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Massive Mixed-Use Project Planned Next to Jefferson Park Transit Center

By Heather Cherone | September 22, 2015 6:14am

[45th Ward Office]

JEFFERSON PARK — A 96-unit apartment building, a 265-space parking garage and eight shops would be built on what is now vacant land in the heart of the Jefferson Park Business District, according to plans unveiled Monday by Ald. John Arena (45th).

The Mega Realty project needs special permission from city officials, including Arena, to soar 12 stories on a triangular piece of property at 4849 N. Lipps Ave. where decades ago Cowhey Materials & Fuel Co. once mixed cement but is now adjacent to the Jefferson Park Transit Center.

The development would be separated from the closest homes by an expressway and train tracks. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

Once built, the building would be visible from the Kennedy Expressway alongside the spire of the nearby Copernicus Center and the 10-story Veterans Square office building. It is the largest project proposed in Jefferson Park in nearly 15 years, when community opposition scuttled Mega Realty's plans for a seven-story, 132-unit condominium complex on Lawrence Avenue that was never built.

The proposed development would be two stories taller than the 10-story Veterans Square office tower. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

A community meeting to discuss the project will take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.

Ten of the apartments would be set aside for low-income residents to comply with a city ordinance designed to increase the number of affordable housing units included in projects that need special permission or a subsidy from city officials.

The five-floor parking garage with 53 spaces per floor will provide spaces during the day for tenants and shoppers at Veterans Square, where approximately 40 percent of the office space is vacant, said Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff.

Heather Cherone says this proposal would soar over nearby buildings:

Mega Realty, led by Demetrios "Jimmy" Kozonis, has told the alderman's office that the lack of designated spots near Lipps and Higgins avenues has made it difficult to lease offices to tenants, Brugh said. The gravel-covered lot set to be developed is now used as overflow parking for the office building even though it is zoned for manufacturing uses.

"This is the right place for development of this scale," Brugh said, noting that the homes nearest the project are across the Union Pacific Railroad and Metra tracks and the Kennedy Expressway.

Arena, who vowed to make the revitalization of the Jefferson Park Business District his highest priority after winning re-election in April, has said the key to revitalizing neighborhood shopping districts — like the one in Jefferson Park centered at Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues — is to increase the amount of people living there to attract the shops and restaurants that will benefit the entire community.

This project is designed to make the area more vibrant by creating the demand for shops, restaurants and bars, Brugh said.

Kozonis did not return a phone message Monday.

At night, the parking garage would be used by the Copernicus Center, which often hosts concerts and other events that draw large crowds.

For the last several years, the center has been using empty lots on the south side of Lawrence Avenue as overflow parking lots in what Arena has called a "quasi-legal" arrangement.

But that arrangement won't be possible if a four-story, 39-unit apartment complex and retail development is built at 5161 W. Lawrence Ave. and 5201 W. Lawrence Ave. as part of an effort endorsed by Arena to revitalize the gateway to Jefferson Park.

Under the agreement, both the proposed parking garage and the existing parking garage at Veterans Square would be "professionally operated," Arena said.

The Veterans Square parking garage. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

None of the 265 spaces in the five-story garage would be set aside for residents. Under city law, a residential development so close to a transit hub is not required to provide spots for residents.

In addition, dumpsters now on the public way behind Veterans Square — which are a frequent source of complaints — would be moved inside an enclosure and screened from view, officials said.

[DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]

The proposal is unlikely to win the approval of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, since that group has a policy of opposing projects that apply to change the city's rules in order to allow more dense or taller developments.

A project to build a 48-unit apartment complex made up of two five-story apartment buildings on the other side of the transit center on a storage yard once owned by Cowhey Materials & Fuel Co. is in limbo in the face of fierce opposition from nearby residents.

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