I am writing to inform you of my decision on proposals to renovate and expand two buildings. One building is located at 1730 W. Greenleaf and the second is at 1710 W. Lunt.
I am considering the proposals at the same time because the same developer is involved, the properties are located within one block of each other and they both invoke the City’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance, which allows for greater density in areas near rail transit stops.
Both proposals require zoning changes. The developer, David Gassman, is also requesting exemptions under the TOD Ordinance from the City’s one-for-one on-street automobile parking requirements.
Approximately 175 community residents attended a three-hour community meeting I held on the proposals last summer. The proposals were also 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 that come before me.
After careful consideration of the opinions and suggestions of the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Advisory Committee and the scores of residents who attended the meeting or corresponded with my office, I have decided to SUPPORT the proposal for 1730 W. Greenleaf, conditional on the developer obtaining off-street parking options for his tenants, and OPPOSE the proposal for 1710 W. Lunt.
Both proposals fall within the concept of “transit oriented development,” also known by the acronym “TOD.” Before I summarize each of the proposals and the reasons for my decisions, allow me to explain the concept of transit oriented development and how it can benefit communities, such as Rogers Park.
What is Transit Oriented Development?
Cities across the U.S., including Chicago, are experiencing a huge change in housing preferences due to the aging of baby boomers, the influx of immigrants, and the fact that younger adults prefer urban mixed-use environments. Though two-thirds of those looking for housing still prefer large single-family dwellings, a third prefer smaller housing choices, including apartments, townhomes, and live-work housing.
The market is not meeting this demand due in large measure to outdated city zoning restrictions, which restrict housing density. This results in increased competition for units in denser, mixed-use neighborhoods, such as Rogers Park, causing a cycle of rent increases, displacement and gentrification.
At the same time, employers have changed their location strategies. In the past companies preferred suburban campus environments near freeways, but the rise of the “creative class” and the increasing desire of young adults to locate in diverse, lively urban neighborhoods, have led firms to “chase the talent” and locate in urban centers where their potential employees choose to live.
These demographic changes also are reflected in they way people choose to transport themselves. More and more consumers are choosing mass transit over car ownership. This is reflected in increased ridership on the CTA and Metra. It is also reflected in the fact that parking lots and garages in housing developments near transit are going underutilized.
According to a Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) study, “Stalled Out: How Empty Parking Spaces Diminish Neighborhood Affordability,” two-thirds of available parking spaces in Chicago apartment buildings go unused, especially near transit stations.
In other words, city code requirements in place since the 1950s mandating one on-site parking space for each unit constructed in new developments are arbitrary and don’t necessarily reflect actual demand. Because parking spots are expensive to build, this surplus of spots drives up housing costs.
This has led urban planning organizations, such as CNT and the Metropolitan Planning Council, to call for cities to modify their zoning laws to allow for TODs.
TODs aim to create walkable and connected communities where people own fewer cars and live closer to jobs, shopping, schools, and other destinations. To do this, TODs maximize the number of residential dwelling units allowed in areas located within a walkable distance of a transit stop, such as a commuter rail station, and reduce the required number of parking spaces.
Increasing the supply of dwelling units helps keep housing more affordable, and locating that housing near transit stops dramatically increases access to jobs via transit, reduces the cost of transportation, and provides low-income households with more options to get around. Local businesses benefit as TODs provide them with more potential customers, who walk to do their shopping, rather than drive to a shopping mall.
For more information on TODs and how they help promote housing affordability and spur economic growth, click on the links to the websites of two organizations that have been in the forefront of the TOD movement:
In response to the calls for a more up-to-date zoning code that reflect these new urban realities, the City Council amended the Zoning Code in 2013 and again in 2015 to allow for transit oriented developments.
Under Chicago’s TOD Ordinance, the City may increase the allowable density and height and reduce or even eliminate the on-site parking requirements when a proposed development is on a parcel zoned “Business” (B) dash 3 or “Commercial” (C) dash 3 and located within 1,320 feet (1/4 mile) of a Metra or CTA rail station.
The ordinance allows for even more density if the proposed development includes affordable housing on site.
It is against this backdrop that I considered these two TOD proposals.
The 1730 W. Greenleaf proposal
This two-story building was constructed in the 1910s as a commercial laundry. The Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago currently owns the building and uses it to provide social services to members of the Chicago area’s Ethiopian community.
Facing financial challenges, the organization put the building up for sale and plans to move to smaller quarters in the suburbs. The developer, Mr. Gassman, entered into a contract to purchase the building contingent on him receiving the zoning relief he requests.
The Chicago Commission on Landmarks’ Historic Resources Survey gives the building an “Orange” designation. Orange-rated buildings are not officially deemed historic landmarks, but according to the survey, “possess some architectural or historic association that makes them potentially significant in the context of the surrounding community.”
The survey reports that 1730 W. Greenleaf possesses “Classical and Sullivanesque” details.
All Orange-rated buildings are placed on a “watch list,” which provides the Commission one last opportunity to consider landmark status for an architecturally significant property whenever anyone seeks a permit to demolish or significantly alter the structure. About 9,600 Chicago buildings are designated orange.
The developer proposes to restore the building’s facade to its original appearance and convert it to a residential apartment building by adding two stories and constructing 30 rental dwelling units, including five studios and 25 one-bedroom units. The additional stories would compliment the architecture of the original facade.
All the dwelling units would be fully accessible. Three of the units would be affordable to households earning no more than 60% of the area median income ($33,180 for a single-member household, $37,290 for a two-member household). The proposed development provides no on-site parking, as the footprint of the existing building covers the entire lot.
The proposal also calls for a green roof and bike storage for up to 60 bikes, which is equivalent to two bikes per unit.
To view copies of the renderings, proposed elevations, floor plans and site plans, click on the Google docs link below:
The property is located 593 feet of the Rogers Park Metra station and thus falls within the geographical parameters of the City’s TOD ordinance. It currently is zoned C1-2, which allows for a building with up to seven dwelling units.
In order to build the proposed 30 units of housing without on-site parking, the proposal requires a zoning change to B2-3 and an exemption provided under the TOD ordinance from the City’s one-for-one onsite automobile parking requirement.
If the City Council were to waive the on-site parking requirement, it would do so using Type I Zoning Map procedures. A Type I Zoning Amendment is a relatively recent addition to the City’s Zoning Code. It provides the community a guarantee that if the zoning change is granted, only the proposed project can be built regardless of whether the underlying zoning allows for a different development.
My decision on the 1730 W. Greenleaf proposal
I SUPPORT this proposed development for four reasons, conditional on the developer obtaining off-street parking options for his tenants:
First, it preserves a beautiful, architecturally significant, orange-rated building through an innovative adaptive reuse that makes the building once again economically viable and helps it avoid the wrecking ball. The developer promises to restore the facade to its original grandeur, and the two stories added to the structure seamlessly compliment the existing building. Because the zoning change would be a Type I Zoning Amendment, the City will be able to hold the developer to his promises.
The building originally was designed as a commercial laundry and though the Ethiopian Community Association kept the building maintained and occupied for many years, no other social service agency or any other business has stepped forward to offer an alternative proposal. In short, the building as it is currently designed, is no longer economically viable. If left unchanged, the building would likely fall into a state of disrepair, or worse, be demolished to make way for another development.
Recognizing that the development proposal is likely the best option for preserving the building’s historic facade, Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, an organization devoted to promoting the preservation of historic neighborhoods and buildings in Chicago, lent his strong support to the proposal. Mr. Miller worked with the developer’s architect to tweak the proposed design and believes it pays homage to the original Classical and Sullivanesque details.
Second, the proposal supports the principles underlying Transit Oriented Development and New Urbanism by increasing the number of residential units located within walking distance of a transit stop and de-emphasizing automobile ownership, making for a more livable, economically sustainable neighborhood. The proposed building’s green roof and the two-to-one ratio of bicycle space to dwelling units, underscores the environmental benefits of this proposal.
Third, the proposal promotes affordable housing. The development itself sets aside three units as affordable and increases the overall supply of housing. The more housing units there are in a community, the more affordable the community becomes.
Finally, the proposal will help the local economy. Thirty additional units of housing means approximately 30 to 40 additional people will move into the neighborhood. As the vast majority of them won’t own cars, they are much more likely to spend some of their dollars at the local businesses that line Clark Street and other nearby commercial areas.
Because the development adheres to the principles of Transit Oriented Development, the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend I support the proposal. The proposed development, however, engendered some significant opposition from those attending the community meeting, primarily due to the absence of any on-site parking.
I hear and understand those concerns. Private ownership of cars is declining in Chicago and other urban centers, but automobiles are still a fact of life and many depend on their cars to get to work and visit family at locations not easily accessible to public transportation. Though people who own automobiles are much less likely to rent apartments that don’t provide on-site parking, I cannot ignore the fact that some car owners may rent units in the proposed building.
The building structure itself covers the entire footprint of the lot and cannot accommodate any parking on site. If I mandated on-site parking, the proposed development simply wouldn’t be possible, leaving the building to decline further or be demolished.
Fortunately, the Hare Krishna Temple, which owns a parking lot immediately across the street from the proposed development, provided a solution. They agreed to my request to lease ten spaces in their parking lot to the developer, who in turn has promised to make those spots available to tenants in his building who own cars. The ten spaces represent one-third of the units in the proposed 30-unit development.
As I note above, studies indicate that only about one parking space is used for every three units in urban residential developments. In the unlikely event, however, that demand for parking from building residents exceeds ten spaces, I secured a commitment for more off-street parking from another nearby property owner, Mr. Balvinder Singh, who owns property on the 7000 block of Clark, about a half block from the proposed development. Mr. Singh has agreed to lease his available parking spaces to any of the developer’s residents, who are unable to secure parking at the Hare Krishna Temple parking lot.
The parking arrangement I negotiated with the Hare Krishna Temple and Mr. Singh addresses the main concern expressed by community residents who objected to the initial proposal.
For these reasons, I support the proposed development at 1730 W. Greenleaf.
The 1710 W. Lunt proposal
Like the building at 1730 W. Greenleaf, the building at 1710 W. Lunt was constructed in the 1910s. And like the Greenleaf building, this building is rated “orange” for its architectural significance, including its “Classical and Sullivanesque” details.
Unlike the Greenleaf building, however, the eight-unit Lunt building always has operated as a residential building. Most recently, Lutheran Social Services owned and operated the building as a sober living group home. The social service agency closed the group home last year and put the building up for sale.
The developer, Mr. Gassman, purchased the building outright with no zoning contingency.
The property currently is zoned RT4, which allows for a residential building with up to eight dwelling units. The developer is proposing to restore the building’s facade and construct a three-story addition to the back of the structure, expanding it into a 20-unit building, consisting of five studio apartments and 15 one-bedroom apartments.
All the dwelling units would be fully accessible. Two of the units would be affordable to households earning no more than 60% of the area median income ($33,180 for a single-member household, $37,290 for a two-member household).
Two two-car garages behind the building would be demolished and replaced with an outdoor parking pad for five cars.
To view copies of the renderings, proposed elevations, and floor plans and site plans, click on the Google docs link below:
The developer is requesting a zoning change to B2-3, which would allow him to increase the permitted number of units on the site and apply for a reduction in the required on-site parking under the City’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance.
My decision on the 1710 W. Lunt proposal
The 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee voted unanimously to recommend I support the Lunt proposal, citing the same principles of transit oriented development that led them to support the 1730 W. Greenleaf proposal.
As a result, Mr. Gassman has agreed to withdraw his proposal.
Though the proposed development undoubtedly would provide many of the same transit-oriented benefits to the community as the Greenleaf proposal, it differs in two important respects.
First, a zoning change is not necessary to preserve this architecturally significant building.
Unlike the Greenleaf building, the Lunt building is economically viable in its current condition and use and not in any realistic danger of being demolished. The proposed residential additions are not necessary to preserve the building to make it economically viable. As the current residential zoning does not allow a building larger than eight-units, it would not make economic sense to tear down this eight-unit building and replace it with another eight-unit building.
Second, unlike the Greenleaf building, which is zoned for commercial use and located at the edge of a commercial district, the Lunt building rests in the middle of a district zoned for residential use. The developer’s proposal would require the shoehorning of a business district zoning designation into the middle of a residential district.
By requiring a Business or Commercial zoning designation for transit oriented developments, the City Council clearly contemplated such developments would occur primarily in or immediately adjacent to business and commercial districts, not residential streets. Though a transit oriented development on a residential street might be a worthwhile project in some future case, this is not the one.
For these reasons, I oppose the 1710 W. Lunt proposal.
I want to thank those who took the time to attend the community meetings and/or write my office to express their views on the proposed developments. I hope my decisions on these two proposals demonstrate that I listened to the concerns of community residents and took them into serious account when I made my final determinations.
If you have any questions or further comments regarding my decision, please feel free to reply to this email.