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Proposed Development Will Make Blue Line’s Grand Stop a TOD Hotspot

710 W Grand Halsted west elevation
Rendering of the proposed TOD building (middle background) at 710 W. Grand Ave. Image: Brininstool & Lynch

Yet another developer is becoming prolific at creating mixed-used, transit-oriented developments. Mark Sutherland has proposed a new TOD building called 710 Grand, first revealed by Curbed in August, at 710 W. Grand Ave., one block east of the Grand Blue Line station in the River West neighborhood. This will be the third TOD building in Sutherland's Wicker Park Apartments portfolio. The project requires a zoning change and it's one of several proposed developments that will be considered at this Thursday's Chicago Plan Commission meeting.

Sutherland told me he thinks the lot's proximity to the Blue Line makes it an ideal spot for development. The new building, located at the corner of Grand and Union avenues, next to Metra tracks, would have 105 apartments and only 45 car parking spaces. Chicago's zoning laws typically require new residential buildings to provide one parking space for every unit, but thanks to the city's ordinance, originally passed in 2013 and beefed up last year, there's no parking minimum for residential developments within two blocks of a CTA or Metra station can have as few as zero parking spaces.

In keeping with the revised TOD ordinance, Sutherland's project will provide a bike parking space for every unit, in lieu of car parking. The nine-story building will also include 5,000 square feet of retail, the equivalent of about four standard storefronts. The site is currently occupied by a four-story mixed-use building with six units, which would be demolished to make room for the new structure.

Sutherland has hired Brininstool & Lynch to design the new building, and the architecture firm is no stranger to TOD design. They also designed "The L," a mixed-use building near around the corner from the California Blue Line stop at 2211 N Milwaukee Ave, which is far along in construction.

Two blocks west of the 710 W. Grand site there's another TOD development dubbed "Kenect," which is currently under construction. The two towers, nestled between Grand and Milwaukee, will have a total of 227 units and 88 car parking spaces.

Sutherland is developing two other TOD buildings near the Division Blue Line station in Ukrainian Village and Wicker Park. One of the developments, an apartment building at 1515 W. Haddon Avenue, is 30 percent rented and the first tenants will move in mid-May, he says. The other building is a former church which Sutherland is converting into 34 units, with only eight car parking spaces.

There's been plenty of demand for new parking-lite housing along the Blue Line. In fact, most of the new projects that have taken advantage of the TOD ordinance have been along the O'Hare Branch / Milwaukee Avenue corridor.

There's a bit of a chicken-or-egg question. Has the TOD ordinance spurred the current building frenzy on the Near Northwest Side by making it easier for developers to build more housing units on a given parcel without having to spend a lot of money on building off-street parking? Or is it the case that the boom would have happened anyway, and the developers are simply taking advantage of the relaxed zoning rules to build the kind of dense housing that is appropriate for land near transit stations?

Not everyone is a fan of the way the TOD movement has played out in Chicago. Virtually all of the new developments have been high-end, and groups like Somos / We Are Logan Square have argued that they contribute to the displacement of low-income and working-class residents from gentrifying neighborhoods. The 710 W. Grand building will have two affordable-designated units on-site, and Wicker Park Apartments will also pay $1.1 million as an "in lieu" fee to the city's affordable housing trust fund.

Meanwhile, aside from Hyde Park, there have been no new TOD developments on the South or West Sides. However, that may because there has generally been little multi-unit, market-rate development in these areas in recent years.

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