Plans call for a 100-unit, all-affordable apartment complex on city-owned land near the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station.
[Bickerdike Development]

The Chicago Plan Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to approve a long-brewing proposal to build an all-affordable 100-unit apartment complex next to the Logan Square Blue Line station, knocking down its first major hurdle in a line of needed city approvals.

The proposal by Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation envisions a seven-story building on the site of a 1.43-acre city-owned parking lot at 2602-38 N. Emmett St. The commission also approved a measure on Thursday to sell the property to the developer for $1.

Thursday’s vote was the culmination of five years of planning and furious organizing by neighbors who saw affordable housing as “the community’s top priority” for the empty lot, according to Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35).

“If you look at the data, and listen to the testimony here today, you’ll see that Logan Square is ground zero for displacement in Chicago,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “It’s very clear that the community supports this.”

The development is estimated to cost $40.1 million, according to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. It would draw on a range of public funding sources, including the Chicago Housing Authority, tax-increment financing and low-income housing tax credits.

About half the units would be earmarked for Chicago Housing Authority voucher holders, and the other half would be targeted to people making less than 60 percent of area median income.

Bickerdike is aiming to finalize its funding by next spring and break ground shortly thereafter, according to CEO Joy Aruguete.

The proposal’s dependence on public funding and city-owned land means it still needs approval from the Community Development Commission and the City Council’s committees on zoning, housing and finance before it can be approved by the full council.

But with Ramirez-Rosa and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration putting their full weight behind the plan, the alderman told The Daily Line is confident it will reach the finish line.

Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara called the site of the development a “unicorn of a property,” because it’s “city-owned land located across the street from transit in a gentrifying community. Because the department values people over cars… and because the department believes that we should use our tools to reduce segregation and not maintain it, the Department of Housing emphatically supports this project,” Novara said.

One day after the City Council confirmed him as the new commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, Maurice Cox also heaped praise on the plan.

“This feels almost like a textbook case study of what it means to create income diversity in neighborhoods that are changing and increasingly difficult for people of all incomes to live in,” Cox said. “As residents, we should be extremely proud of this project and I support it wholeheartedly.”

It was a “very different” tone from the days of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose Planning Commissioner David Reifman “hated this project,” Ramirez-Rosa said with a laugh.

“He and I went back and forth for years on it,” Ramirez-Rosa said. 

The alderman handed commissioners a 10-page account of the support advocates had generated for the plan since 2014, when the Metropolitan Planning Council — whose staff included Novara at the time — led a “participatory planning process” to find better uses for the parking lot, Ramirez-Rosa said.

Bickerdike submitted its first Planned Development application for the site in 2016. Architects re-tooled the building’s design multiple times since then in response to community feedback, the alderman said.

Neighbors voted by a more than 3-to-1 margin to approve the plan during a packed community meeting in April.

The proposal has progressed over the objections of a dedicated group of opponents, more than a dozen of whom spoke at the meeting to say the proposed building was out of character with its surroundings and stole away much-needed parking from local businesses.

“I oppose this project because we don’t want to build a seven-story building in a historic district and remove all of the parking for the commercial area on Milwaukee [Avenue],” said Mark Fishman, a prolific Logan Square apartment owner and frequent foe of Ramirez-Rosa. “I’m not against affordable housing…if this came in as a four- or five-story building that looked like the rest of the neighborhood historically, no one would have any problem with this.”

The commission also approved a proposal (O2018-6981) by Oxana Anisimov and Rusian Ustyanich to build a four-story residential building with nine units at 2343 N. Elston Ave. in the 32nd Ward. Cox voted against the proposal, saying the proposed building’s design did not fit the “context” of the surrounding neighborhood.

In other action, the commission approved a proposal (O2019-5590) by Convexity Properties to allow retail uses and six residential units inside an existing two-story brick building at 1960 N. Clybourn Ave. in the 2nd Ward.

Commissioners voted to recommend the sale of the following city-owned properties:

  • A property at 7671 S. South Chicago Ave. in the 5th Ward, to Commonwealth Edison Co.
  • A property at 4624 W. Huron St. in the 26th Ward to Abelardo Perez.
  • A property at 901 E. 75th St. in the 8th Ward, to Eagle Eye Nesting Ground Ministries.

Commissioners voted to defer the following items:

  • A resolution to consider selling Building H at 5801 N. Pulaski Road in the 39th Ward to Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corp.
  • A proposal (O2019-6809) by Nicholas Pupillo to open a dance studio inside an existing one-story building at 3121 N. Rockwell Ave. in the 33rd Ward.
  • A proposal (O2019-5517) by Michael Prince to establish an event space inside the existing one-story building at 4515 N. Ravenswood Ave. in the 47th Ward.

‘Master Planned Developments’

Assistant Commissioner Nancy Radzevich gave commissioners their first look a list of proposed rules designed put “mega-project” proposals through a more stringent community review process.

Under the proposed rules, any private project that exceeds 20 acres, 4 million square feet or 4,000 dwelling units would need to apply for planning approval as a Master Planned Development. For public building projects, the threshold would be 10 acres, 2.5 million square feet or 2,500 dwelling units.

The designation would require developers to meet with city planning staff and hold a “city-initiated community meeting” before they submit a Planned Development application, according to the proposal. Aldermen typically host community meetings to review proposals, and only after Planned Developments have been submitted.

The proposed rules would both have applied last year to The 78 and Lincoln Yards developments.

Sterling Bay was widely accused of not holding enough public meetings to discuss Lincoln Yards before its zoning was approved this spring. The firm hosted two meetings last year, and the planning department hosted a forum to present its plans for the Cortland/Chicago River Tax Increment Financing District.

Thursday kicked off a 30-day public comment period for the proposed rules, after which the Plan Commission may vote to approve them. Because the rules would not change to the city’s zoning code, they would not need a green light from the City Council.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), a critic of the Lincoln Yards plan, praised city planning officials on Thursday for drafting the rules.

“These are things a lot of us have been looking for for many years,” Waguespack said. “Having a common template…that we can project out to the community will be very helpful.”