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Development Is Coming to Lawrence Avenue, Is the Neighborhood Ready?

By Patty Wetli | December 11, 2015 6:32am

LINCOLN SQUARE — The Lawrence Avenue streetscape was billed as a way to make the thoroughfare more attractive to pedestrians and developers, with Mariano's anchoring a retail corridor that would stretch from Andersonville to Lincoln Square.

Now that all major work on the streetscape has been completed, including a controversial "road diet" that removed a lane of traffic, signs indicate the project is beginning to deliver on that promise.

"Lawrence is about to take off," said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), pointing to the just-opened Band of Bohemia and the soon-to-open Roots Pizza and The Sixth cocktail bar as early returns on a deliberate investment in Lawrence, with more to follow.

"We, as a community, spent three years prepping for this point," he said.

But are residents ready for what development could mean?

One of the first proposals for new construction on the street is providing an initial test for what Pawar has dubbed "A New Lawrence."

The underused Farmers Garden Market property is ripe for development — but what kind? [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

All About Density

Alan Candea of Candea Development specializes in building oversized condos, including a highly successful mixed-use development on Damen Avenue that Pawar called "transformative."

Candea has presented two new construction options for 2232 W. Lawrence Ave., the occasional home of Farmers Garden Market.

The proximity to public transportation — both the Ravenswood Metra and Western Brown Line station — as well as a nearby park (just upgraded) and dining and retail in Lincoln Square make the location particularly attractive, Candea said.

"Those are all the pieces that are market driven," he said.

Building option No. 1 would stand 50 feet tall and consist of four stories of solely residential condos; option No. 2 would rise 60 feet and house a five-story mix of condos and ground-floor commercial.

Both would require a zoning change. The existing designation limits the number of residential units to four, instead of the 12 to 14 condos Candea is pitching.

The current zoning is one reason why "Lawrence is so distressed," Candea said. "To turn Lawrence around, you need density. We need to get density first — without that, you're not going to get ... a vibrant commercial community."

This Candea development on Damen has been "transformative." Can you picture this on Lawrence? [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

His team was able to selectively recruit tenants to the company's Damen Avenue development — including Ampersand Wine Bar, Groundswell, District and Alapash — because of the street's greater volume of pedestrians compared with Lawrence, Candea said.

"Lawrence has higher vehicular traffic, but the foot traffic isn't there yet," he said. "I think you can have something really special there ... but you need to build up the busy streets."

Pawar concurred.

"The whole point of the streetscape was not just [for] businesses but to get new residents up and down Lawrence," the alderman said. "You need more people living on Lawrence. More people, more units, more businesses grows the tax base, spreads the tax burden. That is a good thing for our neighborhood."

"Something Missing Here"

But the people who already live along Lawrence don't necessarily agree that growth is good.

A "very vocal minority" of residents objected to both of Candea's proposals at a community meeting held in the fall, according to Bob Farster, a neighbor who attended the presentation.

Concerns included traffic, parking and "what it would be like to have a 50-foot tall building in that spot," he said.

Candea said he's grown accustomed to such resistance to his projects, which are aimed at accommodating families who can't afford single-family homes.

"The people who create the biggest fuss are people who live in houses," Candea said. "If they live in a house, they think everyone should."

"Candea had some really nice-looking ideas, and he's getting pushback," said Farster. "People said, 'We don't want the Farmers Market there, we don't want that [Candea] building there.' I left the meeting thinking, 'There's something missing here.'"

That something, in his view, was a plan for what people do want on Lawrence.

Vogle Playlot, 2100 W. Lawrence, has received a makeover as part of "A New Lawrence" movement. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

Now that the avenue no longer looks "like a Third World country," Farster said residents have an opportunity to come together to create a thoughtful, informed vision for what a vibrant Lawrence Avenue could look like.

"Community meetings tend to break down," he said. "Instead of doing these one-offs, we need a bigger strategy."

To that end, he's in the process of forming a group along the lines of the Northcenter Neighborhood Association or the Ravenswood Neighbors Association. Developers could run their ideas past the organization, which, in turn, could provide feedback to Pawar.

"No matter what we do, development's coming," Farster said. "The idea is to create a realistic vision ... to make sure development on Lawrence is happening in a responsible way."

He's aiming to hold the first meeting of the yet-to-be-named association in the New Year. Those interested in participating can email bobfarster@gmail.com for more information.

Pawar said he would welcome the input of Farster's nascent group.

"People almost always come together when they're angry," he said. "The hard work is when you're trying to do positive things."

The trick will be to find the middle ground between developers who would like to see all of Lawrence redeveloped in one swoop and residents who would like to reject everything.

After pouring money into Lawrence to make it more appealing, Pawar said he's committed to seeing through what the streetscape started.

"But I have to make sure [development] happens in stages the community can handle," he said.

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