WEST LOOP — An influential neighborhood group has pulled its support for a controversial condo development planned near Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop.
In a change of course, the West Loop Community Organization has informed the area's alderman that it is no longer supporting the nine-story plus penthouse building at 111 S. Peoria St.
LG Development is seeking a zoning change that would allow the firm to build the tower, which would include 95 condominiums on a site that now houses a parking lot.
In September, after months of heated debate in the neighborhood, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said that he would back the developer's plan. At the time, he said the developer had addressed nearly every change the neighbors requested.
At the time, both the West Central Association and West Loop Community Organization supported the project. But late last month, WLCO issued a new letter saying that the group could not support the project.
Carla Agostinelli, WLCO executive director, said the developer failed to honor an agreement with the organization.
When LG Development presented an updated plan to the community in August, the facade of the building had been significantly redesigned without input from WLCO's development committee, Agostinelli said. The group's board requested a meeting with the developer, and on Sept. 1, the developer agreed to make a series of changes to the plan and submit new renderings to WLCO that reflected those changes, according to Agostinelli.
Those changes included reducing the number of balconies on the front of the building facing Peoria Street, adding more glass and stainless steel to balconies and enhancing the main entry of the building to differentiate from the adjacent garage entrance, according to a letter.
Despite the agreement, the developer submitted an unchanged plan to the city's Plan Commission on Sept. 24, Agostinelli said.
"Therefore WLCO is unable to recommend the project at 111 S. Peoria," she wrote to Burnett. "It's unfortunate that we aren't able to recommend the project at this time because of their lack of response to us."
Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization (left); Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (right) [Submitted; Bill Motchan]
Zoning attorney Michael Ezgur, who represents LG Development, said that the developer is continuing to work to address WLCO's concerns. He said the project has been property vetted by the community and that WLCO brought up "some additional thoughts" on the project after the fact.
"We explained that while we were moving forward with filing [with the city], and wanted the city to weigh in on the [project] with their thoughts as well, and that we would continue to work with WLCO to satisfy them," Ezgur said.
Ezgur serves on the West Central Association's board of directors.
A third neighborhood group, Neighbors of West Loop, is opposed to the project, but has not issued a new letter to the Alderman at the request of neighbors because they do not want to be drawn into any pending legal action against the developer or other parties, Larry Gage, the group's president, said Friday. The decision for the group, who has been involved in reviewing the project since the beginning, is rare.
"Bottom line is we've opposed it from Day One, and the Alderman knows that," Gage said.
The West Loop Residents Association and others opposed to the project have hired an attorney to fight the project.
Burnett still backs project
Despite the change of course, Burnett said the group's latest recommendation probably won't affect his decision to back the project.
"What they're [concerned with] is asthetics, how the building looks," the alderman said. "The developer has made changes, we've had community meetings and the majority of people approve of the [latest] renderings."
If Burnett were to ask the developer to make more changes, there would have to be more community meetings. "I can't do that," he said.
Neighbors: Developer broke rules
In a letter to a top city official, an attorney representing neighbors who ardently oppose the project alleges that Ezgur violated the city's zoning ordinance rules.
In an Oct. 7 letter to Patricia Scudiero, deputy commissioner of the city's Bureau of Planning and Zoning, attorney Ronald Cope says that Ezgur, acting on behalf of the developer, submitted a signed affidavit to the Committee on Zoning on Sept. 9 certifying that he had completed the requirements of the city's zoning ordinance, including serving written notice by mail to nearby property owners.
But neighbors who reviewed that notice noted that it wasn't postmarked until September 29.
The ordinance requires that the written notice be provided before the application is filed, and in fact, "no service of the notice had been made contrary to the affidavit," Cope said.
"As a result, we formally request that the application submitted pertaining to the property be rejected and withdrawn for failing to comply with the notice requirements," the lawyer writes.
Responding to the allegation, Ezgur said last week that the notice was "absolutely sufficient" and that a hearing has not yet been scheduled.
"We have a disagreement of the reading of the section of code," Ezgur said. "As a practical matter, there's more than enough time to continue to have a dialog with [the neighbors]. There's no attempt here to rush through anything. They're going to have literally months to prepare."
The city is currently reviewing the project, and then it will be considered by the city's Plan Commission and subsequently the Committee on Zoning, Ezgur said.
Cope is representing neighbors living at 850 W. Adams St. and in the Monroe Manor condo buildings. Both are located within 250 feet of the proposed development.
Fire safety concerns
The condo plan calls for a mix of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units and 99 parking spots to be developed in the 115-foot-tall building.
Burnett's move to support the condo plan comes after hundreds of neighbors weighed in on the project in a series of summer meetings.
Hundreds of West Loop residents slammed LG Development's first plan, which called for 215 rental units to be developed at the site. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
In August, neighbors living near the site argued that the new condo building could put them in danger if a fire were to break out. But developer Brian Goldberg disagreed, insisting that the condo plan addressed life-safety issues and was reviewed by the Chicago Fire Department, the city's Fire Prevention Bureau, city planning officials and the Chicago Department of Transportation.
At that same meeting, Burnett reminded neighbors that he doesn't make decisions on new development based on how it will affect other residents' existing views. No one has "a right" to a view, he said.
"I can tell when there's a lot of B.S. going on and people are really talking about views," Burnett said.
As of August, LG Development did not own the Peoria lot, but did have a contract with the property's owner Peter 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 partner Brian Goldberg.
Typical residential floor plan under of LG Development's 111 S. Peoria St. proposal. [LG Development]
From rentals to condos
Before pitching condos to the community, the developer first proposed a taller, more dense rental tower.
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 apartments were proposed compared to the current 95 condos.
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."
Alternative community center plan
In an effort to offer an alternative to the developer's plan, a group of neighbors pitched a two-story community center to the alderman in August, contending that the center would be a better fit for the neighborhood.
Burnett ultimately said he could not consider the plan because the group had not contacted the property's owner. Cacciatore, president of the group that currently owns the 111 S. Peoria site, confirmed in a letter that neighbors pushing the community center plan had not reached out to him.
The community center plan, developed by the West Loop Residents Association and other neighbors, would be privately financed through fundraising. Neighbor Richard Dees said he secured a $2 million commitment to the project that would be used to purchase the property.
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