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Massive Wicker Park Development Could Bring Private School, 189 Homes

By Alisa Hauser | November 19, 2015 10:01am | Updated on November 19, 2015 10:43am
 A rendering of the Wicker Park Connection.
A rendering of the Wicker Park Connection.
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Howard Hirsch/Hirsch Associates

WICKER PARK — The huge "Wicker Park Connection" development that would span 2 vacant acres on the neighborhood's southeast end and include homes, retail and possibly a private school could be underway by spring.

The 189-unit proposal envisions three forms of housing — apartments, condos and town homes made of masonry, concrete, metal panels and glass and designed by architect Howard Hirsch. The development would be connected by a serpentine-shaped pedestrian-friendly pathway.

But Centrum Partners' project, which was downscaled from a previous plan that had 275 apartments, first needs to get approval from a neighborhood group, the Wicker Park Committee. That group is set to vote on the plan in January.  Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) also is planning a community meeting to gain more input.

The 77,500-square-foot project, dubbed the "Wicker Park Connection" and the largest proposed development for the area in recent memory, would create a maze of homes over 2 acres of vacant land between the 1600 block of Division Street and the 1200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue.

Thirty percent of the site would incorporate open space. Kate Martin of Forum Studio, a design architect, previously presented examples of sculptures and planters that would double as seating and a water feature, such as a pop-up jet fountain.

The goal of the heavily landscaped open space would be to enhance the area as a safe gathering spot, with security and accent lighting. Currently, many residents walk to and from Milwaukee and Division using the vacant land as a shortcut, but it is not very populated.

The proposed 189 units, made up of three structures, would include a 15-story tower with 131 apartments, 19 town homes, and a seven-story, 39-unit condo building. 

The apartment tower would be 11 stories on the Division-facing side of the building and offer a four-story setback from the street.

A partial rendering of a 131-unit apartment building offering 19 affordable units. [Howard Hirsch/Hirsch Associates]

There would be 40 car parking spaces for the 19 townhomes; 36 spots for the 39 condos; and 51 parking spots allocated to renters in the 131 apartments, which would be considered a transit-oriented development, a few hundred feet from the CTA Division Blue Line "L" station.

First introduced in August, the ambitious project had 275-units and drew a mostly favorable response from locals, but it was strictly offering apartments and no other types of dwellings.

In August, several DNAinfo Chicago readers expressed concerns on Neighborhood Square about too much density and lack of family-friendly dwellings.

"Would love to see something a little more in character with the neighborhood and a bit smaller," said a reader who lives close to the proposed project, while another wondered where all of the renters would come from.

"Are there that many young people looking to live in these areas? Small units are not intended for families or older couples. Just not sure I see the demand," the reader said, predicting "we will be left with excess supply in just a few years."

Our Urban Times reported on Wednesday that the addition of family-friendly town homes was well received by the members of the Wicker Park Committee's Preservation and Development Committee at its monthly meeting on Tuesday in the park field house, 1425 N. Damen Ave., where Centrum's latest design tweaks were informally shared with no formal vote.

"The new mix of three-bedroom town houses and condominiums will allow newly established and growing families to stay in the neighborhood verses retreating to the suburbs," James Clough, a local parent, told Our Urban Times.

John McLinden, Centrum Partners' managing partner, said on Thursday that 10 percent, or 19 of the 131 apartments on site, would be affordable units, as required by the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance, which mandates that certain new buildings over 20 units either allocate 10 percent of their units as affordable housing or pay $100,000 per unit to a city-managed trust fund that helps to develop low-income housing elsewhere.

McLinden declined to reveal the name of the private school considering an 11,000- square-foot spot on the second floor of the apartment tower, bu he said it would be a new elementary school in the Chicago market and that it is not a religious school.

"The new school, which we hope will be part of the project, will add to our emphasis on families," McLinden said, adding that almost 30 percent of the project, or a total of 55 three-bedroom, three-bathroom units will be "targeted to families that want to stay in Wicker Park long term."

Ed Tamminga, chairman of the Wicker Park Committee's preservation and development committee, said on Thursday that the group is "encouraged by the evolution of the project," with the reduced density and unit mix now providing for larger, for-sale units which will be attractive to family buyers.

"There are concerns about the height of the tower and what kind of precedent it sets.  But concentrating the units in a tower allows more open space and amenities at ground level," Tamminga said.

In other Centrum news, a 60-unit apartment building at 1660 W. Division St. and a neighboring development to the "Wicker Park Connection," is underway.  Construction on that began earlier this month.

Centrum also plans to begin work on apartments anchored by an Aldi at 1767 N. Milwaukee Ave. in January.  Almost a year in the making, that estimated $37 million project would take all of next year to complete, and the existing Aldi will be closed through the end of 2016. 

Centrum Partners also recently sold off the retail portion of the Wicker Commons mall to a German investment firm. Until recently, the mall was anchored by a Kmart, which will be replaced by a Lowe's at 1360 N. Ashland Ave. this spring.

The site plan for "Wicker Park Connection." [Centrum Partners]

An aerial view of the site plan for the Wicker Park Connection [Centrum Partners LLC/Hirsch Associates]

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