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Jeff Park Development Opponents Raise Thousands To Block Construction

By Alex Nitkin | March 3, 2017 6:16am
 Protesters rally outside 45th Ward Ald. John Arena's office against proposals for a storage facility and apartment complex at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy.
Protesters rally outside 45th Ward Ald. John Arena's office against proposals for a storage facility and apartment complex at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

JEFFERSON PARK — Opponents of a proposed storage facility and adjoining apartment complex are kicking in money to see if they can hold up the developments in court, as both projects speed through the regulatory process over the cries of constituents.

The storage facility is set to be approved by the Chicago Plan Commission later this month, and the City Council is expected to approve a zoning change laying the groundwork for both projects.

The proposals for 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. sparked a furious backlash among neighbors wary of the new developments' impact on traffic and school crowding.

But attendees at a Feb. 9 meeting saved most of their ire for the 100 proposed apartments, whose 80 affordable units, they warned, would attract crime and depress property values in the relatively safe, middle-class neighborhood.

Neighbors followed up on a petition against the development by launching a GoFundMe page to raise money for "legal fees, traffic studies, appraisals" and "printing." By Friday morning, the page had raised more than $2,000.

The creators of the page, including Richard Gengler, who lives a block away from the site of the proposed project, are seeking ways to possibly file a lawsuit against the city, Gengler said.

The group has "spoken to a few attorneys, and we're trying to examine this process to see if our rights as a community have been protected," he said. "The city and developer both seem to have unlimited pockets, so we just want to make sure we're able to examine all our options."

Many neighbors have felt isolated from the decision-making process, Gengler said, especially because 45th Ward Ald. John Arena is bound by a legal agreement he signed on Jan. 27, a day after the proposal was revealed, to support the project or leave the city open to a lawsuit from the developer.

Arena's office declined to comment on the possibility of a legal challenge from residents, but Arena chief of staff Owen Brugh wrote in a statement that the development "will be an asset to our community and local economy."

"The developer, our office and veterans and disability advocate groups have worked hard to address individual concerns, and will continue to do so," according to Brugh's statement.

As long as prospective neighbors don't have a seat at the table, they'll keep looking for ways to challenge the plan, Gengler said.

"It's clear to everyone involved here that the political process has broken down, and the local community is not being fairly represented." he said. "So we're just trying to catch up as fast as we can, to organize and make sure our voices are heard."

Any money raised in the GoFundMe that isn't used to fight the development will be split between the charities Miserocordia and Team Rubicon, according to the page.