I am writing about the proposal to construct an eight-story building at 1313 W. Morse (at the southeast corner of Morse and Wayne). A vacant strip mall, which once contained a laundromat, cell phone store, video store, and pharmacy, currently sits on the site (see photo below).
The property is zoned B3-3, which allows for a building up to 65 feet in height and 35 dwelling units. The developer, Tawani Enterprises, is proposing to build an 80-foot tall building with 45 dwelling units. This would require a zoning change to B3-5.
I held a community meeting on the proposal earlier this month and have received additional community input from emails to my office and comments on various social media. The proposal also was reviewed extensively by the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee, a group of neighborhood residents and representatives of the major community organizations in the ward that advises me on all zoning and land use issues, and the Rogers Park Business Alliance (RPBA).
After careful consideration of the opinions and suggestions of the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Advisory Committee, RPBA, and the scores of residents who attended the meetings or corresponded with my office, I have decided to SUPPORT the proposed development, as amended.
Below are the details of the proposal and my reasons for supporting it:
Tawani Enterprises proposes the construction of an eight-story building, with 45 rental apartment units on the top five floors of the building and a garage, with 75 parking spaces, on the first three floors. Twenty-five of the parking spaces will be reserved for the residents of the building and 50 spaces will be reserved for the patrons of the Mayne Stage, directly across the street from proposed development. When the Mayne Stage is not using the parking, the 50 parking spaces will be available for community residents and patrons of nearby businesses and theaters.
City code allows for less than a one-for-one parking- to-dwelling-unit ratio when a development is within 600 feet of a transit stop.
To view the latest rendering, elevations, and site plans, click on the attachments below:
As a result of input from the Advisory Committee, RPBA and community residents, the Tawani development team made several significant changes to their original proposal.
The developer originally proposed a 50-unit apartment building, but reduced the number of dwelling units to 45, to address concerns from those who believed the apartment units were not spacious enough.
Many concerns were also expressed about the proposed building’s street-level presence. The original proposal envisioned a small entrance and lobby to the residential areas and ventilation grates along the walls on both the Morse and Wayne sides of the building. To address those concerns, the developer revised the plans to double the size of the Morse Avenue entryway and eliminate the grates on the Morse and Wayne street-level facades.
The proposed residential entrance is now more than 22 feet wide, covered with three side-by-side glass doors. The developer doubled the size of the residential lobby–adding space for couches, chairs, lamps and decorations–and moved the mailroom to a location directly off the lobby to further encourage social uses of the common area. The developer also made the common area more visible from the street through a well-lit, glassed-in entryway.
In place of the grates on the Morse and Wayne sides of the building, the developer agreed to install concrete panels that will be decorated with wall sconces and planter boxes. The developer also agreed to beautify the sidewalk areas on the north and west sides of the building with trees and ornamental iron railings.
Finally, the developer agreed to move the loading area into the building itself to address concerns about the proposed location of the loading berth in the alley. Under the modified proposal, residents and service companies will now drive into an enclosed area that is directly adjacent to the building’s freight elevator and tenant storage.
A number of members of the Advisory Committee and RPBA asked the developer to consider including commercial retail space on the first floor of the building. The development team declined to do so. Citing the existence of vacant storefront spaces on Morse and other commercial streets, the developer believed it would be very difficult to find quality tenants to lease the space.
My Reasons for Supporting the Proposed Development
Like so many other development proposals in our neighborhood, community opinion on the Tawani proposal ran the gamut, from outright support to qualified support to outright opposition. It’s my role as alderman to listen to all points of view and make a decision that I believe represents the best interests of the community.
The Development will Improve a Blighted Corner and Bring to Rogers Park More Households that will Support the Local Economy.
I am supporting the Tawani Enterprises proposal because it represents a vast improvement over the suburban-style strip mall that currently blights the corner of Wayne and Morse and reflects the kind of high-quality development that Tawani is known for. The development will bring to Morse Avenue 45 more households, who likely will do some of their shopping, dining and entertaining at our neighborhood stores, restaurants and theaters.
The Development will Provide More Off-Street Parking for Neighborhood Residents and Businesses.
The development also will help alleviate a chronic on-street parking shortage in our community that has been exacerbated by the Mayne Stage Theater. Though the theater is a very welcome addition to our neighborhood, the patrons of the Mayne Stage compete with neighborhood residents and patrons of other businesses for scarce on-street parking spaces. The 50 parking spaces that will be set aside in the new development for events at the Mayne Stage translates into 50 more available parking spaces for neighborhood residents and businesses.
When the Mayne Stage is not using the parking, those 50 spaces will be available to community residents and patrons of neighborhood businesses, especially the other live theaters in the Glenwood Arts District, who have suffered from a lack of parking for their patrons.
The Developer Improved the Design Over the Original Proposal.
As with its previous development proposals, Tawani listened to community concerns and worked extensively with the community and me to modify their original proposal to address those concerns, especially about the first floor design. As a result, the amended proposal offers a much more inviting street-level presence with a much-enlarged lobby and common area that is open and visible to the street. The lighted sconces, planter boxes, trees and ornamental railings on the Morse and Wayne sides of the building represent a vast improvement over the original proposed street-level grating.
The Argument for Commercial Retail on the First Floor of the Development is not Sufficiently Compelling to Force Retail Units on a Reluctant Owner.
Though Tawani accepted the vast majority of recommended changes to the proposed project design, it declined to accept a request of the Rogers Park Business Alliance and six members of my Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee members to include in its development plan first floor commercial retail space. Tawani’s development team strongly resists including retail storefronts in its plan, believing the current market does not support additional retail, especially in light of the vacant storefronts that exist throughout Rogers Park.
Those who support the addition of storefronts to the development make a strong case that occupied retail storefronts would add life and vitality to this portion of Morse Avenue.
I don’t disagree with that assessment. However, the key word is “occupied.” Vacant storefronts, or storefronts occupied by subpar tenants, are worse than no storefronts at all and convey a negative impression of the community.
In this age of economic uncertainty, it is NOT abundantly clear that the “if you build it, they will come” approach to retail development will necessarily result in storefronts occupied by desirable retail tenants at any point in the foreseeable future.
A walk or drive through our neighborhood seems to support Tawani’s reluctance to include a commercial component in its plan. Though Morse Avenue has experienced a remarkable economic renaissance over the last eight years with new stores, restaurants and bars, vacant storefronts continue to mar the retail landscape of the street and the other commercial corridors in Rogers Park.
This problem is not unique to Rogers Park, but experienced by neighborhoods and cities across our nation.
Despite the economic recovery, cities continue to struggle with vacant storefronts in their commercial corridors, including neighborhoods with some of the highest per capita incomes in the world, such as Lincoln Park and Lakeview in Chicago, the Upper East Side and Chelsea in Manhattan, and even downtown Winnetka, Illinois. Below is just a small sample of the many recent articles detailing this phenomenon:
As evidence of the national scope of this problem, a national “Empty Storefronts Conference” was held recently in Milwaukee to discuss ideas for filling empty storefronts in commercial corridors across the nation:
Experts point to the overbuilding of retail stores and the online shopping habits of consumers as some of the causes of the problem. The Internet has replaced traditional “bricks-and-mortar” stores as the preferred method of shopping for many consumers.
As a result, many types of bricks-and-mortar stores–such as new record stores, new book stores and video stores–are fast becoming a distant retail memory. Though other retail stores remain, they are clearly feeling the pinch in the new online economy:
Though some experts argue that predictions of the demise of traditional retail stores are wildly exaggerated, no one can foresee the future of retailing with absolute certainty and there is no ignoring the fact that retail stores, and commercial corridors as a whole, are struggling nationwide, even as the economy overall continues to improve. This makes me reluctant to force commercial space on an owner who doesn’t want it.
A residential building with no retail space would not be out of place at the Morse and Wayne location. The proposed development is not located in the middle of an exclusively commercial corridor, such as the block of Morse just west of the CTA tracks. Instead it sits at the very edge of the Morse retail strip.
Every building immediately east of the Tawani development to Sheridan Road is solely residential, with the exception of 1225 W. Morse, which houses a real estate office and 1218-20 W. Morse, a vacant building, which once housed the Morseland Restaurant. Moreover, Reside on Morse, a residential apartment building with no ground floor commercial retail space, sits kitty-corner to the west of the proposed development.
That the Tawani development would replace a commercial building is not an argument for requiring the new development to include a commercial retail use. The strip mall Tawani would replace was hardly a thriving commercial enterprise. In fact, a strong argument can be made that the absence of additional retail space in the Tawani development will actually help fill the existing vacant storefronts on Morse by reducing the market supply of available retail space.
The Tawani development can best contribute to the commercial revitalization of the Morse-Glenwood business by bringing to the area 45 additional households with money to spend at local businesses and spurring other investments on the street, not by adding a couple more storefronts.
In sum, the case for commercial retail on the first floor of the development is not sufficiently compelling to convince me to impose retail units on a reluctant owner.
The Development’s Design is in Keeping with Other Buildings in the Area.
The other arguments against the development are much easier to answer. Some oppose the development because it will increase the population density of the neighborhood. Over-population is the least of our concerns. In fact, the number of residents in Rogers Park hasdecreased by over 13%, or nearly 8,500 people, since 2000. We need more people in Rogers Park, not less, to support the neighborhood’s retail and commercial businesses.
Others expressed opposition because of the proposed height of the structure. As the 3D massing illustration indicates (click on the link below), the height of the proposed development is very similar to the height of two nearby buildings. The 80-foot Tawani structure would be 30 feet shorter than the 110-foot Morningside Court building at 1250 W. Morse and only 12 feet higher than the seven-story 6928 N. Wayne building directly across the street.
Finally, some oppose the project because it would be built to the property line. The lack of a setback for the proposed development, however, makes it no different than the vast majority of structures on the south side of Morse between Sheridan and Ashland. In fact, every structure on the south side of Morse between 1225 W. Morse and 1523 W. Morse is built at or extremely close to the property line. It should also be noted that only the first three floors of the proposed development would be built to the property line on Morse. The fourth through sixth floors will be set back six feet from Morse and the seventh and eighth floor will be set back by 12 feet.
The proposed 1313 W. Morse development is the latest in a growing number of high-quality investments made by Tawani, including The Mayne Stage, the Mayne Stage Annex, the Emil Bach House, the Lang House Bead and Breakfast, the Farcroft by the Lake, and the Tawani-owned-and-managed buildings at Jarvis and Greenview and Lunt and Glenwood. Even the critics of the new parking structure at Sheridan and Sherwin have to acknowledge it is one of the most attractive developments of its kind anywhere.
Each is a high-quality addition to and durable improvement for Rogers Park. Each has contributed greatly to the revitalization of the neighborhood without a dime of taxpayer subsidy.
The Tawani development team brought to the community a good development plan and made it even better by making a series of significant and meaningful revisions to the initial plan based on input from the community residents and me. I appreciate their willingness to engage the community and will support their application for a zoning change.
If you have any questions or further comments regarding my decision, please feel free to reply to this email.