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Relax, affordable housing plan by Western Brown stop would preserve almost all parking

8:45 PM CDT on May 13, 2021

Rendering of the new building.

Last Tuesday evening the nonprofit developer The Community Builders presented a new proposal to 47th Ward residents for a mixed-income affordable development on the city-owned parking lots at the northeast corner of Leland and Western avenues. The site is located across the street from the Western Brown Line station and is served by three CTA bus lines. TCB's original proposal for the land stalled due to the developer being turned down last year  by the city of Chicago for $1.5 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

There has been lots of Not In My Back Yard-style backlash to development proposals for the lot due to worries from some residents, merchants, and the nearby DANK Haus German cultural center that eliminating the lot would create a parking crunch, although TCB's earlier plan called for replacing almost all of the spots with garage parking. There were concerns about the future of several street festivals that are partially held on the site. It's also worth notinge that one of the leaders of the opposition to building affordable housing, landlord and Spyner's Pub owner Maureen Sullivan, faced a boycott last year due to racist remarks she posted on Facebook.

The Community Builders says its current proposal would preserve the public parking, and features new design and infrastructure elements like the use of masonry, plus upgrades to sidewalks and landscaping, taking design cues from the 2019 Master Plan for Lincoln Square.

Rendering showing widened sidewalks along Leland Avenue with the development to the right.
Rendering showing widened sidewalks along Leland Avenue with the development to the right.

TCB representatives started out the presentation by clarifying some details about the project. The developers said one of their goals is to provide a better gateway to Lincoln Square. They seek to improve the connection between Western and Lincoln avenues by providing a large outdoor seating area along Leland, widening sidewalks and planting trees along Lincoln.

Next, the TCB reps discussed the housing. The 51-unit, five-story proposal would include studios and one-bedroom apartments affordable to households making $60,000; two-bedrooms affordable to households earning $75,000; and apartments specifically intended for artists. There would also be 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

The proposed mix of rent levels. AMI stands for Area Median Income.

Lastly, TCB staff emphasized that the development wouldn't impact another parking lot kitty corner from the development site at Leland and Lincoln Avenues, used for the Lincoln Farmer’s Market, Apple Fest, and the Old Town School of Folk Music's Square Roots Fest, and it would would preserve almost all of the existing public parking. The developers said their new design ensures that community festivals can still happen along Leland. As the Square Roots Fest proves, street festivals also work quite well on Lincoln, so building housing on one of the lots shouldn't be a major issue for the other fests that have used it in the past.

Aerial view of the proposed development location, marked with a red pin.
Aerial view of the proposed development location, marked with a red pin.

Currently the lot has 47 car spots, with 43 available for metered parking, and another four used by Enterprise and ZipCar car rental companies. Under the new proposal, 41 metered garage spots would still be available to the public, while nine would be reserved for tenants. That's plenty – with the excellent transit and retail access, the building would likely do fine with zero car spaces for apartment residents.  The plan also calls for also enclosed bike parking, a lounge, and roof terrace.

The majority of residents who spoke during the public comment period were supportive of the proposal. One commenter noted that the downside of including of so many parking spots in the project would be the “missed opportunity” to add more housing.

Street view of 4715 N Western from Western Avenue.
Street view of 4715 N Western from Western Avenue.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who is involved with staging some of the local fests, also spoke during the public comment portion. Pappas read questions her office had received about the proposal and shared her concerns about parking. She claimed some of the residents who contacted her complained that local alderman Matt Martin’s office was not being responsive to them. Most of the questions she read, particularly ones about parking, had already been answered by the presenters. Multiple meeting attendees asserted on Twitter that Pappas playing a prominent role in the meeting was uncalled for.

After the meeting, the DANK Haus board issued a statement saying it was somewhat reassured by the details of the plan. "The DANK Haus was pleased to hear that our concerns surrounding preserving parking availability in the neighborhood have been taken into consideration... During their presentation, TCB mentioned a willingness to work with the DANK Haus and other planning organizations to come to mutually agreeable alterations to festival space. We look forward to working with them to ensure that our community and cultural outreach and our beloved Lincoln Square festivals can continue."

A recording of the meeting is available on YouTube.

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