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West Loop Neighbors Sue to Block Controversial Condo Project By Park

By  Stephanie Lulay and Erica Demarest | August 16, 2016 4:54pm 

 A group of neighbors who have fought a controversial West Loop development at 111 S. Peoria St. have now filed a lawsuit against the city and developer. 
A group of neighbors who have fought a controversial West Loop development at 111 S. Peoria St. have now filed a lawsuit against the city and developer. 
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LG Development

WEST LOOP — A group of neighbors who have fought a controversial West Loop development for more than two years have now filed a lawsuit against the city and developer. 

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 12 in Cook County Court, aims to block the planned 115-foot, 95-unit condominium project at 111 S. Peoria St. across from Mary Bartelme Park. After much debate in the community, the project was approved by the City Council in May. 

Filed by the Monroe Manor neighbors, a condo development just north of the 111 S. Peoria site, and resident Richard Dees, the suit alleges that the city failed to adequately notify neighbors about hearings concerning the proposal, gave neighbors too little time to comment at meetings and accepted a development application that failed to meet the city's requirements. The suit named the city of Chicago and LG Development, the project's developer, as defendants. 

There "was no rational basis to approve a high-density Development in this location when it is not in keeping with the surrounding uses, zoning or the City's plan for this area and endangers the health and life of residents of Monroe Manor and the peaceful enjoyment of their properties," the lawsuit argues.

But Brian Goldberg, principal of LG Development, told Crain's Chicago that the suit "is really about our building blocking their views, and you don't have a legal right to keep your view." Crain's was first to report the lawsuit was filed. 

"We're not sure if they want to hold up the project or inflict some kind of pain, but I can tell you that we're going to defend ourselves and fully cooperate with the city of Chicago," Goldberg told Crain's. 

A spokesman for the city's Law Department said that the city followed appropriate procedures in approving the development.

"We have not yet received the suit and therefore cannot comment on it, but the city followed all appropriate procedures in approving this development," spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. 

Burnett backed project 

In September 2015, after months of heated debate in the neighborhood, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said that he would back the developer's plan, making way for City Council approval. At the time, he said the developer had addressed nearly every change the neighbors requested.

Burnett's move to support the condo plan came after hundreds of neighbors weighed in on the project in a series of summer meetings.

In August 2015, neighbors living near the site argued that the new condo building could put them in danger  if a fire were to break out. Developer Goldberg disagreed, insisting that the condo plan addressed life-safety issues and was reviewed by the Chicago Fire Department, the city's Fire Prevention Bureau, city planning officials and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

At that same meeting, Burnett reminded neighbors that no one has "a right" to a view.

"I can tell when there's a lot of B.S. going on and people are really talking about views," Burnett said.

At the time, both the West Central Association and West Loop Community Organization supported the project. 

A third neighborhood group, Neighbors of West Loop, opposed the project, but did not issue a new letter to the Alderman because they feared pending legal action was looming, according to Larry Gage, the group's president. The West Loop Residents Association and others also opposed to the project. 

In an effort to offer an alternative to the developer's plan, a group of neighbors, which included Dees, pitched a two-story community center to the alderman in August 2015, contending that the center would be a better fit for the neighborhood.

Left: Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) Right: LG Development Principal Brian Goldberg [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Neighbors: Developer broke rules

In a letter to a top city official, an attorney representing neighbors who ardently opposed the project alleged that Zoning attorney Michael Ezgur violated the city's zoning ordinance rules.

In an Oct. 7 letter to Patricia Scudiero, deputy commissioner of the city's Bureau of Planning and Zoning, attorney Ronald Cope says that Ezgur, acting on behalf of the developer, submitted a signed affidavit to the Committee on Zoning on Sept. 9 certifying that he had completed the requirements of the city's zoning ordinance, including serving written notice by mail to nearby property owners.

But neighbors who reviewed that notice noted that it wasn't postmarked until September 29.

The ordinance requires that the written notice be provided before the application is filed, and in fact, "no service of the notice had been made contrary to the affidavit," Cope said.

Responding to the allegation, Ezgur previously said that the notice was "absolutely sufficient" and that a hearing has not yet been scheduled.

"We have a disagreement of the reading of the section of code," Ezgur said last November. "As a practical matter, there's more than enough time to continue to have a dialog with [the neighbors]. There's no attempt here to rush through anything. They're going to have literally months to prepare.

At one point, more than 300 residents slammed an earlier plan for the  111 S. Peoria site. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

From rentals to condos

Before pitching condos to the community, the developer first proposed a taller, more dense rental tower.

LG Development previously planned to build a 13-story apartment tower at the site, but hundreds of West Loop residents slammed the project in June, leading Burnett to kill the rental development. Under that plan, 215 apartments were proposed compared to the current 95 condos.

At the June meeting, the crowd took issue with the height of the building and the number of apartments. Neighbors said they did not want more rentals in the neighborhood and were concerned the new building could present safety issues for existing condo owners.

Comments made at that meeting about renters led Burnett to say in July that he thought the West Loop was starting to become "a bigot neighborhood."

The 111 S. Peoria project is slated to be named "Illume," according to a billboard on the site.