LINCOLN SQUARE — Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) has responded to critics who've complained about the lack of a master plan for Lawrence Avenue and called for a moratorium on development until one is created.
"The vision was the streetscape," the alderman told DNAinfo.
"We've been clear for the last six years, the streetscape would be the catalyst for new business and we also need more residential," Pawar said.
"The vision is density, coupled with good retail," he said.
The more than half a dozen new developments, totaling 260-plus housing units, proposed for Lawrence Avenue in the last year are exactly what the neighborhood needs, the alderman said.
"Lawrence is a great success story," he said.
"Six years ago, I couldn't get people to think twice about Lawrence. Now we have Band of Bohemia, which just got a Michelin star," said Pawar.
Ziad Haddad of Contemporary Concepts, which is proposing a 24-unit mixed-use building in the 2200 block of West Lawrence Avenue, said he was attracted to the vibrancy he saw on the street between Damen and Western.
"I like that it's picking up," said Haddad. "Some developers are scared to come up here ... I feel it's a great opportunity."
Though attendees at a recent community meeting complained about congestion on Lawrence as well as parking woes, Pawar said the new construction is necessary to stem population and housing losses.
Lincoln Square lost 16 percent of its population in the last census and if it continues to shed residents, in tandem with rising housing costs, there won't be enough people to support the Mom and Pop shops that give the neighborhood its small town charm, he said.
"You end up with Gap, Banana [Republic] and Lululemon," said the alderman, pointing to the Southport Corridor as a cautionary tale.
Much of population decline can be attributed to housing units lost when two- and three-flats are deconverted into single family homes, he said.
People deconvert on side streets, but no one wants the [rental] units replaced on those same streets, so that leaves arterial avenues like Lawrence and Western to pick up the slack, Pawar said.
"I have a responsibility to not just look at Lawrence in isolation but how it relates to the broader Lincoln Square, to the ward and to the city," he said.
"Either we let the city shrink, or we grow. How do we grow? We need more housing units," said Pawar.
The 47th Ward has the largest cluster of Brown Line stations outside of the Loop, as well as the Ravenswood Metra station, which makes Lincoln Square and North Center a logical choice for Transit Oriented Developments, including a proposal for the Chase Bank site, he said.
"There are people who think Chase isn't dense enough," he said.
The point is to make the neighborhood friendlier for people who use public transportation. Providing them with housing near trains and buses, along with retail and restaurants within walking distance, allows them to live in the area without having a car, Pawar said.
That, in turn, should make it easier for people who need to drive to get around, he said.
Pawar conceded that the transition from an auto-centric culture to one that gives equal weight to transit and pedestrians is painful in the here and now.
"It's OK for people to be angry about what's going on now, but my job is to care about the next 5 to 10 to 25 years," he said.
As he decides on zoning changes and whether to approve proposals or not, Pawar said he weighs a spectrum of opinions and frequently asks developers to make changes based on feedback. Haddad's plan for six parking spaces, for example, could be tweaked, the alderman said.
But ultimately, Pawar said, "I'm not going to deviate from" the vision of density on Lawrence.
For those who worry that hundreds of new housing units on the avenue will cost the neighborhood its family-friendly feel, Pawar countered: "People talk about the 'good old days.' We had 20,000 more people 20 years ago. Was Lincoln Square less family-friendly when there were 20,000 more people?"