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Developer Scales Down 'Teachers Village' Project At Humboldt Park School

By Mina Bloom | May 11, 2017 6:25am
 A new rendering of the development, facing north on Rockwell Street.
A new rendering of the development, facing north on Rockwell Street.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

HUMBOLDT PARK — After community pushback, the developers behind the "Teachers Village" project in Humboldt Park have scaled back their plans.

Now the development team — developer RBH Group and nonprofit IFF (formerly known as Illinois Facilities Fund) — is proposing a total of 87 residential units, down from 116, a more open plaza and a higher percentage of affordable housing.

The revamped proposal, which was presented Wednesday to about a dozen residents in the school auditorium, 2620 W. Hirsch St., has the support of Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), who took questions at the start of the meeting but left before the official presentation.

"I think this is a responsible, innovative and creative" project, Moreno told neighbors. "We're not coming to you and saying we want rapid for-market development here. That's what happened at those other schools."

The revamped proposal, now dubbed "Von Humboldt Teachers Square," calls for 82 apartments and five townhomes, down from 34, in front of a scaled-down parking garage with room with about 21 fewer spaces than initially proposed.

Of the 87 total residential units, 28 percent would be reserved as affordable, 24 percent would be reserved as middle-income and the remaining 48 percent would be reserved as market rate.

That's compared to the the original proposal, which was 20 percent affordable, 30 percent middle-income and 50 percent market rate.

The developers also redesigned the plaza so it's more open to the public after receiving feedback that it wasn't accessible enough.

What hasn't changed is all of the apartments — particularly the affordable middle-income units — will be marketed toward teachers, there will be a 15,000-square-foot market with communal seating, 5,000 square feet of additional retail space and a curriculum with classes, ranging from teaching certifications to gardening and wine-making.

A rendering of the development, looking west on Rockwell Street. [All photos DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]

Neighbors were receptive to many of the changes, but some questioned how the development would ultimately benefit longtime residents, especially those who are being driven out by gentrification.

Ron Beit, CEO of RBH Group, argued an "active" building is far more beneficial to the neighborhood than an empty one.

"You have an empty school building here that's not paying taxes to the city. [With this project], you'll have an active site. Talking about the security concerns ... the best security you can have is activating a building. People living here, eyes on the street," Beit said.

He also stressed that about 92 percent of the residential units would be affordable for teachers, meaning 92 percent of the units offer rents that match up with average teacher salaries in Chicago.

If all goes according to plan, Beit hopes to finish construction by August 2019.

The project is modeled after an existing RBH Group development in downtown Newark, N.J. called "Teachers Village," which is made up of three charter schools, a daycare center, apartments and retail.

Von Humboldt closed in 2013 when the district shuttered 50 schools. In July 2015, IFF bought the school for about $3.1 million and agreed to include one or more of the following components: day care programming, housing for current and retired public school teachers, office space and a cafe.

A new rendering of the school building, looking north on Hirsch Street.

Original renderings, presented in November: