WICKER PARK — A Wicker Park group Tuesday unanimously voted against a zoning change needed to build a 5-story, 32-unit apartment building on Milwaukee Avenue, despite the developer's claims that renters of similar high-density studio apartment complexes in Gold Coast and Streeterville have helped revive those neighborhoods.
"It feels like a dorm the more I look at it," Claudia Langman, a member of the Wicker Park Committee's Preservation and Development Committee, said while looking over design renderings by Jonathan Splitt Architects during the neighborhood group's meeting in the Wicker Park field house, 1425 N. Damen Ave.
Langham told Gabriel Leahu, a development manager with LG Development and Construction Group, which needs a zoning change to build the apartments, that she and others have grown wary of buildings packed with smaller units that increase the number of people living in the area — without adding parking spots.
"You don't care about the transient aspects [of these renters]. I will try to say that neighborhoods are about balance, and it's getting out of balance," Langham said to Leahu.
Langman expressed concerns over the types of renters who would live in a building made up of all studio apartments.
"Age 23 to 31 with no emotional investment in this neighborhood," Langman said, to which Leahu disagreed.
"These people might have a few kids and then buy other property, houses in the neighborhood," Leahu said. He countered that smaller apartments are more affordable to rent and that buildings like the one proposed "bring density" to a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that could use a boost.
First introduced to residents at a public meeting last August hosted by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who would need to approve the zoning change, the project would replace a recently demolished building at 1665 N. Milwaukee Ave., about a block north of the CTA Damen Blue Line "L" stop.
With brick, exposed steel, metal panels and glass as its main architectural elements, the mixed-use residential and retail building would be anchored by a 2,258-square-foot storefront on the first floor and apartments on the upper levels.
It would offer a mix of studios between 343 and 372 square feet, as well as larger "junior one-bedrooms" of just more than 500 square-feet. All of the apartments would have an in-unit washer and dryer.
Three of the apartments would be for lower-income renters in accordance with the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance, which requires that certain new buildings over 20 units either allocate 10 percent of units as affordable housing or pay $125,000 per unit to a city-managed trust fund that helps to develop low-income housing elsewhere.
Rents would be $1,250 for the studios and $1,450 for the one-bedrooms. Shared amenities would include a bike room with spaces for 32 bikes, electronic package storage lockers that send residents a text or email when their package has arrived, and a rooftop deck, Leahu said.
There would be no parking spots for residents, Leahu said, because the site is close enough to the "L" stop to qualify as a transit-oriented development, meaning it wouldn't be have to offer the number of parking spots normally required of a building of its size. But it would have three parking spots dedicated for the retail tenant.
The 2013 ordinance allowing transit-oriented developments has ushered in a flurry of new buildings that offer as many as 99 apartments with no dedicated parking, an issue that has divided neighbors.
Just a few doors south of the proposed site, LG Development recently completed another building with 36 apartments — a mix of studios, one, and two-bedroom apartments — anchored by not-yet-revealed retail.
Leahu said that 32 of those apartments have been rented out and the four studios in the building were "the first to go." It is the larger apartments that the landlord is having a harder time renting, he said.
The lot at 1665 N. Milwaukee Ave is currently zoned for manufacturing, a remnant from the corridor's industrial past. In 2014, a plan to bring six to eight luxury condos there was scrapped because the market is trending more to apartments than condos, executives from LG Development told residents last August.
On Wednesday, Christian Ficara, a spokesman for Hopkins, said that Hopkins has not yet made a decision on whether to support the rezoning request because he is also awaiting feedback from the Bucktown Community Organization, and members of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, both of whom have reviewed the project as well.
"After thorough review and consideration of the recommendations from these groups, Alderman Hopkins will make a final conclusion regarding support of a zoning change, ultimately determining if the proposal should move forward," Ficara said.
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