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