Logan Affordable TOD Opponents Discuss Their Concerns, Proponents Clap Back

Rendering of the affordable TOD as seen from the Longman & Eagle sidewalk cafe on Schubert.
Rendering of the affordable TOD as seen from the Longman & Eagle sidewalk cafe on Schubert.

On Monday Lynda Lopez reported on a group called Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development. It launched as an LLC six days ago to oppose the current plans for a 100-percent affordable transit-oriented development on the Emmett Street parking lot, next to the Logan Square ‘L’ station. The next day I checked in with the people leading the resistance to the proposal, which currently calls for a seven-story development with 100 affordable units of various sizes. I also touched base with community leaders who have advocated for the development.

On April 24 at 6:30 p.m., there will be a community meeting on the project, which is being spearheaded by nonprofit developer Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation and designed by Landon Bone Baker Architects, at Logandale Middle School, 3212 West George Street.

LSNRD was registered as an LLC by Josh Hutchison, the principal of 34-Ten Architecture, who in 2016 proposed an open air-market as an alternative use for the land. Hutchison and his wife Sarah Maxwell, a real estate broker with @properties, have lived across the street from the lot since 2012.

Josh Hutchison and Sarah Maxwell
Josh Hutchison and Sarah Maxwell

“Our big issue is that there wasn’t a standard [request for proposals] issued for the site,” Hutchison said. “We’ve been given one proposal.” He noted that the city of Chicago, which owns the lot, is planning to sell it to Bickerdike for $1. “It’s very problematic that citizens are expected to give up this very valuable and prime piece of land without any kind of competitive process involved.”

In 2014 the couple attended workshops, hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Council and then-aldermen Rey Colón, to brainstorm ideas for the lot, during which residents voiced support for building a development with 50-100 percent affordable units. “Yes, people wanted affordable housing, but they also wanted other things like public space, and they wanted a maximum of four or five stories,” Maxwell said. “Here we are at seven stories.”

The plans call for a wide, plaza-like sidewalk with seating on the northeast corner of the property. “A wide sidewalk doesn’t really qualify as public space in my view,” Hutchison said.

The couple also pointed to several other projects taking place in the area in the near future. About two blocks southeast of the lot, the former Logan Square Mega Mall site is being developed into the Logan’s Crossing development, with 220 apartments, 110 parking spots, and 67,000 square feet of commercial space, including a small-format Target store. About a block northwest of the lot, the former Pierre’s Bakery site will house a 60-unit building with four retail storefronts. And, as part of the Logan Square traffic circle redesign, the Chicago Department of Transportation plans to reconfigure the block of Kedzie Avenue next to the Emmett lot so that it intersects with Milwaukee Avenue at a right angle, instead of connecting with the circle.

The planned redesign of the Logan Square traffic circle. Image: CDOT
The planned redesign of the Logan Square traffic circle. Schubert Avenue, at the top of the map, becomes Emmett west of Kedzie. Image: CDOT

“It just doesn’t seem to make sense to rush a project of this size through so quickly without understanding the complications that are going to happen,” Maxwell said. “We take the Blue Line and we’re concerned about the impact on service. We’re concerned about sitting in traffic to get to our house because this wasn’t a well thought-out plan.”

Their Facebook page also states concern that the affordable TOD, which would include 20 parking spaces, would have too little parking “to support the community.” “There are are people who use [the Emmett lot] for monthly parking and we don’t necessarily have enough on-street spots to support that, so what happens to all those cars?”

The couple said they wouldn’t have a problem with reducing the height of the building, retaining some of the public parking, and adding some more public space, while keeping the project 100-percent affordable. However, they conceded that there might not be room for 100 units, including family-friendly ones, under that scenario.

I noted that many people might be tempted to label folks who are fighting plans for an affordable housing project across the street as Not In My Back Yard types. But the couple argued that the NIMBY label doesn’t fit. “There are close to 500 units of affordable housing within an eighth mile of our house,” Maxwell said, referring to apartments on the south side of Diversey Avenue with mostly Latinx tenants. “We really like where we live. We like the diversity. If we were opposed to affordable housing, we wouldn’t live here.”

“We’re not opposed to the project,” Hutchison insisted. “We’re opposed to the process.”

Aerial view of the building from the southwest.
Aerial view of the building from the southeast. Milwaukee Avenue is to the left, and the new block of Kedzie if to the right.

Juan Sebastian Arias, who manages housing initiatives for MPC, responded that maximizing the number of affordable units in the Emmett Street project is crucial for slowing the displacement of longtime residents as the neighborhood continues to gentrify. “Plain and simple, Logan Square is in dire need of affordable housing,” he said in a statement. “Escalating housing prices and unaffordable rents have exacerbated the already alarming rate at which Latinx families are being unjustly displaced. In fact, since 2000, over 20,000 Latinx Chicagoans have left the community.”

“Without intentional efforts to be a more equitable city, we will only exacerbate our existing inequalities,” Arias added. “Supporting affordable housing in Logan Square is one of the ways we can counter segregation and the inequalities it perpetuates.”

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa

Christian Diaz, lead housing organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, argued that, contrary to Hutchison and Maxwell’s claims, the evolution of the Emmett Street lot plan has been “a very democratic process.” He compared it to the MiCa towers, a mostly upscale TOD development neat Logan Square’s California Station in the neighboring 1st Ward. “About 300 people showed up to the community meeting for that project to oppose it, but [local alderman] Joe Moreno approved the zoning change for it anyway.”

In contrast, Diaz said, 35th Ward alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who will make the zoning decision for the affordable TOD, “seems to have always followed the feelings of nearby residents, especially those adjacent to [project sites].” He noted that that the April 24 meeting was announced three weeks in advance, residents will have the opportunity to vote on the project at the hearing, and feedback will also be collected online and through other channels for another two weeks afterwards. “If most residents oppose this project, Alderman Rosa will also oppose it.”

As for Hutchison and Maxwell’s fears of a parking crunch if more spots aren’t built, Diaz noted that a Center for Neighborhood Technology study of parking demand in the area found that the Emmett lot is typically 70-percent empty. In response to their claims that the project doesn’t include sufficient open space, he noted that the building will include meeting rooms and a rooftop garden that will be available to community groups, and that the Kedzie reroute will create a new pedestrian plaza just south of the building.

Diaz added that he finds it a bit fishy that Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development calls itself a nonprofit organization on its Facebook page, when it’s actually registered with the state as an LLC. Hutchison responded that the group is currently in the process of setting up as a nonprofit.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 3.54.18 PM

Ramirez-Rosa told me he’s not surprised that Hutchison has formed a group to fight the plan, “since he has opposed the use of the lot for affordable housing for quite some time,” referring to the architect’s 2016 open-air market counter-proposal. The alderman argued that during the community input process for the upscale Grace Hotel, which is coming to the northwest side of the traffic circle, there were no complaints about a too-short approval process. “So I think it’s a bit disingenuous that that people are now saying that this process is rushed.”

Regarding Hutchison and Maxwell’s complaint about the height of the proposed TOD, Ramirez-Rosa noted that MPC has endorsed the project as being in line with the community’s wishes as expressed during the workshop series. In response to the couple’s fears about traffic and parking, the aldermen said that Bickerdike has coordinated with CDOT on the planning of the project, and the Active Transportation Alliance is supporting it.

As for the argument that the project lacks a “public component,” Ramirez-Rosa said, “100 units of affordable housing near the Blue Line is a public benefit in itself.”

“It’s difficult for a project to cater to everyone’s desires,” Ramirez-Rosa added. “I think this is a well-balanced plan.” He noted that while some neighbors requested that the first level of the building be largely comprised of parking spots, that would have greatly raised the cost of construction.

The townhouses along Emmett street.
Rendering of the TOD looking southeast on Emmett street.

But he pointed out that, in response to a request from Logan Square Preservation, the side of the building that faces the single-family homes on Emmett will featured duplexed townhouses with three bedroom, two bathroom units and front yards. “I look forward to the day when the [townhouse] tenants will have a block club party with people from the single-family homes,” he said.

But right now, Ramirez-Rosa argued, Hutchison and Maxwell aren’t being very neighborly. “It’s a little disingenuous for people to put forward strawman arguments. If folks are opposed to 100 units of affordable housing being there, they should just say so.”

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