going to do about it."

Ald. John Arena touts the proposed "gateway" project as the best chance to improve Jefferson Park at a community meeting. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

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 several buildings to make way for a seven-story, 132-unit condominium complex that was never built.

Those empty lots present a "horrible image" of Jefferson Park to visitors who get off the Kennedy Expressway at Lawrence Avenue, Arena said.

"I'm not proud of what you see when you get off the Kennedy," Arena said. "The next step is what do we do about it."

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, the same company behind the original plan for the seven-story building on the property.

Jefferson Park resident Greg Sedlacek agreed with Arena that Jefferson Park had "looked like a dump for too long."

But the answer, he said, was not to give the city's land to Mega Realty, which was represented at the meeting by Loukas Kozonis.

"It should not be given to the developer who made Jefferson Park a dump," Sedlacek said, referring to Mega Realty's abandoning of plans for the site 15 years ago.

The $16 million project would include space for 11 stores on the ground floor, with 41 parking spaces in an indoor garage for residents and their guests.

A 3,500-square-foot public plaza would also be built on a trapezoidal piece of property between Laramie and Avondale avenues that also will feature a 21-space parking lot, according to project renderings.

Kathleen Renkosiak, who has lived her whole life a few blocks away from the project, said she was thrilled by the proposal — and by the fact that she would not have to be embarrassed by the empty lots any longer when friends come to visit.

"This is absolutely fantastic," Renkosiak said. "I want to spend my own money in my own community."

Noreen Boyle, who also lives near the proposed project, said she watched carefully over the years as plans for the land came and went.

"This is a great project," Boyle said. "This is the most attractive project that has been proposed here."

[45th Ward Office]

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

The city's Community Development Commission — which rejected the project Aug. 11 — is scheduled to reconsider the project at its meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

After that rejection, the project was revised to set aside four of the project's 39 apartments aside for low-income residents, officials said.

Two two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments will be rented at 60 percent of the rental market rate in the Portage Park Community Area for 30 years, Arena said. The average rent in Jefferson Park and Portage Park is $1,596, according to Realtor.com.

Capping the rent on those four apartments will cost the developer $2.6 million over the life of the project, Arena said.

The complex will have 24 two-bedroom units and 15 one-bedroom units, and rent for between $1,000 and $1,500, Loukas Kozonis said.

Loukas Kozonis listens to residents discuss a 39-unit mixed-used complex at a community meeting Wednesday night. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

Kozonis said he expected most residents to be young couples, single men and women or older couples who have sold their homes.

Arena said project must be approved before Oct. 13, when a city ordinance would increase the affordable housing fee the developer must pay to $500,000 while requiring at least one apartment to be provided at a reduced rent.

Under the new ordinance, the Jefferson Park project would not be financially feasible, Arena said.

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