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.

  • B-B

    They just don’t know what’s best for them!
    But people who don’t live there certainly do.

  • It’s difficult for me to understand when a neighborhood group opposes a new development on the basis that “this area is already too congested (with cars)” and at the very same time, they argue that it’s important that there be cheap and readily available parking spots for every person who drives to the area to work, study, live or play, thereby encouraging more motor vehicle congestion. As has been said before: Build for cars, you attract cars. Build for people, you attract people.

  • tooter turtle

    I fear growing old in a car-centric neighborhood. I don’t want to be forced to leave the people and places I know if I am not physically able to drive anymore. I want to be able to walk down the street (maybe with a walker) to get a loaf of bread and to visit with the neighbors. I’d like to be able to cross a street at old man speed without being killed. I’d also rather not have to spend what will probably be a very modest retirement income on the care and feeding of a car. Those who complain about transient hipsters will have to leave themselves when they can no longer drive.

  • duppie

    While i disagree with their overall points regarding density, they do have a point about the 11 and 15 story towers themselves: Too massive, suburban office park design, that is not particular pedestrian friendly with the blank wall facing Milwaukee.

  • SueD

    What a condescending and mean spirited article! As a long time resident (yes, many of us loved it here even before it was trendy!) who has been rather on the fence about this, this article has firmly pushed me onto the side of the SOBs.

  • JacobEPeters

    agree, drop a bit of the height, add some mass between the two corner buildings, and create a better street front, without casting much in terms of shadows on the buildings directly behind it.

  • JacobEPeters

    I live across the street from this development proposal, and SOB does not represent the views of the majority of the neighborhood, just a vocal few who are afraid of the rising costs in this neighborhood, yet are somehow convinced that increased supply and affordable housing set asides will make this trend worse. When in fact, if we continue not to build supply the prices will only grow faster and spread more quickly into neighborhoods like Avondale, Humboldt Park, and Hermosa. We need to build housing near transit where people don’t need to own cars, because the market will find the housing supply somewhere else and those new residents will have no choice but to drive. And SOB will have inadvertently caused exactly what they fear.

  • CL

    I think the flyer makes it clear that the extra congestion will come from the hipsters’ friends who will drive there to visit them.

  • The views he’s going to get from the height will rent the top three floors of each tower, though.

    I hope he does something interesting and street-level welcoming with the footprint between, though. Either a serious parklet or more retail or something.

  • The plan calls for first-floor retail.

  • Brad

    I highly doubt this swayed your opinion.

  • jeff wegerson

    The answer for the SOB supporters is permit parking on the lower density streets where they live. While permit parking is a classic OIMFY (Only in my front yard) issue it would seem that it should be popular with the anti-car crowd (us) as well. That’s because permit parking effectively reduces available parking spaces. It also changes free parking into pay-to-park. Not at market rates but still literally infinitely times more expensive than free. Plus it solves the “hipster visitor parking” crisis.

  • jeff wegerson

    NE Granville and Broadway has a mid-rise apartment block with first floor retail. But the first floor retail has not been successfully leased after many years and the quality of those who have leased has not so far been of a character that has enhanced the street. Granted the developer got caught by the real estate crash of 2008 and that likely made it difficult to lease at a level they needed.

    But the other issue of quality of lessee, while partly again an economic issue, those who can afford not being in synch with the rest of the street, was also exacerbated by the fact that only fairly large frontage business spaces were built. It is a typical new development bias. Instead of a generous mix of the small within the medium and large there is only the medium and large storefronts. So we get an Aldi and a Sleepies and a spinal clinic but there is no room for a startup muffin shop or t-shirt shop. Again I get the economics driver of the reality. But still ….

  • Alicia

    It doesn’t make anything “clear” (with actual data to prove that the “hipsters’ friends” are automatically going to drive). It’s just conjecture, nothing more.

  • Cameron Puetz

    It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to infer that this isn’t really about parking. This is an anti-development group worried about gentrification. Parking seemed like low hanging fruit to get people excited. If parking was really the issue, the flier wouldn’t devote a whole paragraph to complaining about hipsters and their fancy cocktails. This is a group that is unhappy that the physical layout and the people of their neighborhood are both changing.

  • CL

    I was joking…

  • Alicia

    Sorry

  • Matt F

    they are ugly but not as ugly as the division/ashland building.

  • If (and it’s a big if, as you point out) the development encourages a mix of businesses that residents can access for their daily or weekly needs, then an additional 100+ units of residents right there are going to be a big driver of retail-rental success.

    But if they’re all businesses intended to be used once a month by drive-in customers, not so much.

  • They may also really not understand what it feels like to be a young downtown officeworker who lives on transit and PREFERS to be able to do all their stuff from the train and a short walk away from stations. If you don’t get what that lifestyle is, then it feels naive when a developer says they can rent that whole building with almost zero traffic impact.

  • David Altenburg

    Yes yes yes. Its stunning to me how many residents are clamoring for a supermarket in Logan Square while at the same time describing proposed developments as “too dense”.

  • Andrew Schneider

    Speaking to the comparison of this project with the Wrightwood/Logan building, that was originally constructed before autos were dominant and is today an income-restricted building for seniors. Speaking to the local opposition to this development, I did a quick count and EXCLUDING this 253 units, there are 575 units that are in various stages of planning and approval either on Milwaukee or in close proximity between Kimball and Western. That doesn’t include recently built (over 100) and future potential construction (Emmit St. Parking Lot, Pierre’s Bakery and a myriad of other empty or otherwise underutilized parcels). I would like to see development in the area approached holistically as opposed to discussing these proposals on their merits in isolation.

  • Brian

    Andrew, an interesting point was made at the meeting about this development. A fellow had counted all the parking spots that sit empty between California and Western along Milwaukee. I forget the number, but it was something like 600 parking spots that were sitting empty on a Friday night. I look forward to 575…heck 1,000 more apartments on this stretch. And the last thing we need is more parking.

  • Andrew Schneider

    Brian, I heard that individual make this point. I’ve actually asked a business that owns one of those lots to make their spaces available outside of their business hours and they won’t do it because of liability concerns. I think that those parking spaces are better viewed as empty lots primed for development. I’m not in favor of this development, but not because I oppose density or the TOD concept, simply because I’m concerned about allowing development to move forward without any thought to the implications for all of the other parcels. The most interesting thing I heard at the meeting came from the developer, who noted that the under-lying zoning on this site must be quintupled in order to build these towers.

  • Who visits hipsters, anyway? They actually have friends?

  • Non-iPod headphones, boomboxes, facial haircare products, and an argyle sock and suede vest store?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    John: Look at the plan closely. First floor retail for each tower, with a long blank wall between the two buildings. Having a long blank wall so close to a transit station may not be good use of the urban space.

  • The obvious folly of requiring (its not technically required, BTW) community input for every single zoning change is people that don’t understand urbanity and sustainable density get to torpedo projects. Practically the entire city is zoned in such a way that almost every early/mid century MFR building does not comply with the current zoning designation. Meaning every proposed building of a reasonable density needs a zoning change. So we can either blanket change the zoning in parts of the City based on sound planning principals, or give alderman cover to make these decisions (as they were elected to do) on their own.

  • Clearly, Streetsblog needs a lobbying arm!

  • Also, Id be curious to know if SOB actually knows a person like this straw-hipster they’ve constructed, or if they just made up some random characteristics based on an episode of ‘Girls’?

  • JKM13

    I don’t understand what SOB has against a good cocktail. That’s what swayed me against them.

  • duppie

    Say what you want about the Division Ashland building, but it looks like they hired an architect and attempted to come up with an innovative look . The Milwaukee proposal is just another glas clad tower, chosen purely to reduce construction costs instead of making a statement.

  • BlueFairlane

    Walk a block or so into the neighborhood toward Goethe School from this and you’ll pass what for at least a decade has been an empty lot where Google Earth suggests a big warehouse-like building used to stand. That lot and a couple of lots near it are currently seeing the mass construction of about 10 big homes, all single-family. And there are a number of spots within a few streets in any direction where former three- and four-flats have been torn down and replace with single-family houses. There are four that went through this process on my block within the last year or so.

    Even if this building goes up, overall density in this part of the neighborhood is falling. The pro-density argument may win this battle, but it’s losing the war.

  • BlueFairlane

    Also, for reasons similar to my reaction to the term “P street” for a zoning designation, I feel all organizations should avoid naming themselves something that leads to an acronym of “SOB.”

  • jeff wegerson

    Exactly! When Jewel was pulling out of neighborhoods they left Rogers Park but stayed in Edgewater, precisely because of the density along the lake.

  • Zoning in many locales across the region fails to support goals embraced by the regional comprehensive plan. We need to fix zoning, not ignore the planning principles and recommendations that are designed to cultivate a more equitable, accessible, and vibrant region.

    By way of comparison, our transportation funding streams are primarily reserved – by law – for building roads, rather than supporting transit and other alternative modes. Does that mean that we should maintain the status quo, continuing to build projects like the Illiana and Prairie Parkway simply because the out-dated rules pretty much dictate we build roads or build nothing?

    Where would we be, as individuals, communities, regions, and a nation if we never re-examined our existing strategies for success to determine if they remain relevant in a world that changes every day?

    Standing idle as the world moves forward isn’t holding ground, it’s conceding it — being left behind, becoming irrelevant.

    Do we want to encourage more sprawl, or support development in existing locations where people can make smarter living choices, maximizing the social, economic, and environmental benefits that development in City offers over development at or beyond the urban fringe?

    Support and help shape the project, not hide behind a dusty set of rules which, by there very nature and design, recognize the importance of flexibility through provision of a transparent process for providing relief from the requirements contained therein.

    How can the project support regional goals yet at the same time make an architectural contribution to the community?

    We need to fix zoning, not use it to undercut planning principles and recommendations that are designed to cultivate a more equitable, accessible, and vibrant region.

  • And, besides, at least those hipsters aren’t like those cutter emo kids were, spilling their blood everywhere and casting a cloud of doom with their mere presence.

    They’re not one and the same are they?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Take a trip to the wayback machine when to the early oughts

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Regarding the Aldi, it was a secured primary tenant that probably signed a 15 year lease and with the signed lease in hand helped the developer secure financing to get the project off the ground. I love that Aldi and only wish it had a liquor license as the line of German Beers and Wines are pretty good.

    As for retail, sometimes it can take a few years for first floor retail in new buildings to be leased as it is usually the highest priced in the local area. The recession didnt help. Considering the curved ground floor space, it may have made it a little more difficult to subdivide the space for appropriate smaller tenants. Now a landlord will not turn away a tenant with money in hand like Sleepys and say whoa I’m not going to rent to Sleepys because I’d rather wait until I get two smaller tenants for this space. And even if Sleepys or something of their ilk is something you dont like too bad, its not your property and you have no business telling the landlord who they can or cant rent to. Lastly, there’s lot of open retail space in the area looking for tenants perfect for the muffin shop.

  • Dingus

    Wow…took a walk on this stretch tonight. Almost scary how deserted that strip is. If anyone thinks there are too many people on Milwaukee Ave. between Western and California, take a walk back and forth on Milwaukee around this proposed development site…the Congress, etc. Felt like being out in the country. And it’s been that way for quite some time. Easy parking. But I hope it becomes more of a city setting soon.

  • jeff wegerson

    Cool your jets there willie. Of course you are right and I totally don’t care what the landlord does there. Yes there are other rental spaces in the surrounding blocks like what I suggest. Of course, there is less and less open at this time. In fact the biggest tract of open storefronts are right there where we are talking about in his building.

    It is the initial design that concerns me. It likely never even occurred to the developer nor the architect to purposely design in some smaller footprint spaces to intermix with the larger ones. It would never even occur to them that some smaller spaces that maybe even should rent at a profit-less break even rate would be better for the neighborhood and even possibly even their own long term success. Sometimes smaller businesses grow to be bigger ones. Look at Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square. They started in the tiniest space one over from the alley and grew in two stages to the size they are now.

    That’s all I am attempting to address here. The landlord can go f**k himself for all I care and he can charge himself triple for the service. As you say it’s his building. Within limits of course. We, the city, can and do tell him that he cannot maintain a fire trap and tons of other rules. So in that sense I, (as a representative of the owners of the city) very well do have some business telling the landlord who they can or can not rent to. For instance I bet we (the city) have told him already that he can’t run a steel foundry on the premises. For instance.

    So I guess I don’t agree with you after all. It is my (our) business to tell landlords that there are people and functions they may not rent to.

    That’s life so get over it.

  • “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.”

    Indeed.

    And successful investors are not dumb – they aren’t going to build units that can’t be sold. If all of these occupants are going to drive, wouldn’t that be one of their purchasing criteria, i.e., where will I park and how much will it cost? Thus, there is either already enough parking available at a rate that the market (unit renters/purchasers) can tolerate, or the unit renters/buyers don’t care of there’s parking.

    Why require parking that the market indicates is not necessary and which would either consume space available for higher use, which would be almost anything other than a parking space, or encourage more vehicles in the neighborhood than would otherwise be the case?

    Parking availability is a red herring, and residential density in proximity to quality transit and biking facilities does not equate to congestion. As for architectural design, work on enhancements.

  • Exactly the reason I’d love to see a parking maximum in the CZO, instead of a minimum. Its expensive to build parking so let the market decide how much parking is needed, up to that maximum point anyway.

  • Please keep the discussion civil. Thanks.

  • jeff wegerson

    He started it! :)

    OK I apologize for my provocative language. I am assuming that the “landlord” in question is not following this thread, so I’m assuming that I have not offended them directly by my strong language. Since I have not directed any insults or ad hominen towards Willie I thought that I would not have personally hurt his feelings. I figured Willie being a regular blog poster would have enough savvy to take a spiced comment.

    But clearly you feel my comment was out of bounds so I will certainly be more careful in the future and I’m sorry I caused you to feel you needed to step in.

  • No problem, thanks for cooperating.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The issue is not over whether an inappropriate business wants to locate in the space, which is so so out there like your example of a steel foundry. Everyone who has a wiff of zoning logic knows that. And every business is subject to rules like fire code, etc so to put that on the table makes your argument rather inane.

    But if you want the landlord to rent to a muffin or tee-shirt shop and something other goes in, well that’s the way it goes. I’ve been in the space after the building was completed. It is not an easily dividable space, but that’s due to the foot print of the building. It’s not cookie cutter. Which does add interest to the street, with a nice little plaza which is used at community events like the art show and street fairs.

    I went to the community meetings when this project was proposed. There was both pushback from the community and a willingness by community groups to work with the developer. We got what the community wanted by consensus. Sure, it’s not going to suit everyone’s taste or desires. That’s how it works out.

    It is certainly better than the building that was there before, which had been boarded up years and the nasty vacant parcel behind it. Want something different, get your checkbook out.

  • jeff wegerson

    It’s a simple point I’m trying to illustrate with that building. New construction of buildings that size, I believe, and I have nothing to back up my belief, rarely include small footprint retail space at the ground level. And if they do I can’t imagine they would rent it out at a rate that could attract a startup business. You yourself say why would they do that? Exactly.

    So then the question remains, is my thought that such spaces are healthy for a neighborhood? I think yes. That’s all.

    As for that particular building. The small circular plaza is cute and might make a good outdoor cafe space. Otherwise I never ever see it used even by panhandlers. I didn’t go to the street fair so I have to take your word that they used it.

    Still it is a nice looking feature. I like also that they set the tower back so as not to overpower the street. As for being an improvement over the existing buildings, meh. The corner building had some nice features as I recall. I think there was some terra cotta in one of the other tear downs.

    Now look across the street to the shady side and the el access sidewalk. Now there is a pretty boring set of one story shops. Yet the variety and the life of that side of Granville has survived and thrived even through the dark days of the 90’s. Things like that are often a collection of fortunate accidents. Still the sunny side of the street has been a series of dead store fronts since the building was built and I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the future. Is it that the economics failed them. Yes very likely. But I think there was at least a bit of design failure as well.

    But maybe it will be good in the long run. In way there is too much on Granville of the things I fault that building for lacking. In a way that building offers a different kind of storefront that adds diversity to the street.

    But remember I was just meaning to use the building as an example for an urban design opinion of my own.

  • T.C. O’Rourke

    Whether or not you oppose or support this development, I think I speak for everyone when I say thank goodness we have the ability to 1) intervene in what a property owner chooses to do with their land and 2) prevent people we don’t like from purchasing things we don’t like. The system works!

  • David Altenburg

    These do. And I can see why. These hipsters are so considerate of their friends that when said friends can’t find parking, rather than expect them to suck it up, these hipsters uproot and move to the suburbs for their friends’ convenience!

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