Disputed projects win approval
Plan Commission gives OK to Rockwell, dorm
06/24/2009 10:00 PM
In addition to giving the strike-enmeshed Congress Hotel permission to expand, members of the Chicago Plan Commission approved two disputed 2nd Ward development at their meeting last Thursday.
Phase II of the delayed Rockwell Gardens redevelopment got the go-ahead, as did a proposal for a 1,249-bed student dorm. The application would advance several zoning changes for developer East Lake Management, allowing the powerful firm to ultimately construct 553 units within the an area bordered roughly by Western, Monroe, Rockwell and Van Buren avenues.
Phase II focuses on the development of one- and two-story brick town houses in the area south of Adams Street.
Home sales from the first phase of the project were disappointing, with East Lake zoning lawyer Rolanda Acosta previously telling Chicago Journal just five homeownership units actually closed.
Some residents and advocates blamed the sales on shoddy construction but the developer attributed the numbers to the across-the-board market nosedive.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) promised that the second phase would be a different story.
“We’ve had to come up with a series of creative solutions,” said Fioretti, who commended new designs for the project at the commission meeting.
He noted that the developers were offering a 10 percent purchasing discount for teachers, firemen and police officers who move into the neighborhood, in an effort to “promote a safe community.”
“I fully endorse this project,” Fioretti said.
Acosta said one-third of the Phase II units would be for sale, with the rest going to affordable or CHA housing.
He acknowledged that some of the funding for the development, such as the children’s park, had not yet been worked out. Acosta cited tax increment financing dollars and CHA funding as possible sources.
“We need something more concrete than that,” said commissioner Patricia Scudiero.
Residents at the meeting appealed to the developers to bear in mind the shortcomings of the first phase.
“Homeownership is key,” stressed Clifton Cooper, head of the East Garfield Park Community Coalition.
The president of the public housing tenants’ group at Rockwell, Mary Baldwin, hoped the second and third phases would be a chance for the community to be fully involved.
“We want jobs out of it, and resident-owned businesses,” she said. “We want Rockwell to look good all the way.”
The Rockwell Gardens redevelopment is part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation, which seeks to create mixed-income neighborhoods split equally by public housing, affordable rental and market-rate units.
The commission also pushed through two applications for a proposed 37-floor dormitory at the southeast corner of Van Buren and Wabash.
The Buckingham Phase II development would offer 1,249 student beds, with 4,900 square feet of retail on the ground level and dining and student amenities on the third and fourth floors.
Fioretti cautioned the upsurge in the area’s student population could spell trouble for the neighborhood. He said there had already been a number of community complaints regarding graffiti in the area.
“We’ve had a series of problems ... and 1,200 beds will present some serious problems,” he said.
When asked if the dorm was affiliated with any Loop universities or colleges, John George, attorney for project, acknowledged developers Buckingham/Wabash LLC were still shopping for a partnering school.
He assured the commission that an affiliation would be made.
“Otherwise we wouldn’t be putting it up,” said George.
Fioretti said he would withhold his support for the project until further community input was gathered. He also warned that the project would be held up in the zoning committee if the developers did not find a leasing university.
Commissioner Lyneir Richard-son agreed that a school connection was crucial.
“If there’s no affiliate, then what’s the business model?” asked Richardson, who was the only commissioner to vote against the application.
The first phase of the development, an adjacent 450-bed dorm which opened last year, is leased entirely by Columbia College.
“I think we have satisfied all requirements and are ready to move forward,” George said.
He said the developers had met already with every group concerned with the project, adding that the plan had already been pending for a year. Business advocacy groups like the Chicago Loop Alliance and Near South Planning Board provided letters of support.
Printers Row resident Enrique Perez noted in his widely read e-newsletter that no community meeting had been held to discuss the project.
“If approved, this development will affect a swath of the South Loop on a range of logistical, demographic and infrastructure issues,” Perez wrote. “The local community deserves the opportunity to weigh in on these issues to city officials before this massive development is approved.”
Commission Chairman Linda Searl concurred that it was time for the project to advance.
The Buckingham Phase II development still requires approval from the Committee on Zoning and the full city council.