LITTLE ITALY — Despite neighbors pleading for a delay, the proposed Roosevelt Square library and seven-story mixed-income housing development cleared a city hurdle with a unanimous vote Thursday.
With approval from the Plan Commission, the plans for 1350 W. Taylor St. advance to the City Council with the full support of 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin.
"I continue to see businesses on Taylor Street decline and close, and I believe this particular development would give that strip the shot in the arm it so desperately needs," Ervin said.
The alderman said the massive Roosevelt Square project as a whole would live up to the commitment made to former residents of the now-demolished ABLA Homes to give them a way to return to the neighborhood and would be a boon for nearby retailers and restaurants.
Neighbors who spoke against the proposal, however, said they deserved more time with developers to review the entire Roosevelt Square master plan and feared the large percentage of affordable and low-income housing for this specific building spelled trouble for their close-knit neighborhood.
More than 560 neighbors signed a petition asking the Plan Commission to delay its vote so their concerns over the height of the building, breakdown of the mixed-income housing units and parking could have some impact on the plans.
Nine out of 11 neighbors who spoke at Thursday's meeting opposed the proposal. Some noted they weren't opposed to public housing and welcomed more diversity in Little Italy.
"We're not here objecting to this plan as racists or to be acrimonious about the whole thing," said resident Michael Atella, who moved to the neighborhood in 2014 near where his Italian grandparents settled in 1913. "We think we have something to offer as stakeholders in this project."
Atella said armed robberies in Little Italy should give officials pause when considering how public housing would further affect the neighborhood.
Atella's partner, Tommy Atella, also voiced her opposition to the Plan Commission vote, citing her three decades of experience as a clinical counselor working with people in low-income brackets.
The "pressures of low income" put people at higher risks of depression and anxiety and contribute to joblessness and can have a detrimental impact on areas with high concentrations of low-income housing, Tommy Atella said.
The current plan for low-income CHA units to make up 50 percent of the 73 units above the Roosevelt Library, with another 40 percent designated as affordable housing, is "a prescription for neighborhood destabilization," Tommy Atella said.
"I think it's a train wreck," Atella said. "It'll be another food desert with no grocery stores to support it. I believe stress and crime will continue, and thriving will not."
Ervin responded that it was short-sighted to consider only the seven-story building and its split of affordable and market-rate housing when the Roosevelt Square project as a whole was nearer to one-third each of market-rate, affordable and CHA housing.
Just two blocks from the Roosevelt Library building, Ervin noted, 50 new family-sized town houses are underway and will all be sold at market rate for about $600,000 to $800,000.
He also took issue with insinuations that public housing would blight the neighborhood.
"Poor does not equate crime," Ervin said. "Plenty of rich individuals have been prone to criminal activity. I'm not prone to believe that one's economic status means they will commit crime."
Ervin did support a potential name change for the library branch, which neighbors requested as a way to better honor its place on Taylor Street or in Little Italy.
He also said neighbors would have a chance to meet with CHA officials and developers in September, as it seemed some were "not aware" of the two-year process of asking the community for input when Roosevelt Square master plans were developed in 2015 and 2016.
"I think once it's explained in its full context, I believe people will understand this is one of many pieces of a project that will bring more than 3,000 units back in the footprint of the former ABLA development," Ervin said. "I believe it meets criteria that neighbors would like to see."