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Benefits of building 16 relatively affordable units next to Morse stop should outweigh concerns

The new addition would be right next to the Morse ‘L’ station.

I’ve participated in a number of community meetings focusing on new developments in Rogers Park. Unfortunately they almost always devolve into arguments about car storage and half-baked concerns about “traffic congestion.”

But I was surprised that a recent community meeting regarding a proposal to add 16 relatively affordable apartments to a building at 1415 W. Morse Ave., an existing multi-use building in Rogers Park, was met with concerns the new addition would hurt existing businesses along Glenwood Avenue. The additional housing would be right next door to the Morse Red Line station. Two of the units would units would qualify as affordable housing under the city of Chicago's affordability rules, while the rest of the one-bedroom units would rent for $1,000.

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The existing building on Morse.
The existing building on Morse.

According to a Block Club report by Joe Ward, real estate investor Mark Falanga is proposing to construct the additional units in the current building’s parking lot. The five-story addition would also feature 11 ground-level parking spaces and a rooftop deck. The new structure would also feature an elevator, which would make this building accessible to folks with disabilities or other mobility challenges.

A few business owners along Glenwood near the proposed site have concerns, Block Club reported. Erik Archambeault, owner of Rogers Park Social bar and Rogers Park Provisions food shop at 6920-28 N. Glenwood Ave., is concerned about the impact to his businesses from the new structure blocking out sunlight. Al Goldberg owns a building at the corner of Glenwood and Morse that's home to ten commercial storefronts and six artist studios. He said he is worried that the proposed addition, which would leave four feet between the side of the new structure and the back of Glenwood buildings, would complicate emergency exit procedures thereby creating a safety hazard. And Allison Cain, the managing director of Lifeline Theater at 6912 N Glenwood is concerned that noise from the proposed rooftop deck will be a distraction during theater productions.

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Rendering of the rooftop deck.
Rendering of the rooftop deck.

I understand the very real safety concerns about emergency exiting procedures, but it seems unlikely this close set-up is uniquely unworkable. We live in a dense city where it's not uncommon for buildings to be right up against one another. However, I’m not an engineer or safety inspector so I’ll leave the final decision to the experts. As far as noise from the rooftop deck, I can’t imagine the festivities on a rooftop being louder than the constant movement of trains on the 'L' track that sits feet away from the theater. The loss of sunlight for Rogers Park Social, the business that Archambeault is particularly concerned about, is unfortunate, but I don’t think that issue outweighs the benefits of creating 16 new units of reasonably priced, extremely transit-friendly housing.

Luckily there are some level-headed people in the 49th ward who are supportive of the proposed addition. Mark Jacob, who lives close to the site in question, argued that the addition of new residents will be helpful for businesses along Glenwood Avenue, Block Club reported. I agree: More potential customers nearby can only help these establishments.

All in all I’m supportive of the addition. I just wish there were fewer parking spaces. Even though it is replacing a parking lot, it's not clear that even eleven spaces are really needed, considering how transit-adjacent the site is. It seems Alderwoman Maria Hadden is supportive of the development. Block Club quoted her as saying, “This is a smart way to add more units” and that she wants more conversations around the proposal to happen. The developer, Mark Falanga, stated that he will be taking Glenwood Avenue business owner’s feedback into consideration as he moves forward. The project will need to pass the full Chicago City Council and if approved, construction will start in spring 2022, according to the developer.

If you would like to weigh in on the proposal, the 49th ward community survey for the proposal is here.

Check out the presentation on the project here.

Read the Block Club article here.

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