AVONDALE — Plans to turn the residential component of the "The Fields" development into a high-density studio project have earned the support of 31st Ward Ald. Milly Santiago.
Santiago, whose ward includes the massive, mixed-use development at 4000 W. Diversey Ave., spoke in favor of the proposed changes after a heated community meeting held inside an unfinished part of the former Marshall Field's warehouse Wednesday evening.
"I would support it because, after all, I was able to get the units I had demanded," said Santiago, referring to the developer's commitment to meet the city's requirement for affordable housing — and build all of the units on site.
"120 new apartments in the ward is better than zero. This is just the beginning," she added.
Some of the more than 100 neighbors who packed into the old warehouse came to lambaste the developer, Paul Fishbein of 4K Diversey Partners, and project partner John McLinden of Hubbard Street Group, for what they charge is their neglecting the needs of families in the community.
"There's a lot of families that need two and three bedrooms. I'm the owner of a house on Parker [Avenue]. It's amazing how many people are looking for that type of residence. Single bedrooms [are] not something the community needs," Angelina Barrera said during public comment.
Under the new proposal, the residential part of "The Fields" will offer 120 apartments, including 63 studios, 39 one-bedrooms and 18 two-bedrooms. The average apartment will be 750 square feet of space, down from an average of 1,100 square feet. The smallest apartments will be 550 square feet of space.
Of the 120 apartments, 12 would be reserved as on-site affordable housing, which Santiago called a "victory." The alderman said she spent the last couple of weeks persuading the developers to build all of the units on site rather than paying a fee to build some of them somewhere else.
"We were going to have four or six, and now we're going to have 12. To me, that's an accomplishment," Santiago told neighbors.
The new proposal is more dense and more studio-heavy than the original plan, which called for 84 live/work apartments with a more diverse mix of apartment sizes.
Fishbein previously told DNAinfo Chicago that he and his team turned to smaller "more efficient" units after determining there's "no demand" for big apartments with a live/work requirement in Avondale/Logan Square and the surrounding communities. The developer said the new plan calls for lower rents that are "more in line with what the market can support.
McLinden said the live/work requirement would have restricted many people from qualifying for the apartments. In order to get a live/work apartment, renters need to hold a business license.
Smaller apartments with no requirement, he said, better fit the scope of the project.
"If you’re building something new, you don’t have the constraints of an existing building. When you have an existing building, it's a lot more problematic. When you don’t have a window, its difficult to have larger units," McLinden said.
To which, one resident called out: "You're comparing windows to peoples' livelihoods," eliciting cheers from the crowd.
At one point, a shouting match erupted between a youth leader with Logan Square Neighborhood Association and a resident, who slammed critics for constantly interrupting McLinden as he tried to explain why the parameters of the building won't allow for bigger apartments.
State Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) denounced the behavior, saying, "We don't want gentrification pushing our families out. People are coming in, and other people can't afford it. We want our people to help us by not heckling and screaming."
He added: "This is a good project for all of us. But nothing is perfect. There's still a lot of kinks that need to be addressed."
Others neighbors like Mike Vazquez, a resident who redeveloped the building behind "The Fields" into an arts space, had mixed feelings about the new proposal.
"It's either put apartments, or you have an eyesore in the ward," Vazquez said after the meeting.
But Vazquez did not agree with the development team's assessment that there's "no demand" for two- and three-bedroom apartments in the community. He also would like to see more of the units reserved as affordable housing, he said.
"Their research is wrong. They're not researching Hispanic families. We don't have two people and a dog. Average family has three kids. That's five people. So, yes, the demand for two-, three-bedrooms ... their figures are wrong," Vazquez said.
4K Diversey Partners, a contributor to Santiago's campaign, bought the massive, 1.5-million-square-foot site from Macy's in 2008, when the retailer moved out of the building. The six buildings were previously occupied by Olson Rug & Carpet (1928-1963) and Marshall Field's (1964-2004).
Parts of the development are finished, including the 70,000-square-foot Cermak Fresh Market grocery store.
Plans also include a host of new retail, including Newly Weds Foods, Studio41, Climate Guard and Deal Genius, as well as 700 indoor heated parking spaces on the second and third floors. The residential project makes up 10 percent of the complex.
The original proposal has been approved by the city's Plan Commission, which means Fishbein and his team must go back to the city for approval.
Typically, amended planned developments require both Plan Commission and City Council approval, according to city spokesman Peter Strazzabosco.
Santiago said to expect more community meetings before the changes go up for city approval.
Also at the meeting, Santiago addressed the Logan Square Neighborhood Association's call for a community-driven zoning process in the 31st Ward. She told DNAinfo that she is open to discussing it, but won't commit without more evaluation.
"I have to have other discussions about this," Santiago said. "I am the one elected here, and if something goes wrong with any zoning decisions, who's going to be the one paying the price? Me. If I decide to go that route, I want to make sure we have the right people."