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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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