Experts Critique 28 Community Proposals for Logan Square ‘L’ Site

Table 16’s proposal, as illustrated by Canopy Architecture.

On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Planning Council concluded the Corridor Development Initiative, a series of three public meetings that brought area residents together to envision a new development atop the entrance to the Logan Square ‘L’ station. 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón enthusiastically noted that this was by far the best-attended of the three meetings. The meeting, he also said, clearly demonstrated the difficult (and expensive) trade-offs necessary in the development process, and especially if this development will accommodate the many different goals that emerged during the meetings.

The two earlier meetings started with a broad discussion about community needs and then used wooden blocks to shape those ideas into three-dimensional proposals. While MPC is preparing a final report, they’ve set up an online survey to gather feedback from the public, including those who couldn’t attend any of the meetings.

The 16 small groups at the second meeting created 28 different development proposals. The average across all the proposals included four-story buildings (about the same height as surrounding structures), with 54 housing units, 9,000 square feet of retail, 40 parking spaces, and open space covering one-third of the site (i.e., about half an acre). Many of the proposals suggested housing (89 percent), retail (79 percent), affordable housing (63 percent), community space (62 percent), and fewer suggested an indoor market (41 percent) or offices (31 percent).

After that meeting, a panel of development industry professionals vetted each of the proposals for financial feasibility. They considered the different uses in each proposal, construction costs, operating costs, rental revenues, the cost of the land (estimated at $6 million), and advantageous financing sources like federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and the city’s Tax Increment Financing. This analysis turned up a “funding gap” for every proposal, indicating that several million more dollars would have to be found in order to build the suggested structure.

Four of the 28 proposals, including the two pictured here, were studied in greater detail by the professionals and illustrated by architects. (All of the proposals were described and illustrated in materials handed out at the meeting and available at MPC’s website.) MPC presented these four scenarios, along the constructive suggestions that would make the scenario financially feasible. In the scenario illustrated above, for example, the financial analysis found that the proposal would need an additional $5.6 million to be buildable. Those funds, the panel suggested that one-fourth of the proposal’s open space be replaced with retail or residential buildings — but, when asked, the meeting attendees rejected that idea.

Table 12’s proposal, also as illustrated by Canopy Architecture.

Another example scenario suggested a nine-story building, with half dedicated to 55 affordable housing units. The scenario also realigned Kedzie Avenue to create a new green space to its east (in front of El Cid and G-Mart Comics), which Bridget Stalla from the Chicago Department of Transportation confirmed to be technically possible. Many meeting attendees thought that the building’s scale was inappropriate for the neighborhood. The panel suggested that cutting the number of affordable housing units, or community office space, would make the development financially feasible. But, for this proposal as with all the others, the attendees voted down the bean-counters’ bottom-line suggestion.

The development panel concluded the meeting with final thoughts and a question-and-answer session. The panel included Mikki Anderson of the Michaels Organization, Sarah Wick from Related Midwest, and Todd Cabanban from Cabanban Rubin & Mayberry Commercial Realty. Anderson pointed out that many of the affordable housing proposals could be built if they managed to win additional Low Income Housing Tax Credits, but that those credits are in very high demand and typically go to large developments with many apartments. She agreed with the crowd that the neighborhood’s architectural integrity was valuable, but noted that it was difficult to find exactly the right architect and to exactly re-create the style of historic buildings.

Wick recognized the overwhelming support for affordable housing among community members, and noted that higher density and fewer parking spaces can both make costs more manageable. On the other hand, realigning Kedzie Avenue would be expensive, she said, and would likely have to be paid for by the city rather than by a developer.

Cabanban took a different tack, calling the site “a great intersection for retail” and noting nearby proposals that would tap into that demand — and could even generate funds that could cover costs for affordable housing. But retail can be a fickle market, and in response to questions he noted that retailers still want parking on-site, and often turn down older storefronts with outdated equipment.

table 8
Table 8 arranging the blocks into buildings at the prior meeting. Photo by Metropolitan Planning Council.

Alderman Rey Colón closed with a few comments, noting that city TIF funds could also be used to fill the funding gap — if the community truly coalesced behind a proposal that offered clear benefits. Prospective developers are already interested in this site, particularly since the community is willing to entertain at least some development on the site, and real proposals will be forthcoming.

  • ohsweetnothing

    I attended this meeting and I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the experts as being “wet blankets”. While they were quick to highlight some of the challenges each proposed project faced, it’s a bit unrealistic to expect any of the community proposals cobbled together in half an hour to be anywhere near fully baked. I took it all in as “factors to consider” rather than “say goodbye to your stupid pipedream project” hah.

    …I’m also pretty sure I learned that our State Rep doesn’t understand how TIF allocation works either, but I suspect many of his colleagues are in the same boat.

  • Thanks for the feedback. I’ve updated the headline to more neutrally reflect the dialogue — I’m very glad that everyone got a chance to fruitfully discuss the complexities of the development process.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    For a lot of people, I would assume this was their first exposure to a community planning forum. There has to be many more of these before you get the crowds to understand the basis for development costs. If you want affordable housing, you may have to give on height increases. Putting a park on a commercial street may not be best use of the land. Trying to make new buildings look “oldish” adds to cost. Attracting the kind of retail you want may mean parking.

    At best the alderman needs to keep these processes moving forward. As for “affordable” housing, determine if the nomenclature means this is government subsidized housing built as family housing, or meant to be market rate studios that are just cheaper because they are smaller. Id also say if locals think that affordable government subsidized units will be kept available to people who live in the neighborhood, they should think again. That isn’t how it works.

    As for TIFs, if this area is hot for real estate as everyone claims, you shouldn’t need TIF money and good developers shouldn’t need a hand out.

  • ohsweetnothing

    This was the third in a series of three forums and I recognized a lot of familiar faces from the prior meetings. It was in fact my first time participating in something like this.
    Most of the feed back was very much in line with some of your suggestions were. They also clarified what affordable meant, and you’re right…it’s subsidized housing available to those making up to 60% AMI and not cheaper market rate units. My only critique of this was that I found it a bit odd that they defined market rate as $2000/mo for a 2BR. It was probably just a simplification for time purposes, but I get the feeling that hard number scared quite a few attendees into not being as open to adding additional market rate units.

    Also, re: affordable units, I think a lot of the emphasis on this was due in no small part to a strong turnout of Bickerdike and LSNA attendees. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all that they were able to put such a strong showing together, but I suspect the neighborhood at large would be willing to be a little more flexible re: open space v. affordable v. market.

    Personally, the biggest takeaway that I loved is that all of the experts were pushing density as a way to acheive a lot of the proposals’ desired goals.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Well it has to be density as the land acquisition and site prep has to be done whether it is four or ten stories.

    One think I’ve learned at these meetings that there has to be a lot of carrots to generally appeal to several different groups with their own agenda to end up with people who will be core supporters of development.

    $2,000 / mo for a 2 bedroom seems a little steep, but it is probably based upon should the building go condo, what the market rate with a 30 year mortgage would be.

    Regarding the neighborhood pushback at Broadway and Irving (former gas station), I would have thought the developers would have slimmed down their building to let in more light for the cranky neighbors and kept the height. A textbook case for solid development was when the new Admiral was built at Foster and Sheridan, the Carmen and Winona Block Club actually let the building go higher for other concessions made. It was a real win/win for everyone.

  • BlueFairlane

    $2000/mo for a 2BR seems high for the neighborhood as a whole, but it’s not that far off from what I see advertised for places on the Boulevard itself. I think the location right on the square would add a bit of a premium, so I could buy that amount.

    Not literally, of course. I’d rather save money and live five blocks away. :-)

  • ohsweetnothing

    Haha, same.

    Yeah in my mind it wasn’t so much the pricepoint that I was criticizing, but the lack of flexibility/options. I agree with your assessment of “high but not that high for the hood”. It would have been helpful to include averages (better yet a range) of prices for studios/1BRs/3BRs etc to capture a wider picture. But they only had about an hour to present and discuss…so I get the need to streamline.

  • nicknoyes

    1. This seems like shockingly civil and thoughtful conversation for Internet comments. Bravo.

    2. Re: TIF funds, I wanted to clarify exactly what you (wewillie) meant. Do you mean that they shouldn’t be necessary if the development is allowed to be built based on market-driven criteria (i.e. Appropriate density, mostly/all market housing/limited green space)? In that case, I agree fully. But if all of the types of fixes proposed are rejected for all future proposals, then in fact TIF money becomes perhaps the only way to develop the parcel and satisfy the demands of the community

  • Loganresident

    So…now what? Is there a timeline for what will happen next?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    There is no timeline. Someone has to buy the property, make a proposal, get the appovals and financing. For the ideas generated here, it may take years just for someone to buyy and assemble the properties if its meant to be single development.

    And then you know what will happen? If a proposal does come forward and it varies substantially from what was discussed at these meetings, you get warring neighborhood factions. Shouts of Nimbyism gets tossed around. “We said we only wanted four story buildings why are you proposing ten”, “There is too much/not enough affordable housing”, “too much traffic, parking, not TOD.

    Best case scenario is the MPC makes recommendations as to density, housing and retail for the properties based upon economic factors needed to draw quality development to the area even if it is not 100 percent what these meetings proposed. The alderman has to go out and sell it community groups and then the alderman has to submit appropriate zoning changes to the city. All this takes time.

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