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Residents Still Oppose Orleans Street Development, Delay Zoning Approval

By Mina Bloom | September 23, 2015 8:38am | Updated on September 23, 2015 8:54am
 Old Town residents at the meeting Monday evening.
Old Town residents at the meeting Monday evening.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

OLD TOWN — It's back to the drawing board yet again for LG Development Group.

Neighbors largely opposed the developer's revised plans to build a nine-story, residential development in the 1400 block of North Orleans Street at the second meeting held to discuss the project Monday evening. They said the developer didn't address traffic and density concerns from the previous meeting.

In order to move the project forward, the developer needs support from the community so Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) will approve a zoning change. But there wasn't even mention of a vote at the more than two-hour long meeting held at Catherine Cook School, 226 W. Schiller St.

 A new rendering of the proposed development.
A new rendering of the proposed development.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

Instead, old concerns were raised again, including worries that the "Titanic-sized" development, as one resident put it, would increase noise and congestion in the area, including the Sedgwick Brown Line stop. Other requests like "softening" the look of the building from the street and providing enough green space and lighting also came up.

The new plan calls for a 110-foot-tall residential building with 250 apartments — almost half of them 365-square-foot studios — built alongside 150 parking spaces. 

That's a slightly shorter building with 25 less apartments and 50 percent more parking spaces than the initial proposal presented at the July meeting. Those plans included a 115-foot-tall building with a small retail tenant and 272 apartments — the majority of them 325-square-foot studios — built alongside 85 parking spaces.

Though the developer didn't decrease the height by very much, Brian Goldberg, president of LG Development Group, said his team took concerns about the height of the building into consideration by setting it farther back from the street at North Avenue so it will appear shorter.

"When you're on the ground floor, you're really only seeing up to the seventh floor parapet. The building reads from the street as a lower structure," he said of the revised plans.

It was done in response to residents' concerns about the height of the building, some of whom signed an online petition urging the developer to scale down the height of the development and stick to its current zoning.

The development would replace the former Noble Horse theater stables and an adjacent lot in the 1400 block of North Orleans Street. No one at the meeting mentioned the stable and riding hall, which was built in 1871 and is currently being used as headquarters by two carriage companies.

"Don't evict the current tenants," an advocate previously told DNAinfo Chicago about the development plan. "We're the ones holding on to it, we're the ones advocating for it. It was built for us."

The portion of Orleans Street near the development is now a loading zone for the stable. But the developer would like to see that stretch become permit parking for neighbors.

Some residents said the developer should've adhered to the development guidelines written by the community group Near North Unity Program, Burnett and the Old Town Merchants Association.

"We need to make sure we're not in the same disorganized mess as we're in now. There needs to be a process," resident James McLaughlin said.

"We have to live here long after the developer leaves. We have to deal with parking and traffic. The crux of the whole thing is the [zoning] variance," he said, earning a round of applause from the roughly 40 residents who attended the meeting.

Despite the lingering concerns, Burnett indicated that it'd be wise for the community to work with the developer since LG is willing to work with them, saying the developer has a "great reputation of building real nice buildings across the city."

"I heard some folks talking about four stories. It's not going to happen on this street," he said.

The development would be across the street from the Marshall Field Gardens housing complex, which Burnett called the "big elephant in the room." 

Developers "are going to look at that and have some challenges. I hate to say that but I'm just being real with y'all. Folks who are investing consider those things," he said.

Goldberg and his team agreed to make more changes and meet with the community for a third time to get the zoning approval to build a development on what he called "the darkest" and "one of the most blighted" parcels in Old Town.

By the next meeting, the project may qualify as a transit-oriented development.

This week the City Council is expected to vote on new legislation to strengthen a 2013 ordinance covering transit-oriented developments that allows for less parking spaces in buildings constructed near public transportation. The reform would create more incentives for developers like expanding the areas that qualify as transit-oriented developments and getting rid of minimum parking requirements.

If the new ordinance is approved, the building, which is within 800 feet of the Sedgwick Brown Line, would be considered a transit-oriented development, which could allow for a more dense development with fewer parking spaces, which is what the reformed ordinance is meant to encourage.

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