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Little Italy Groups Clash Over Latest Roosevelt Square Plan

By Stephanie Lulay | December 18, 2015 6:20am
 This map shows the proposed residential, commercial and green space uses under the new Roosevelt Square draft plan.
This map shows the proposed residential, commercial and green space uses under the new Roosevelt Square draft plan.
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DNAinfo/Solomon Cordwell Buenz

LITTLE ITALY — Two groups that represent Little Italy residents are split on their support for the latest plans for the massive Roosevelt Square redevelopment on the Near West Side.

Reacting to the draft plan Thursday, Kathy Catrambone, executive director of the University Village Association, called the site's footprint too tall and dense. But Dennis O'Neill, executive director of Connecting 4 Communities, called the denser plan with more market-rate housing "sensibly done."

Earlier this week, a team of consultants, in partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority, unveiled new renderings outlining the latest plans for the 137-acre Roosevelt Square redevelopment. The plans include more market-rate housing and buildings as tall as 10 stories. The plan would also result in less green space on the Near West Side.

In addition, developers propose restoring some streets that currently dead end around the property, including Throop and Arthington to the north of Taylor Street and Washburne Avenue, 13th and 14th streets, and 14th Place.

After reviewing the new plans, Catrambone said she is concerned about the density and height of the buildings being proposed.

"There are more rental units than originally planned, and that has always been a sticking point for the neighborhood," Catrambone said. "We are losing a lot of young families that want to stay in the neighborhood."

Under new plans, an additional 500 market-rate units would be developed at Roosevelt Square than previously planned.

About 43 percent of the housing developed on site would be priced for market-rate renters and buyers, according to the new Roosevelt Square draft plan. [DNAinfo/Solomon Cordwell Buenz]

About 43 percent of the housing developed on the 35-block Roosevelt Square site — roughly bounded by Cabrini Street on the north, Blue Island Avenue on the east, 15th Street on the south and Ashland or Loomis on the west — would be market-rate housing, according to new plans developed by Chicago firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz. About 32 percent of units developed on site would house CHA low-income and very-low income families and the remaining 25 percent would be affordable housing units.

To date, only 575 of the proposed 1,085 CHA units, 313 of the proposed 846 affordable units and 159 of the proposed 1,466 market-rate units have been developed.

The previous plan called for more condos to be built on site, Catrambone said. Consultants this week said that the developer would have "more flexibility" to develop apartments or condos as dictated by market conditions.

But O'Neill said the added 500 units of market-rate housing under the new draft plan offer a more viable balance of of low-income, affordable and market-rate housing, one that will likely produce "a socioeconomically healthy community."

"I'm happy with the increase of market-rate density," he said. The new plans will give developers the flexibility they need to react to market conditions in order to finance, build and market the best project, increasing the odds the development will ultimately be successful, he said.

But Catrambone disagreed, contending that more market-rate apartments on site would create too much density at Roosevelt Square.

"This might be a good solution for the developer, but it's not good for the neighborhood," she said.

As population increases, Catrambone said the neighborhood will need a new library on site, which the University Village Association leaders have recommended be developed at the corner of Taylor Street and Racine Avenue.

"Not only do we want it, but the neighborhood deserves it," she said.

Today, developers estimate 2,500 live in the Roosevelt Square boundaries, and when the project is complete, an estimated 8,000 people could be living on site.

But Chicago Public Library officials aren't planning to build any new buildings right now, Christine Carlyle, director of planning at Solomon Cordwell Buenz, said at a meeting Tuesday night.

The Chicago Public Library already operates the Roosevelt Branch library at Taylor and Aberdeen streets, located two blocks east of the Roosevelt Square development's border.

The University Village Association Board plans to meet after the Near Year to discuss the new Roosevelt Square draft plan.

This map shows proposed new and improved roads under the new Roosevelt Square draft plan. [DNAinfo/Solomon Cordwell Buenz]

When will first phase begin?

Now that a framework for redevelopment has been established, the Chicago Housing Authority and the site's private developer, Related Midwest, will work to further define plans and seek financing for the project, said Maya Hodari, a CHA project manager. More community meetings will be scheduled as plans progress, she said, and no plans are set in stone.

Since the late 1990s, efforts aimed at replacing the razed ABLA public housing projects with mixed-income housing have seen a slew of delays. CHA officials have said an estimated start date for the first phase of the project has not been established.

But O'Neill said the first phase of the project, which would develop the area between Roosevelt and Taylor, could start in 2016.

"The first phase could go quickly," he said. "It would be good to see some movement forward here — it's been almost 25 years."

Catrambone said that the number of years CHA has taken to redevelop Roosevelt Square is "an abomination."

Despite the economic downturn and three new Housing Authority CEOs in recent years, the long wait for redevelopment "is totally unacceptable," she said. "There's really no reason for it to be taking this long."

Most of the ABLA Homes were demolished in phases between 2002 and 2007. About 330 Brooks Homes units remain at the site, according to the CHA website.

Renderings show what the massive redevelopment of Roosevelt Square could look like when completed. [DNAInfo/Solomon Cordwell Buenz]

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