Logan Square NIMBYs Don’t Understand the Value of Housing Density

Save Our Boulevards’ unintentionally hilarious flyer.

There must be something in the water along Milwaukee Avenue, since lately Logan Square NIMBYs have been giving their Jefferson Park counterparts a run for their money. Exhibit A is an unintentionally hilarious flyer protesting plans for transit-oriented development in Logan, circulated by the local group Save Our Boulevards.

As reported by DNAinfo, the handout, headlined “1,500 Units Coming to You,” warns residents that fixie-pedaling, Sazerac-sipping “hipsters” will be moving into the parking-lite buildings. SOB insists that, even though these hypothetical bohemians will bike everywhere, they’ll simultaneously create a car-parking crunch and clog the roads.

The flyer cites an October 28 Curbed Chicago article reporting that nearly new 1,500 apartment units are currently planned for Milwaukee between Grand and Diversey. The development boom is in response to the demand for housing along the Blue Line, largely from young adults who want a convenient commute to downtown jobs. It’s worth noting that only about a third of this 4.5-mile stretch lies within Logan Square.

“Many of these [apartment buildings] have little or no parking,” the handout states. “Parking space is important to most of us. Most of us don’t ride our bikes to work. Most of us think density and congestion adversely affect our quality of life.”

This man is not coming to steal your car-parking spot. Photo John Greenfield

SOB scolds 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno for paving the way for more density, since he supported the city’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance. The new law makes it easier for developers to build relatively tall buildings near transit stops, and halves the number of required parking spaces.

“Tell [Moreno] to stop representing the hipsters who don’t live here, but want to move her [sic], drink fancy cocktails for a few years, and then move to the suburbs because it’s too congested and their friends can’t find a place to park,” the flyer exhorts. Obviously, this is pretty scrambled logic.

Ironically, SOB was formed in 2011 as an anti-parking group. Back then, 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón introduced an ordinance that legalized the longstanding practice of church parishioners parking in the travel lanes of Logan Square boulevards on Sundays. It also permitted weekend parking on the lanes by drivers patronizing local businesses. The neighborhood group argued that this practice detracted from the historic character of the boulevard system.

Nowadays, SOB is particularly upset about a plan to build two 11- and 15-story towers on vacant lots at 2293 North Milwaukee, just southeast of the California/Milwaukee intersection and the California Blue stop. The development would have 250 housing units, but only 72 parking spaces, as opposed to the standard 1:1 ratio.

Caption. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects
Rendering of the proposed development. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

The towers are proposed by developer Rob Buono, who expects that few of the tenants will want to bring cars to the neighborhood. That’s not because they will bike everywhere, but because they’ll be living a stone’s throw from the ‘L’ and three bus routes. His previous development at 1611 West Division, next to the Blue Line’s Division station, included 99 apartments but zero parking for residents, and almost all of the units are rented.

Prior to a hearing on the Milwaukee towers in October, SOB distributed a similarly alarmist flyer warning that such developments would turn Logan into a “high rise city” where it will be “impossible to drive on California or Milwaukee.” However, as Steven Vance pointed out in a Streetsblog post last month, the nearly full Division tower hasn’t resulted in carmageddon in Wicker Park.

Steven also noted that the area around California/Milwaukee is not a particularly dense, congested place, but actually lost population and car traffic volume between 2000 and 2010 as more single people moved into the neighborhood and transit ridership rose. 50 percent of residents in the two Census tracts closest to the development commute car-free, and a third of the nearby households don’t own cars.

This building by the Logan stop is nearly twice as dense as the proposed towers. Photo: Daniel Hertz

Moreover, as Streetsblog contributor Daniel Kay Hertz wrote on his blog City Notes, the proposed towers aren’t much denser than numerous vintage courtyard buildings in the neighborhood. In addition, Hertz calculated that a seven-story, 50-unit building, dating back to the early 1900s, located next to the Logan Blue Line stop, is nearly twice as dense as Buono’s towers would be. It’s senior housing, with zero parking spaces.

Setting aside the absurdity of SOB’s argument that bike-riding hipsters will hog all the car parking, Logan Square residents should embrace the notion that density near transit stations is a good thing. Providing plenty of housing within a short walk of the Blue Line, plus numerous retail establishments, will make it easy for the tenants to get to work and meet their daily needs without owning a car. Conversely, building an excess of off-street parking spaces would just encourage more people to bring cars into the neighborhood, which would actually help create the very traffic nightmare the NIMBYs fear.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Drove past this building this morning. Appears as if a builing permit is on the door next to the Sleepys. Across the street lots of businesses have go in and out. Its harder and harder for small retail for a number of factors including the internet. City is throwing fees on businesses all over. I really doubt if space is the issue. And hopefully the landlords are aware of when the red line rebuild hits followed shortly by the rebuild of Lakeshore Drive, they may be lucky to have any tenants left unless they offer generous terms for many years forward.

  • The City/Alderman have been blanket rezoning the City since high-rises starting popping up on the lakefront in Lincoln Park in the 70’s. Like you said, most of the blanket zoning changes since then have been to reduce density, not increase it. My point here is that if there were some actual planning behind these zoning designations (like dense buildings should, of course, be allowed on arterials like Milwaukee Ave.) then there wouldn’t be a fight about a perfectly reasonable project. Downzoning all properties down to where they can only support SFR’s is obviously dysfunctional.

    As long as alderman have the ability to approve or deny zoning changes, then they can run on their rezoning record or how they think zoning should work.

    We can save the argument over whether only SFR’s should exist inside the arterial blocks for another day.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Zoning is always about pushing boundaries. On some arterial streets you can see where some homes that over the course of years had a set back from the street had a store front added. On Elston, you can still see worker cottages. Outside the downtown and the lakefront highrises on a typical arterial street is a new and uncomfortable concept. The streets have typically been reseved for businesses and a few stories of apartment over the shops.

    Change is always difficult. Its also subject to presentsent economic interests over laid by economic boom and bust cycles. Selling density can definitely be done with good projects. However in my opinion this one is a stinker. Not the height, but the wasted wall between the two buildings is lousy use of the urban fabric of the street. Good, rational development could be sold. Bad development either breeds more bad development or results in an opposite reaction halting future projects. But I’m not a city planner, just a witness to history.

  • I don’t know if every arterial should have highrises all along it, but certainly more than half the CTA stations should be zoned for a block or two of higher-than-5-stories-possible along the adjacent arterial by the station.

  • All good points. I fear, and your comment highlights it, that instead of merely weighing the merits of the underlying zoning change request, people try to regulate aesthetics. Which until the zoning ordinance forces good design, should not be subject to the whims of the community.

    There has been plenty of reporting here about why the project looks the way it does (solar orientation, open space, etc.), but as decent architects I have trouble second guessing the rationale. I pedal good design for a living, so I certainly don’t want bad-looking architecture, but there is plenty of bad architecture that is built by-right.

  • I explored those density numbers (about teardowns, deconversions, single-family home construction) in the previous post about the Logan Square towers.


  • Thank you! It’s disturbing to me there are so many large vacant lots along Milwaukee from Western to California. This has been an issue since at least 2008 when the City planning department, along with former 1st Ward Alderman Flores, conducted the Milwaukee Ave corridor planning process.

    Current 1st Ward Alderman Moreno proactively created a Pedestrian Street zoning designation on this part of Milwaukee to ensure that those vacant lots couldn’t become strip malls (no neighbor in the 2008 corridor planning process indicated a preference for more strip malls).

  • Has anyone else noticed a spate of mattress shops opening in the past 1.5 (maybe two) years?

  • I can’t find a building permit for a store next door to Sleepy’s. http://www.chicagocityscape.com/address.php?address=6205%20N%20Broadway%20Street (look at the bottom for nearby permits, none recently on Broadway)

  • Yeah, quite some time . . .

    Back in the late 70s/early 80s I had hitchhiked back to Chicago from Denver. Near the conclusion of my cross-county odyssey, I was walking that section of Milwaukee back to my place a little south of Armitage and Washtenaw. I remember that walk fairly clearly, as I was especially aware of my surroundings because my urban presence was defined by a big red Jansport backpack, long hair under a equally bright red bandanna, shredded jeans, flannel shirt, Vuarnet glacier glasses, and hiking boots. I was catching curious “Are you lost?? You don’t belong here . . .” looks from passers by and others as I finished the last tiny leg of my trip walking down what was then a very a tired section of Milwaukee Avenue.

    A while back I was dropping a group of kids off at The Congress (when it was still open) and was struck by how little that stretch — particularly Rockwell over to California — had changed from that day I was returning home . . . in the late 70s / early 80s.

    Yep, some 35+ years later it is still a very tired stretch of Milwaukee Avenue. And, yes, as Steven notes, it has been an issue since at least (emphasis added) 2008. :))

    What really amazes me about Humboldt Park, Bucktown, and Logan Square, though, is bike riding — what a mind-boggling difference over time; a virtually unbelievable turn of events, really.

  • Renderedschmaltz

    Yeah, after nearly five decades, I have seen that M.O. Ten or eleven stories is too much for Logan Square. Milwaukee between Armitage & California has had its ups and downs, and that stretch might not effect other residents as much, but let’s not start a trend! People already like the neighborhood as it is. Why does that surprise anyone? Think of all the light and sky surrounding residents will lose if a building that high is built. It happened to the people on Fullerton where the auto-clutch shop used to be; now there’s a five story building casting a shadow on neighbors on both sides of the streets. It is unprecedented, and there is current zoning to maintain quality of life. If you want to live in NYC, D.F., Seoul, or another city with that model, by all means, you have that as a choice! Don’t ruin Chicago neighborhoods. Get off your high horses and try to have a little consideration for the people who have spent their whole lives near there and don’t want another Lincoln Park or Wicker Park!

  • Renderedschmaltz

    That sounds reasonable on the surface. How will you prevent it from spreading to the point that it casts long-term residents in shadows as has happened around the north side?

  • Even a 15-story building casts a very limited shadow.

    If you want wide open skies and broad lawns and all the sun you can handle, move to a suburb or somewhere without density.

    If you want to live within two blocks of a train station, it is verging on immoral to prevent density in those areas, because those are the very best places to PUT density: where it won’t contribute to sprawl and city-killing car tendencies.

    There is plenty of north side with max-4-stories residential, some even with houses as big as in the outlying parts of Logan Square. You can live there. Leave the areas near transit stops that are less than 1/2 hour from downtown as places where it can be financially POSSIBLE to live and commute, because if you don’t, the whole city suffers.

  • Renderedschmaltz

    Why do you doubt that? Sue is right. This is condescending and inconsiderate to the long-time residents.

  • Renderedschmaltz

    The original post is at least a tad uncivil, though.

  • Renderedschmaltz

    Please show me a recent example where higher density building in Chicago did NOT result in a much more traffic-congested area.

  • Renderedschmaltz

    and not just one building, since we know if one falls, they all will.

  • Renderedschmaltz

    P.S. Rey Colon first campaigned against upzoning including holding a rally and press conference at Palmer/Kimball to announce his candidacy back in (what??) 2004ish?? That’s one of the major strategies he used to overthrow Vilma Colom, along with advocating for basketball hoops at Unity Playlot that became a full-blown park, so if SOB does not speak for the majority, explain Colon’s initial win over the machine hack Dick Mell plant, Vilma.

  • JacobEPeters

    1611 W. Division higher density, only parking for retail tenant needs & car share. Show me the direct correlation between that building and increased traffic. The increased traffic in the Polish Triangle area is not caused by high density development, but both the high density residential & the increased traffic are caused by the same factor, increased demand for access to a highly desirable commercial district.

  • JacobEPeters

    Upzoning and TOD are two very different policies. TOD focuses the multi-unit developments that are attracted to areas with skyrocketing rents directly around transit so as to mitigate the traffic impact caused by new development. If you were to spread 100 units across development on side streets where parking would be required on a 1:1 ratio, then you would end up losing 20+ sites to upzoning, most of them single family residential homes. If there is no new development, then those residents will still move to the area based on the amenities that are drawing increased rents year over year. Instead of moving into new construction they will move into a building with fewer in building amenities than the new construction & settle for paying $100/month less, but which will still lead to displacement and the continued trend of yearly rental price increases that makes the neighborhood unaffordable at a faster rate than with new construction marketed directly at the inevitable newcomers. To truly solve this issue we need more transit access across the city, a land trust which is tasked with building permanent affordable housing near these new transit investments, and a CHA which uses its funds to build housing equitably across the entire city. We have a housing crisis on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis and there isn’t a strategy from the city to address it holistically, at least TOD is an attempt to mitigate the issues arising from increased demand in many neighborhoods adjacent to reliable CTA transit.