Logan Affordable TOD Boosters Blast “Misinformation” in Opponents’ Flyer

The flyer distributed by LSNRD.
The flyer distributed by LSNRD.

The battle over the proposed 100-percent affordable transit-oriented development, slated for a parking lot site by the Logan Square ‘L’ station, is heating up. Today proponents of the 100-unit, seven-story building, argued that a flyer being circulated by the opposition group Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development is “misinformation,” containing several misleading statements, and a few downright false ones.

There will be a community meeting on the TOD proposal, which is being spearheaded by nonprofit developer Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation and designed by Landon Bone Baker Architects, this Wednesday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Logandale Middle School, 3212 West George Street. A petition has been launched in support of the project on the LoganSquareIsHome.org website, created by organizations that are backing the TOD. The goal of the plan is to help prevent the displacement of longtime residents from the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, and improve transit access for low-income and working-class people.

Last week I spoke with LSNRD members Josh Hutchison, an architect, and his wife Sarah Maxwell, a real estate broker, who live on Emmett Street, as do other members. The couple discussed their issues with the project, arguing that there should have been a request for proposals process, the building should be smaller, and it should include more public space. Supporters of the TOD plan, including local alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and representatives of the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, contested those points.

Today Bickerdike notified me about the LSNRD flyer, and CEO Joy Aruguete, as well as other proponents, deconstructed statements from the handbill that they say are misleading or factually incorrect.

Hutchison confirmed that he and Maxwell were involved in creating the handbill, but he said it was a group effort by LSNRD members. He said he would ask member Allison Huebert, an attorney with Quinn Emanuel Trial Lawyers who also lives on Emmett, to provide more info about the flyer, but Huebert didn’t get in touch by press time. Let’s take a look at some of the statements on the flyer.

Hutchison, Maxwell, and Huebert.
Hutchison, Maxwell, and Huebert.

“Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is supporting Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation and their zoning change application [for the TOD.]”

Rosa said he hasn’t yet committed to supporting the zoning change, characterizing this and other statements on the flyer as “misinformation.” “I haven’t submitted a letter of support to the City Council zoning committee,” he said.

Rosa added that there are three possible outcomes based on the vote at Wednesday’s meeting, along with feedback collected online and through other channels for another two weeks afterwards. If there’s a clear majority of residents in support of the plan as-is, he said he’ll recommend it to the zoning committee. If most constituents want changes to the design, he’ll ask Bickerdike to go back to the drawing board. And if a clear majority of residents are opposed to building the TOD, he said, he won’t approve the zoning change. “So these comments from the people across the street that the community is not being heard are utterly ridiculous.”

“A standard RFP [for the site] was not issued, meaning that no alternative proposals have been solicited or considered. The lack of competing ideas for the lot is worrisome and shows a lack of transparency by our elected government officials.” 

The city, which owns the lot, plans to sell the parking lot, valued at $6 million, to Bickerdike for $1. Aruguete noted that having an RFP process is anything but standard when the city of Chicago turns over public land to a private entity. Instead, a Negotiated Sale, which is how the Emmett Lot would be transferred, is the most common way that the city disposes of property. “We’ve done many projects in Chicago this way before.”

Rosa noted that during 2014 workshops, hosted by MPC and then-aldermen Rey Colón, to brainstorm ideas for the lot, residents voiced support for building a development with 50-100 percent affordable units. “When I campaigned for alderman, I said I would support building 100-percent affordable units, and I was elected,” he said, adding that some 500 people marched in support of an all-affordable building last October.

However, Rosa said, when he met with city officials early in his tenure, the officials proposed including only 30 percent affordable units, and didn’t want to go any higher than 60 percent. The alderman said that when he pushed for 100 percent, he was told that doing an RFP wouldn’t make any sense because no for-profit developer would be interested in such a project, so the best way to achieve that was through a negotiated sale.

Rendering looking north towards the TOD from Logan Square Station.
Rendering looking north towards the TOD from Logan Square Station.

“Ramirez-Rosa is planning to push this development through City Hall approval approximately six weeks after it was released to the public, and both he and the developer have refused to provide details or answer specific questions about the project with FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests.”

Rosa and Aruguete argued that the project has already been through a rigorous community vetting process, including extensive review by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Logan Square Preservation. “The design has gone through multiple redesigns over the last several years based on their input,” Rosa said.

Joy Aruguete
Joy Aruguete

Aruguete noted that since Bickerdike isn’t a governmental body, it’s not subject to FOIA. “But if we were asked to disclose info, we would do that,” she said. “We have nothing to hide.”

Rosa’s chief of staff Jessica Vasquez stated via email that her office was not aware of any FOIA requests regarding the TOD plan. “We have not been informed by any city department that LSNRD has filed a FOIA with them (informing an alderman’s office that a FOIA request has been made with a city department concerning a development or project in their ward is standard practice.)”

Vasquez said her office has not received any formal outreach from LSNRD. However, she added that, per Rosa’s request, she reached out to the group last week and has scheduled a meeting on Monday, April 29th between the alderman, LSNRD, and Bickerdike. Vasquez added that the ward has responded to “informal” questions from Allison Huebert, as well as comments LSNRD members left on the ward’s social media platforms.

“Lastly, the alderman has released all of the letters he has sent to city departments concerning the Emmett Street parking lot,” Vasquez said. “These documents, and many more documents pertaining to this development can be found at www.aldermancarlosrosa.org/emmett, so if [LSNRD was] to file a FOIA we are not sure what else they would be looking for… Anyone with questions is invited to submit them to www.aldermancarlosrosa.org/emmett; as of this email none of the individuals you mentioned have submitted any questions.”

“This proposal dismisses the wishes of the majority of community members requesting that any housing development on the lot should be no higher than 4-5 stories (per the 2014 MPC meetings)… [and] provide adequate parking.”

Juan Sebastian Arias
Juan Sebastian Arias

The MPC report on the workshops did, in fact, note that “the average proposal from the second workshop was 4.3 stories tall, and the largest share of people surveyed online agreed that they preferred buildings between four and five stories.” But MPC recommended that the the development should be as tall as six stories.

“We are flattered that Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development continues to cite from our 2014 [report], but it’s important to provide context around our findings,” said MPC housing initiative manager Juan Sebastian Arias. “The clear priority that emerged from our engagement was the need for more affordable housing to slow the displacement of Latinx families from Logan Square.”

Arias added that MPC’s 2014 recommendations reflected the requirements of Chicago’s TOD ordinance at the time, but the ordinance was updated in 2015 to allow for more building density, and the height and density of the current design complies with the present ordinance.

A recent daytime aerial photo of the lot shows few cars parked there. Image: Google Maps
A recent daytime aerial photo of the Emmett lot shows few cars parked there. Image: Google Maps

As for parking, Auguete noted that Chicago TODs aren’t required to have parking at all, and city officials recommended only including four or five spaces, for maintenance staff. She said Bickerdike instead opted to include 20 spots, “just to make sure we were providing some parking to residents who might need it.”

A Center for Neighborhood Technology study of Logan parking demand found that the Emmett lot is usually only about 30 percent full, and an MPC report states that only a third of households in the immediate area own cars. Aruguete said that jibes with what she’s seen. “I go by it every single day, and most of the time it’s about one-third full.”

Kevin Womac, owner of nearby Boulevard Bikes (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) said he test rides bikes he has repaired in the parking lot. “In the daytime it’s never more than a quarter full.”

“Bickerdike intends to ‘award’ the work to its own construction company in a no-bid process.”

Aruguete said that Bickerdike’s former subsidiary, Humboldt Construction, was launched in 1981 as a way to create jobs for local Latinx and Black residents, but it ceased operations in the wake of the 2008 real estate crash. She added the general contractor on the Emmett project would have no identity of interest with Bickerdike, and there may be a competitive bid process if the city requests it.

Informed that the statement on the flyer about Bickerdike giving the work to its own construction company is false, LSNRD’s Josh Hutchison responded, “That’s interesting.” But he added that he feels that info isn’t obvious from the nonprofit developer’s website, “which just supports our claim that there isn’t any transparency.”

Update 4/24/19: City records show that LSNRD’s Allison Huebert filed FOIA requests regarding the Emmett development with multiple city departments in mid-April. FOIAs are generally supposed to get a response within five business days; in my experience it often takes several weeks to get a full response.

  • planetshwoop

    This is totally a sequel to Jefferson Park. There’s a playbook to opposing city changes: claim that neighborhood input wasn’t sought; parking issues; building too tall; schools already too crowded; “doesn’t fit with the existing spirit of the community”; etc. Sometimes it works (see Edison Park) and sometimes it doesn’t (see Jefferson Park)

    But the Northwest Side is facing this issue up and down Milwaukee with varying levels of change.

  • sam K

    I’m inclined to support the project, but I don’t think the he said/she said style of reporting here brings much light to the issue. Rosa is a politician and an interested party, and it doesn’t make sense to treat his words as a fact check on Logan Square Neighbors’ claims.

    Is it misinformation to say Rosa supports the project and zoning change? From his own words, it seems like he very much does, unless a “clear majority” of residents speak out against it. That he’d call such a claim misinformation suggests he’s posturing (which is what politicians do–I don’t blame him).

    It all sounds like boilerplate NIMBYism to me, but some real investigation into everyone’s claims and arguments would bring more clarity.

  • Guesty LaRue

    Cutting edge unbiased reporting here. How can you be a reporter and not understand how FOIA works? Requests do not go to “ward offices” but the office of mayor. And they are all posted online, for anyone to see, but apparently they didn’t take the time to check that before posting this hit piece and the alderman’s response that is verifiably untrue. Also, Bickerdike lists Humboldt Construction Company and a phone number on their website. What are people trying to hide here?

  • Tooscrapps

    We’re far down on the road for this, but how does issuing a RFP hurt?

    “The alderman said that when he pushed for 100 percent, he was told that doing an RFP wouldn’t make any sense because no for-profit developer would be interested in such a project, so the best way to achieve that was through a negotiated sale.”

    Prove it.

  • paulrandall

    If there is excess parking on site then it should be made available to local residents on monthly leases.

  • Guesty LaRue

    Humboldt Construction Company was in operation through at least 2018, according to city records and Bickerdike’s own annual reports. Is ten years later “the wake of the 2008 crash” or is it now in operation under a different name? Also, why would they NOT put it out to bid if they were actually worried about the cost to build this project? Only if the city requests it? The city is paying for the entire project. Did you report on how the building also includes office space for Bickerdike’s headquarters and space for non-profits like the ones championing this plan–LSNA and United Members of the 35th Ward? But
    I guess they don’t have any room or money for a public component to this project.

  • paulrandall

    Neighborhood input is often disregarded. Replacing parking is an issue. Buildings are often poorly designed and out of scale with the neighborhood. New development doesn’t fit with the context. These may not be your issues but they are real issues. Dismissing legitimate opposition as racist or NIMBY is irresponsible. All these issues deserve an fair hearing at the community meeting.

    In this case there is a terrific building, thoughtfully designed by one of the best architects in Chicago, that carefully breaks down the mass and scale of the new building so it fits into the urban fabric and there is some excess parking that can be leased to residents. All good things that will be heard at the community meeting. This is why we have community meetings.

  • Kelly Pierce

    Logan Square needs more housing. That’s for sure. A surface parking
    lot next to an L station is poor land use, which is why the TOD ordinance was
    created. We have a citywide consensus to develop housing near L stations. A 100
    percent affordable building could offer resources to needy families. Yet, one
    of the lessons learned from Stateway Gardens and the Robert Taylor Homes
    developments was the social problems that arose concentrating very poor people together
    in one place. A seven story all low-income TOD is nearly half as tall as one of
    the 16 story buildings in the Robert Taylor Homes. With so much density, how
    does this building not replicate the problems of the past?

  • Kevin M

    You ask a historically-accurate question, and I’m interested in hearing what Bickerdike or others who are well-informed on affordable housing would have to say.

    My understanding, from some limited studying of Chicago’s history with low-income housing, is that a key difference between this plan for Emmett St. and those high-rises of the past is that the former will be tightly-integrated within an existing community block that includes a diversity of incomes and races/ethnicities, while the latter (Chi low-income high-rises) were built on large swaths of cleared-out land. Those high-rises were islands to their surrounding existing neighborhoods–not integrated within blocks of existing families/housing-stock. It was an intentional design, I’m sure–to keep /those/ people over there. That intentional segregation will be difficult to replicate on Emmett St.

  • rohmen

    I think for optics alone, these sort of projects should be bid out to for-profits and not-for-profits. That said, this group would clearly be opposed to any affordable housing TOD project of this scale/height, and all a RFP would have done is guarantee the City secured the best “deal” in terms of what subsidies were needed to get the affordable housing project moving.

  • Tooscrapps

    Exactly. The project is certainly worthwhile, but there are plenty of not-for-profits that do this sort of development. Why not bid it out and see who has the best proposal?

  • rohmen

    I think the reality is only a handful of non-profits even do these developments, and I’m sure the City has ones they prefer to work with (based on likely legitimate reasons). That said, I 100% agree. It looks better to bid it out—though I imagine the City avoids it to a degree to avoid just having to take the lowest bidder. If you do a RFP, you’re going to be stuck with the results by in large (and loss of control that entails as well).

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yes, 100 units of housing for low-income and working-class people with excellent transit access, surrounded by market-rate housing in a heavily gentrified neighborhood, is a very different thing than 4,415 units of CHA housing surrounded by low-income areas and walled off on one side by an expressway. One is an integrationist strategy, the other was the opposite. Even the opponents of the Emmett plan haven’t been arguing that there’s going to be an issue with concentrated poverty.

  • Combin8tion

    It’s hard not to think there is some NIMBYism present when the LSNRD principals contacted for the article all live across the street from the development. In fact, they own two of only three owner-occupied singe family homes on that portion of Emmett. Now that does not mean they may have legitimate concerns but this sure seems like a single-issue group formed to oppose this Bickerdike development based on the impact it has on their immediate surroundings.

  • rohmen

    The income thresholds on this as well basically equate to someone making up to $17 an hour. That means a lot of people applying to live in this building are going to be teachers aides, day care workers, retail employees, etc.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    I’m following up with Bickerdike for more specifics on the status of Humboldt Construction, but they said it has ceased operations.

    “Did you report on how the building also includes office space for Bickerdike’s headquarters and space for non-profits like the ones championing this plan–LSNA and United Members of the 35th Ward?”

    Yes, we previously reported that the building will include office space and a rooftop garden that will be available to various community groups. https://chi.streetsblog.org/2019/04/17/logan-affordable-tod-opponents-discuss-their-concerns-proponents-respond/

    In addition to those public amenities, the plaza-like space on the northeast corner of the property, and the new plaza created across the street by the Kedzie reroute, the building will include ground-floor retail.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s the full statement from Rosa’s chief of staff Jessica Vasquez:

    “Our office has not received any FOIA requests from LSNRD, nor did we receive any formal outreach from LSNRD. We have not been informed by any city department that LSNRD has filed a FOIA with them (informing an alderman’s office that a FOIA request has been made with a city department concerning a development or project in their ward is standard practice). We received an email from Allison [Huebert] shortly after announcing the development, which we responded to on April 11th (some of the questions that Allison asked have to be addressed directly by the experts that will be present at the community meeting), and we have responded to numerous comments left by Allison, Sarah Maxwell and others on our social media platforms on a rolling basis since then. Per Alderman Rosa’s request, I reached out to LSNRD last week and have scheduled a meeting with them for Monday, April 29th between the Alderman, LSNRD, and Bickerdike.

    Lastly, the Alderman has released all of the letters he has sent to city departments concerning the Emmett Street parking lot, these documents, and many more documents pertaining to this development can be found at http://www.aldermancarlosrosa.org/emmett, so if they were to file a FOIA we are not sure what else they would be looking for as these letters are the extent of the electronic and written communication Alderman Rosa has had with City departments concerning the development of the Emmett Street parking lot.

    We are also aware that at the Logan Square Preservation meeting that took place last week, LSNRD got to review all of the design changes and feedback (including sketches) that Bickerdike and Landon Bone Baker have worked on based upon LSP’s feedback over the past few years and months.

    Anyone with questions is invited to submit them to http://www.aldermancarlosrosa.org/emmett, as of this email none of the individuals you mentioned have submitted any questions. We are in the process of reviewing all of the questions submitted thru the feedback form on our website to ensure we have answers ready by Wednesday.”

  • Alexander Kessler

    Each neighborhood is not separate from the city as a whole.

    An affordable housing development near a CTA station is good for the health of the city. We’ve learned after decades of trial-and-error, and extensive research, the crime and poverty are greatly reduced when huge swaths of the city aren’t dedicated (whether officially or unofficially) to housing the disenfranchised and kept separate from higher income residents. Chicago has a terribly provincial mentality and it’s encouraged by aldermanic prerogative. Neighborhood input is one thing, neighborhood fiefdom is another.

    This is a city owned lot. Not a Logan Square owned lot.

  • Guesty LaRue

    The “plaza like space” is a wide sidewalk. The other plaza is contemplated by the Kedzie reroute, but the drawings seem to conflict with this plan. Bickerdike is not even going to plant the trees in the drawings they have submitted–Ald. Ramirez-Rosa suggests that will be left to CDOT if and when the reroute happens. There is no actual public component to this project.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s the rendering of the “wide sidewalk.” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f88733a21d5fe2a720037965a3795f498c3f061cab8a6f26e957fe64a92d6fc2.png

    It looks pretty certain that the Kedzie reroute is happening, based on comments from CDOT at the last community meeting on the project. https://chi.streetsblog.org/2018/12/05/cdots-progressive-remix-of-the-logan-traffic-circle-is-close-to-becoming-a-reality/

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Per Bickerdike, the last project Humboldt Construction was involved with was the rehab of the 1704 N. Humboldt building, completed in 2014. So, yes, the company was impacted by the 2008 crash.

    Humboldt Construction may have still been a corporation until more recently, but that simply involved paying a small fee every year to renew its certification with the state of Illinois. A company could do that for years and still not actually be doing business.

    Bickerdike conceded that the website needs to be updated and that Humboldt Construction shouldn’t be posted there — the phone number listed isn’t valid. So fair game, that makes it more understandable that LSNRD was confused on that point.

  • Guesty LaRue

    Did you take the two minutes to review the publicly available FOIA request log that the city departments maintain to see if there are pending requests? Would seem that would make more sense than asking Ald. Ramirez-Rosa for his thoughts on it when something is so easily verifiable.
    Looks to me there are requests out to the Mayor’s office (which, for your future reference, if you ask the city, they will tell you that this is how to obtain city council documents) and Finance, and CDOT, and Planning…

  • Guesty LaRue

    Isn’t the MPC source about their supposed endorsement of this project also a member of LSNA? LSNA opposed the Kedzie reroute, even over safety concerns, unless CDOT decided to support the Emmett project.
    “Bicyclist Juan Sebastian Arias, who lives in Logan Square and bikes to work in the Loop, supports bike safety. He is also a member of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which has raised concerns that an unintended consequence of improving the traffic circle could be gentrification.
    “As exciting as the potential change for the Logan Square traffic circle is, that without some proper steps to plan or to mitigate some of these unintended consequences that it’s really going to exacerbate displacement again, Arias said.”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Good tip; I wasn’t aware of the existence of the FOIA request log — handy for seeing what the competition is up to.

    At any rate, the flyer’s statement that “Rosa and Bickerdike have refused to provide details or answer specific questions about the project with FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests” is obviously false, especially since Bickerdike isn’t even subject to FOIAs.

    You seem to be quite an expert on this topic, seeing as how even a city spokesperson I asked about this was unclear on the intricacies of the FOIA process. It appears you’re on the inside track here, possibly another journalist or a member of LSNRD. Care to unmask yourself?

  • planetshwoop

    At market rates, right?

  • paulrandall

    I support the project. My point is that people who have reasonable causes for concern should not be reflexively labled NIMBY’s.

  • Alexander Kessler

    If they support affordable housing, but not in their neighborhood, that’s the very definition of “NIMBY”. I guess maybe they are completely against the concept of affordable housing, but they don’t mention that in their list of concerns.

  • MinnieMaus

    You forgot to mention that Juan Sebastian Arias is a member of LSNA and only joined MPC in March 2019. http://www.lsna.net/news/3623

  • MinnieMaus

    Why did you delete my comment pointing out that Arias is an LSNA member that opposed the Kedzie reroute and joined MPC one month ago?

  • Mr Bojangles

    According to the IRS, Humboldt Construction was still listed as active on their most recent 2016 Form 990. It is also listed in a recent audited financial statement. This very well could be an issue where the corporation still exists in name and license only, but I think Bickerdike could be more transparent. The financial statement mentions that Humboldt Construction was still reimbursing Bickerdike for rent as of 2016. Given these inconsistencies, I think they need to be more upfront about this subsidiary. https://apps.irs.gov/pub/epostcard/cor/237087890_201612_990_2017122715056361.pdf
    http://www.guidestar.org/ViewEdoc.aspx?eDocId=3448969&approved=True

  • LongtimeLogan

    Absolutely correct this is the new Cabrini Green. Having other people on the street will not help we are repeating mistakes of the past but Rosa is so young he has no idea. There were plenty of nice buildings near Cabrini and the Robert Taylor homes when they were opened but the neighborhood became too dangerous for anyone. You are a fool if you think hard working families will move in here. This will be another vertical ghetto and if the city council allows this we really are the next Detroit.

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