PORTAGE PARK — After years of debate and false-starts, community groups in Portage Park and Irving Park are frustrated that The Point At Six Corners, a senior housing development planned for the long-vacant Bank of America site, is now stalled.
Now, they’re calling on residents to contact Ald. John Arena (45th) and incoming Ald.-elect Jim Gardiner to voice support for the project.
Earlier this week during a zoning committee meeting, a procedural move by outgoing Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) stalled the project, leading to doubts that The Point will get city approval before the new council takes office in May.
The delay comes after The Point seemed poised for final approval. Earlier this month, the Chicago Plan Commission voted unanimously to send The Point to the zoning committee, which typically sides with the alderman’s wishes. While outgoing Ald. Arena supports the plan, Alderman-elect Jim Gardiner opposes it. Laurino’s involvement was a mystery and she did not return calls for comment.
“At this point we’re kind of in a holding pattern,” said Owen Brugh, chief of staff for Arena. “We’re talking with the development team to see how they want to proceed and to figure out if there is a path to moving this forward before our last days in office here.”
‘We were disappointed’
Six Corners Association, which manages the shopping district’s special service area funds, also strongly supports the zoning change required to move current The Point development plans forward and doesn’t want it delayed any longer.
“We were disappointed by the outcome of [Tuesday’s] meeting at City Hall as well as Ald.-elect Gardiner’s encouragement to delay the development,” said Kelli Wefenstette, the association’s executive director. “At present, he has not reached out to the Six Corners Association to learn more about the community’s involvement in the development of this site since 2014.”
Gardiner’s incoming administration did not seek the input of the 11 business owners and residents present Tuesday to voice their support for the project “after months of meeting with the development team” to ensure the project adheres to the 2013 Six Corners Master Plan, she said.
Gardiner did not return Block Club’s calls for comment, and would not talk to Daily Line reporters Tuesday at the hearing.
That master plan suggests “a reuse and re-tenanting of the existing two-story building Bank of America complex” into a complementary three- to four-story, mixed-use development on the western portion of this block that could feature restaurants and an “outdoor pedestrian-only zone.”
“We are hopeful Gardiner will seek the input of our business community and that this project will pass as we believe it vital to the continued progress and economic vitality of Six Corners,” Wefenstette said.
Back to the drawing board?
At Tuesday’s zoning meeting, Laurino called for a vote to determine whether there were enough aldermen present to take action on the plan — but left before she could be counted.
“I don’t feel like there has been enough discussion on this issue,” said Laurino, who left immediately after she called for a quorum vote.
After a brief recess, the quorum vote failed and the meeting was recessed. The new mayor and City Council will be sworn in on May 20. No additional zoning committee meeting are scheduled before the new City Council is sworn in, according to the city clerk’s website.
“The current alderman only had one public meeting on this project. And we don’t know what was said in private meetings. We put out a survey last year to try to get some input about this,” said Joe Angelastri, owner of City Newsstand, 4018 N. Cicero Ave., and president of the Six Corners Chamber of Commerce. “So right now I do think we need more time to get more input from everyone on what the best solution is.”
Brugh disputes Angelastri’s claims about a lack of public meetings. He said last summer’s public meeting to unveil The Point was just the latest iteration of the development plans for the former bank site. Meetings on several iterations of the project have taken place since 2015.
“And the development team reached out to several of the neighborhood associations and met with multiple stakeholder groups to get feedback and how to improve up on their proposal,” Brugh said.
Angelastri’s chamber was established in October 2017 to “influence public policy and foster a climate in which businesses can operate profitably as well as encourage and promote positive, well-balanced economic growth through business development.”
Last summer, the chamber ran an online survey to get additional feedback on the The Point in an effort to get Ald. Arena to address business and neighbor concerns about the project, he said.
Criticisms of the project from the survey included The Point’s height, however survey takers were also in favor of the public plaza aspect of the project and said they wanted “a large retail store (such as a Target)” to be incorporated into it.
With a new administration coming in, it makes sense to slow down the development to allow for an even more refined plan, Angelastri said.
After reviewing the survey results last summer, Brugh said he was skeptical of how it was conducted, because it appeared those who participated were a “self-selected” group not in favor of the The Point and therefore not an accurate representation of the entire community.
“I think it’s a good thing that it’s been delayed because we’d like to see everyone sign onto it. A lot of people think that there’s nothing in the project now for Portage Park residents’ average incomes,” Angelastri said. “For the business district aspect, we’d also like to see more retail if possible.”
Outgoing Ald. Arena called the failure of the project to advance “a blow to my community” and “frustrating.”
In March 2016, city officials approved plans for a massive shopping center anchored by Ross Dress for Less and Aldi. However, that plan fell apart amid woes in the retail industry.
One of the challenges for the project has been the developer’s attempts to secure a mid-size big box retailer, like a Target or Best Buy, to commit to the project. This is why developers pivoted to incorporating a senior housing aspect alongside a new Aldi and smaller retail options that have seen success in the neighborhood, according to Arena’s office.
Clark Street paid more than $10 million in June 2014 for the 140,000-square-foot triangular property at the corner of Milwaukee and Cicero avenues and Irving Park Road as well as a one-acre parking lot in the 3900 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, according to public records.
The corner has been a large hole in the ground since the Bank of America branch that once stood on the property was torn down in 2016.
At a June 21, 2018 meeting about the project, the developers said the project would be a “cruise ship on land” with independent living monthly rent being $4,400 a month, assisted living rents being $6,000 a month and memory care rent at $7,200 a month.
The high rent and lack of affordable housing is another point of contention for critics of the project, but supporters say the price is on par with other senior living centers due to the medical care and other services offered.
During Tuesday’s zoning meeting, Gardiner sat with opponents of The Point, including Angelastri. Arena was skeptical of his successor’s ability to complete the project.
“If my successor wants to start over, you’ll have Lake Gardiner,” Arena said.
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