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Thanks to “Overwhelming Support,” the Logan Affordable TOD Plan Is Moving Forward

Rendering of the Emmet Street development.

Following a sometimes-contentious community input process, the plan to build a 100-percent-affordable transit-oriented development next to the Logan Square Blue Line station is moving on to its next phase. 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa said today that after processing feedback from over a thousand residents, he will recommend the proposal from nonprofit developer Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation to the City Council zoning committee. "It's clear that this project has overwhelming support from the community," he said.

The seven-story, 100-unit building, slated for a parking lot on Emmett Street, is a strategy to prevent the displacement of longtime low-income and working-class residents as the Logan Square neighborhood continues to gentrify. Its genesis was a series of 2014 community workshops hosted by then-alderman Rey Colon and the Metropolitan Planning Council to brainstorm ideas for the underused city-owned lot. The development is projected to cost about $31 million, and Bickerdike hopes to line up the financing by using subsidies like low-income tax credits and tax-increment financing money.

However, last month a group of property owners who live on or near Emmett Street, including an architect, a real estate agent, attorneys, and a landlord, formed the group Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development to oppose the current plans for the development. They called for a shorter building with more parking and open space, changes that would have greatly decreasing the number of affordable units. (Group members recently told me they would no longer be doing interviews with Streetsblog.)

Hundreds of residents packed an April 24 public meeting on the project, and the vast majority of them voiced support for the proposal via comment slips. According to Bickerdike, of the 497 people who voted via the slips, 112 opposed the plan, 35 approved of it with certain conditions, and 350 unconditionally supported the proposal, or about a 78 percent total approval rate.

In the weeks since then, the 35th Ward has continued to collect input via petitions, comment cards submitted at the office, and emails. Rosa's office plotted the input on a map of the ward, using green dots to show the addresses of people who support the project and red dots to indicate folks who are opposed to the plan. "It's no secret that LSNRD members live across the street on Emmett," Rosa said. Interestingly, there's also a cluster of red dots near the southern end of the ward.

"But overall it's just a sea of green," Rosa said. "It's a testament to the work that's gone into crafting this proposal, and also people recognizing the need for equitable TOD to help address displacement in Chicago." He added that he would release the map when he officially announces his decision on the zoning change Wednesday morning.

Rosa will recommend the proposal at the next zoning committee meeting, likely in June after Lori Lightfoot is inaugurated as mayor on May 20. The estimated timeline for the development projects that the zoning, the sale of the land by the city, and the building permit approval processes will be completed by the end of this year. Construction would start in January 2020 and be completed by December 2021. The building should be fully occupied by July 2022.

Bickerdike and architect Landon Bone Baker have been in discussions with the nonprofit Logan Square Preservation and other community members to refine the plans for the development, Rosa said. Bickerdike also intends to increase the number of units that are fully accessible to people with disabilities. All of the currently planned units would classified as accessible by federal housing standards, in that they would have wide doorways and could be adapted in the future to be more accessible. But the goal is to include more apartments with upgrades like bathroom bars and wheelchair-friendly light switches and appliances.

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa
Carlos Ramirez-Rosa

Bickerdike is also working on tweaking its car parking plan, which includes 20 on-site spots, Rosa said. While a parking study found that the lot is typically 70 percent empty, some local businesses have requested that spaces be made available for rent to their staffers. There has also been an interest in making spaces available to people with disabilities who drive to the Logan station, one of the few O'Hare branch stations with an elevator, and then commute by train. The alderman said these requests should be easy for Bickerdike to accommodate because the developer had originally proposed fewer than 20 spot, although they will reserve some spaces for building staff and residents with handicapped placards.

Rosa said he met with five LSNRD members a few days after the April 24 hearing, and it sounds like the meeting was reasonably cordial. "The main takeaway is that they will continue to provide feedback on the project," he said.

One aspect of the develoment that's still up in the air is who will occupy the planned ground-floor retail spaces. I floated the possibility of a nonprofit community bike shop occupying one of the storefronts, which could provide education, job training, and employment opportunities for youth who live in or near the building. Offering bikes sales and repair, as well as mechanics classes, could also make the shop a useful amenity for residents of all income levels. "That's an excellent idea," Rosa responded, adding that anyone who's interested in leasing a space should reach out to Bickerdike for more info.

Rosa said he met this morning with staff from United Way's Montreal office who were excited to hear about the Logan TOD plan. "They wanted us to go out there to talk about using the 100-percent affordable TOD to address displacement, and involving the community through the community input process. So I think Logan Square residents should be really proud of this."

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