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Aldermen Approve Cedar Street Development Despite Residents' Disapproval

 Residents will be able to vote on the project in April, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said.
Residents will be able to vote on the project in April, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said.
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Courtesy of Booth Hansen

UPTOWN — Hours after residents voted against a proposal to bring multiple Cedar Street developments to the northern portion of Broadway, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) announced he was supporting the project.

"I strongly support this project, which I believe will be a huge benefit to everyone who works, lives and shops in the Broadway-Argyle area," Osterman said in his Friday newsletter. "I commend the developer, Cedar Street, for agreeing to increase the number of affordable housing units to 15 percent from the required 10 percent in order to place this housing within reach of more of our neighbors."

Thursday night, about 50 residents gathered at Furama Restaurant, 4936 N. Broadway, to discuss the project with Osterman, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) and Cedar Street Managing Director Mark Heffron. The proposal would replace the former Aon Insurance Building at 5050 N. Broadway, the building just north of it, a parking structure on the east side of Broadway, a lot on the corner of Winona and Broadway and a vacant structure behind the corner lot to make room for 710 new apartments.

The 710 units would be spread evenly across the east side and west side of the 5000 block of North Broadway and would include a combination of studio apartments priced between $900-$1,200, one-bedroom apartments priced between $1,200- $1,600 and 2-bedroom apartments around $2,000. The one-bedroom apartments would include various loft styles because of the layout of the former Aon building's office layout, said Heffron.

Studio apartments would make up 40-50 percent of the units, one-bedroom apartments would make up about 30-40 percent of the units and the rest of the units would be two-bedroom apartments, Heffron said.

Amenities will include a grocery store, a large gym, retail options and an outdoor cafe. The units would also include features like washers and dryers in each unit, Heffron said.

Osterman said he used the results of last week's meeting to inform his final decision on the project, while Pawar said he doesn't "vote in his ward," but expects his ward to hold him "accountable."

"Although some in attendance at last night's meeting opposed the project, I believe it will help continue the considerable progress we've made in this part of the 48th Ward," Osterman said.

After an hour-and-a-half discussion, Cedar Street failed to win the approval of neighbors, who asked for more affordable housing in the proposal and questioned the affordability of the apartments. Zillow estimates the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,200 and $1,550 for a 2-bedroom apartment in Uptown.

Nineteen neighbors voted in favor of the project, while 27 voted against it Thursday night.

"The democracy put on display was refreshing," said Ryne Poelker, a familiar face at development meetings in the neighborhood. "Rather than a privileged handpicked minority having all the say, the silenced majority was given a chance to show their numbers and speak their grievances."

While the public officials praised Cedar Street for the affordable housing included in the project, which adds up to about 107 units, housing advocates believe that number should be increased, considering Cedar Street has purchased several SRO buildings, including the Norman Hotel and the Lawrence House.

Numbers crunched by ONE Northside, an affordable housing group on the North Side, show Cedar Street and FLATS Chicago has purchased over 1000 affordable units in Uptown and Edgewater since 2011.

"This development clearly is not affordable to the existing renters in the area," said Poelker. "After displacing [nearly] 1,000 housing units of low-income housing units just within their own individual developments alone, this particular developer has lost the trust and respect from many people in the Uptown neighborhood."

Poelker pointed to other aldermen in rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods who have required developers to exceed than the city's minimum affordable unit requirements.

Until Cedar Street and FLATS Chicago is willing to raise the bar on its developments, "they will continue to face resentment and opposition from the Uptown community," Poelker said.

"Considering how much destruction the developer has done to those living in SRO's and renters in neighboring buildings to their own, this is a perfectly reasonable demand to provide a balanced approach in neighborhood development," Poelker continued. "One must also demand that the aldermen in the community start listening to the democratic majority when demands and grievances are expressed time after time again."

In May, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) blocked Property Markets Group's redevelopment of a massive vacant lot after it refused to bend to the community's affordable housing mandate, which requires any development of eight or more units and that requires a zoning change must provide 21 percent affordable housing on site. 

"Unfortunately the developer did not show good faith,” Solis said at the time. “I have always taken affordable housing very seriously and this property must abide by this requirement to win the approval of the community.”

The Cedar Street project, which would be completed in two phases, includes renovating the existing 11-story and six-story structures on the west side of Broadway, along with a parking garage and residential building on the east side of Broadway, said Heffron.

Cedar Street purchased the Aon Building for $16.1 million back in April.

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