WICKER PARK — Four neighborhood schools each got $5,000 to spend on various improvements, thanks to an agreement worked out between a Wicker Park neighborhood group and a prolific area developer who missed a promised deadline to "down zone" a swath of land along Division Street.
The presentation of the checks took place during the Wicker Park Committee's monthly meeting April 6 in the park's field house, 1425 N. Damen Ave.
Bob Krueger, a music teacher and band leader at Jose de Diego School, 1330 N. Claremont Ave., said most of the money will go toward a "very large repair bill" the school gets each year for repairing its band instruments.
"Our instruments are atrociously old. This came like a big surprise, like a miracle," Krueger said.
The bulk of the school's instruments come from a music grant awarded in 1995, while other instruments date back to the 1960s, Krueger said.
Krueger was joined by other representatives from Jose de Diego, as well as administrators and parents from Burr Elementary School, Pritzker School, and Sabin Elementary Magnet School. The other schools plan to use the money for facade improvements and auditorium renovations, leaders said.
The group accepted the checks from Daniel Hawkins, president of the Wicker Park Committee.
Hawkins said that the $20,000 was made possible through "a restrictive covenant and escrow agreement" with Centrum Partners, LLC signed in March 2015.
Last year, Centrum Partners was given the community's blessing to "upzone" over 18,000 square feet of land at 1650-1668 W. Division St., where a 60-unit apartment building is under construction. Centrum promised that they'd get the eight city lots returned to an original zoning designation by Feb. 29. To show they were serious about that promise, they agreed to put $100,000 into an escrow account.
In early February, Centrum Partners said that more time was needed and the members of the Wicker Park Committee agreed to extend the deadline to May 2, as long as one-fifth of the escrow, or $20,000, was released and paid to area schools, Hawkins explained.
Hawkins said the group was "apprehensive" about approving the up-zoning because of the precedent it would set for future development in the area but emphasized that the deadline extension "shows that the committee is willing to working reasonably with developers, while the partial disbursement shows that we will hold developers to their promises."
"The committee is considering using similar restrictive covenants and escrow agreements for every temporary up-zoning in Wicker Park. We would like to share this story with your readership so we can gauge the community’s reaction to these agreements," Hawkins said.
Executives from Centrum Partners did not respond to a request for comment.
Not everyone who is a member of the Wicker Park Committee supported the tactic.
Elaine Coorens, a longtime committee member and publisher of Our Urban Times, issued a statement on why she does not support the way the situation was handled.
As a result of the thoughtful, fair work of the Preservation and Development Committee, the WPC has earned a good reputation with other organizations, developers and the Aldermen. That means our opinions and therefore the WPC opinions count…we have impact today on actions that shape this community, impacting its future.
That work has always, at least in my experience from the 1980s, been done by being fair not by being punitive. In this case, in my opinion, the developer had no intent of not fulfilling on a deadline. They were impeded by the City for something like 17 days.
Anyone who has ever been in an agreement personally or as a business person would be considerate of intent regardless of contract, unless you are not interested in working with them again. I think this is action taken by the WPC Board sets a bad precedent and would make anyone cautious about trusting the organization in an agreement.
Giving money to schools and other entities in the neighborhood is a good thing. That can be done by asking for donations, which could have been done in this case, or by earning it through other community building events.
In addition to the apartment project at 1660 W. Division St., the River North-based developer has started construction on a 95-unit apartment building anchored by an Aldi at the Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street intersection, set to be completed next year.
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