LOGAN SQUARE — Neighbors are locking horns over a plan to build a 100 percent affordable housing complex on the city-owned lot next to the Logan Square Blue Line, setting the stage for a contentious community meeting on Wednesday.
A group of neighbors who live near the site at 2602-2638 N. Emmett St. recently launched a group in protest of the proposal, called Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development.
The purpose of the group, its members said, is to persuade 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and the nonprofit developer behind the proposal, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, to slow down and see “what else this lot is capable of.”
“This [project] is going to change the center of Logan Square for the next 50 years,” said Allison Huebert, group member and Emmett Street homeowner since 2012. “This should be a community process. We should be putting effort into making this the best it can be, and not [supporting] some back-door deal.”
Bickerdike’s proposal would bring a two-to-seven-story tiered complex with 100 units of affordable housing, 4,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial space — aimed at local small businesses and nonprofits — and 20 on-site parking spaces to the underutilized parking lot across from Huebert’s home.
All of the apartments — a mix of 33 one-bedrooms, 49 two-bedrooms and 18 three-bedrooms — would be geared toward residents earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income. The cap is $35,580 per year for an individual and $50,760 per year for a family of four.
Huebert and her fellow group members aren’t against building affordable housing on the site, she said — they’re against the proposal because they feel it’s uninspired and doesn’t incorporate other elements residents previously identified as important.
In 2014, during a series of community meetings and surveys led by then-Ald. Rey Colon (35th) and the Metropolitan Planning Council, hundreds of residents identified affordable housing, green space and an indoor market as the best uses for the site.
While the proposal includes some green space, 4,500 square feet of commercial space and a community center, which would be open to the public, it is primarily a housing complex.
“[Residents] said amongst a million other things that they wanted affordable housing, and [Bickerdike] is going to max that out and not do anything else,” Huebert said.
The group wants to see other developers take a crack at it.
“My big thing has been the absence of an RFP,” group member Josh Hutchison said, referring to a document that solicits development proposals. Hutchison and his wife, Sarah, are listed as the owners of the group’s LLC.
Hutchison had previously submitted a proposal for the site that called for a year-round market with a retractable roof that would double as a small business incubator and serve as a permanent home for the Logan Square farmers market.
“As an architect, anytime there’s a competitive process, it seems to bring out the best in development teams. When you have one offer on the table, folks just aren’t being challenged,” Hutchison said.
Said Huebert: “This is a fantastic opportunity [for development], but we shouldn’t waste it by taking the first proposal. Let’s open up the door to a little more competition and see what we can do. I think we can do better.”
“Our main goal is to get a couple months to see if this is the best proposal. If, at the end of the day, this is what everyone really wants, great.”
Huebert said the group is made up of a few dozen neighbors, many of whom live near the site.
‘This is a moment we can’t afford to lose’
“If not here, where?”
That’s the question local pastor Bruce Ray has for neighbors like Huebert and Hutchison who don’t support Bickerdike’s proposal.
“I’m not surprised people are opposed to it, but I think it’s disingenuous for a group of people to not address some of the unaffordable, irresponsible development that’s taken place in the community — MiCa Towers, the Logan [Megamall project], Pierre’s Bakery — where there is minimal to no affordable housing on site,” Ray said.
“To rise up and say affordable housing is good, but not here. … The question is always: Well, where then? … This is the only opportunity that we will have to make sure that there is affordability in a prime location.”
Rents in Logan Square have skyrocketed in recent years, forcing many longtime Latino residents out. A recent WBEZ analysis of census data released this past December shows the white population has now surpassed the Latino population.
Ray and other project backers see Bickerdike’s proposal as a now-or-never situation.
“This is a moment that we can’t afford to lose,” the pastor said. “Given that prices are increasing, it will never happen on this scale if we don’t do it now.”
A member of the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance, Ray is referring to the high cost of land in Logan Square, which makes it difficult for nonprofit housing developers to build large-scale affordable housing complexes in the area.
The only reason Bickerdike is able to make this project work financially is that the city owns the land and would sell it to the nonprofit developer for $1 even though the land is worth about $4.5 million.
The Emmett Street site and the former Logan Square Blue Line terminal site are the only two publicly owned pieces of land in the area. The CTA issued a request for proposals for the latter site and a for-profit developer pitched a 150-unit apartment complex, but the project never advanced.
Bickerdike’s project is expected to cost an estimated $31 million, according to Ramirez-Rosa. The nonprofit developer is aiming to secure about $8 million in Tax Increment Finance funding, as well as low-income tax credits and other subsidies, to reach that figure, the alderman said.
Tony Bezsylko, one of the owners of local restaurant Cellar Door Provisions, said his staff supports Bickerdike’s proposal because “there’s a need” for affordable housing in the neighborhood.
“In our five years on our corner, our original customer base — they’re all gone. They all moved away. They were displaced by rent hikes and property tax increases,” Bezsylko said.
At 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, dozens of supporters will convene at the Logan Square Blue Line station for a press conference designed to drum up support for the project.
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D), State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Logan Square) and representatives from 100 Logan Square groups, churches and small businesses are all slated to attend — a nod to the 100 apartments planned for the site.
Supporters have also launched a website urging neighbors to sign a petition backing the proposal.
Later Wednesday, from 6:30-8 p.m., Ramirez-Rosa and Bickerdike are scheduled to host a community meeting on the matter at Avondale-Logandale Elementary School, 3212 W. George St.
Bickerdike CEO Joy Aruguete said her team will be there to listen.
“If [the meeting] becomes contentious it will not be because of us,” Aruguete said. “We will be there, genuinely, to do what we do.”
As is the case with most development proposals, Bickerdike is open to revision if the current proposal doesn’t meet the community’s wants and needs, Aruguete said.
The CEO said “so many decisions haven’t been made,” adding, “Some of the people who are detractors would like to mandate that on the one hand, [we’re] doing all of this without consulting with people, but on the other hand, they’re [taking issue] with decisions that haven’t been made yet.”
But Huebert and Hutchison, two of the neighbors who oppose the project, said they’re not looking to impose their wants on Bickerdike or the rest of the community, for that matter.
“This is not about me or anybody else who’s involved [in our group]. It’s not about our personal preferences at all,” Huebert said. “This is literally to open the floor back up to the community.”
Bickerdike’s proposal is still a long way from approval. The proposal must go through several City Hall hoops before reaching the full City Council, which could take several months.
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