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All-affordable TOD plan by Western Brown stop shelved, visioning process underway

Side view of the layout for a previously proposed all-affordable TOD for the 4715 N. Western Ave. site.

Update 1/26/20: This article previously stated that there is a current proposal for the the 4715 N. Western site, based on information posted on the 47th Ward website. Ward director of development and infrastructure Josh Mark has since informed us that info was outdated. This post has been updated accordingly.

Last week 40th Ward alderman Andre Vasquez and 47th Ward alderman Matt Martin held the first of a series of meetings to conduct a community visioning process a parcel of land at 4715 N. Western Ave., currently occupied by a surface parking lot. The visioning process is intended to collect feedback from local residents and other stakeholders on their thoughts for the property's best use before a proposal for development is submitted.

The property qualifies as a TOD since it's located across the street from the Western Brown Line station, and on the relatively high-frequency Western bus route. Around this time last year, there was backlash from some merchants and residents to an initial proposal from The Community Builders for an all-affordable transit-oriented development on the lot due to parking concerns, every though that plan called for virtually every existing car space to be replaced with a garage spot. 

That plan, which called for a mixed-income, mixed-use building with 42 affordable units and 4,000+ square feet of commercial space, is no longer an active application. according to 47th Ward director of development and infrastructure Josh Mark. "This affordable development proposal did not receive Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the city in the most recent round of applications," the ward's website explained. "The developer, TCB, has expressed interest in re-applying." The proposal would have been as tall as the Dank Haus German cultural center on the west side of Western, with six stories on Western, but then drop to three stories on its south face on Leland Avenue.

Last week's meeting, held online, started off with a bit of context, including the Lincoln Square Master Plan. The plan was created by the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce in 2019. Over 1,700 responses informed the plan which called for more residential development, specifically affordable housing, senior housing, and transit-oriented development which could help support local businesses; development that fits in well with current Lincoln Square architecture and character; and improving safety for pedestrians and people biking.

The 4715 N. Western Ave. site is also of importance given the Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s and the Chicago Department of Transportation’s community-based planning initiative to re-envision Western from Addison Street to Howard Avenue. The plan seeks to study the potential to increase density, promote more diverse land use, improve how developments relate to the surrounding area, and enhance pedestrian safety. Michael Berkshire from DPD provided an overview of the initiative.

The existing parking lot at Leland/Western. Image: Google Maps
The existing parking lot at Leland/Western. Image: Google Maps
The existing parking lot at Leland/Western. Image: Google Maps

Chicago Department of Housing commissioner Marisa Novara joined the meeting to discuss the city’s priorities when it comes to city-owned lots near transit stations. Novara started by stating that the city’s transit-oriented ordinance calls for density to be prioritized for land near transit stations. She distinguished equitable TOD from strictly market-driven developments by its elevation of neighborhood voices in decision-making processes, a focus on community-focused benefits, and a partnership with local businesses or developers headed by people of color.

“We want to get as many affordable units as we can near transit," Novara said. "We also want to make sure we right-size parking because if our developers are paying for more parking spots it means less housing for folks in an ideal location.” She added that the city does not own much land on the North Side and even less near transit.

Novara responded that in areas where average incomes are higher and there is little affordable housing, the priority is to maximize affordable housing. The housing department also encourages planners to consider accommodating a range of incomes.

There was a brief Q & A period with Novara and Martin fielding questions. Afterwards participants were put into breakout rooms to discuss their priorities for development in the neighborhood. After that, breakout room leaders reported back to the wider audience. Generally, most of the participants agreed that the Lincoln Square neighborhood needs more affordable housing.

However, many attendees were concerned still concerned that a new TOD at the parking lot site would involve a significant loss of car parking. Martin and his staff stated numerous times that there will be little to no loss of car spaces.

There will be more community meetings about this site. No date was given but folks were encouraged to keep an eye on newsletters sent out by the 47th and 40th ward offices. In the meantime, those who wish to provide input are encouraged to do so through a survey created by the 47th Ward Office.

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