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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

As Avondale’s Gentrification Heats Up, Some Residents Want More Control: ‘This Isn’t Logan Or Wicker Park’

Other neighbors, however, welcome the new investment. They say new development is needed in Avondale, which is lined with vacant storefronts.

An Ald. Ariel Reboyras sign affixed to construction site fencing in the 30th Ward.
Courtesy of AJ LaTrace
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AVONDALE — An increasing number of small residential developments are popping up in Avondale’s 30th Ward, a sign the neighborhood is getting hotter as gentrification continues to move north.

Some neighbors are concerned, not because they’re opposed to new development, but because they feel like they’re being left out of the planning and approval process. Too often, they said, neighbors are learning about developments for the first time when city zoning notices go up — and that’s unacceptable to them.

If newly re-elected Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) wants to see “thoughtful” development built in his area of Avondale — one of three Chicago communities to see the biggest drop in Latino population in recent years, according to a WBEZ analysis — he ought to start listening to the community, neighbors said.

But Reboyras said he has been listening — and will continue to do so. The 30th Ward alderman told Block Club he holds a community meeting for every development proposal that requires a zoning change — even small projects.

“We hold a fair and honest process. It’s not about me wanting the zoning changes. It’s about what the community [wants],” Reboyras said.

Still, unsatisfied neighbors charge if that’s true, then why do so many residents feel like they’re in the dark when it comes to development in the 30th Ward?

“I’m concerned about how developments seem to be popping up and there doesn’t seem to be a thoughtful approach (or a communicated one) from the alderman or planners about what’s going in where, how leaders are helping maintain and build on our great neighborhood, or even the look and feel of the proposed structures,” 30th Ward resident Claire Jadin told Block Club in an email.

Jadin lives in a single-family home in the 3600 block of West Oakdale Avenue with her family. She said she supports new businesses, particularly along Avondale’s Milwaukee Avenue.

“We lost a bakery (La Farine) and it’s sadly missed. But this isn’t Logan or Wicker Park — we want developments and businesses that fit with our eclectic, multi cultural, family friendly neighborhood,” Jadin said.

She pointed to Reboyras’ handling of a recent development proposal that calls for a new tavern at 2922-24 N. Central Park Ave., the current site of old-school Polish bar Mr. ZJ’s, as one example of poor communication. Reboyras has since approved the zoning change.

“The proposal for the zoning change for the bar at Central Park and Oakdale (which was approved by the way) required our block asking questions, getting [the Avondale Neighborhood Association] involved, calling the lawyer of the prospective developer, Block Club and online activity to get a hearing,” Jadin said, adding, “It feels like these are trying to fly under the radar.”

‘It doesn’t have to happen to us’

With its neighbor Logan Square firmly gentrified, Avondale has long been considered the next hot neighborhood.

The majority-Hispanic 30th Ward covers part of Avondale, as well as parts of Belmont Cragin, Portage Park, Kilbourn Park, Avondale and Logan Square.

Melissa Toops, zoning chair for the Avondale Neighborhood Association, said in recent months she’s noticed a “dramatic increase” in the number of development proposals in the 30th Ward.

“Gentrification is moving its way up Milwaukee Avenue, into the 30th Ward,” Toops said.

Troop’s group is calling for greater transparency from Reboyras and his office.

“Due to the amount of interest and expansion we’ve been seeing in the 30th Ward, ANA and the alderman should work together to create a more transparent zoning process,” the association said.

The group said its goal is to get the community and the association involved before zoning applications are submitted to the city — and to give feedback before zoning letters and notices are posted.

One of the more recent development proposals surfaced in mid-April. In a letter sent to residents, zoning attorney Rolando Acosta said an applicant, listed as Constantina Koudounis Trust, is looking to tear down two existing brick buildings at 2992 N. Milwaukee Ave. and build a four-story, 13-unit building with ground-floor retail in their place.

Another four-story building — this one with 14 residential units — is planned for 3743 W. Belmont Ave., according to a city zoning notice. Developer Castlerock Properties is behind the project, according to city records.

Further north, property owner Tadeusz Kawula is looking to tear down a brick bungalow at 3708 W. Cornelia Ave. and build a three-story, six-unit building in its place.

The proposals come after a string of similar projects have gone up, like the multi-unit building at 3430 N. Lawndale Ave.

Neighbors like Jadin are worried Reboyras will push the new projects through without getting proper feedback from the community.

“In the 30th the biggest issue is the lack of any transparency or public process for the majority of projects/zoning changes with no vision or plan coming from the Alds office,” 17-year resident Rodger Cooley said.

Steve Weishampel, an Avondale renter since 2013, has even broader concerns.

“Many neighborhoods in the city have gone the same exact gentrification route. Property speculators have bought up more than enough condos, homes and apartments in dozens of neighborhoods in the city. It doesn’t have to happen to us,” Weishampel said.

“If the alderman is willing to speak up for working and poor people and stand up to the wealthy, Avondale has a chance to preserve itself as a diverse neighborhood. But he needs to take the lead in fighting this problem now.”

But Reboyras stands by his community zoning process. He said both property owners and renters who live within 250 feet of each site have been notified. (The city’s zoning law only requires nearby property owners to be notified.) Residents who live outside of that 250-feet radius, however, don’t have much sway.

“[Residents who live outside of the radius] won’t get to vote on it. They’re allowed to know about it. … They don’t get to be part of the process,” Reboyras said.

‘There’s a huge demand for more housing’

Not all residents have concerns about the development sprouting up in Avondale’s 30th Ward. Some residents are thrilled to see the new projects take root.

“Right now my street is majority abandoned buildings. If I want to do pretty much anything I have to travel outside my neighborhood,” Avondale homeowner Lainey Johnson said.

Johnson, who lives just outside of Reboyras’ 30th Ward in the neighboring 33rd Ward, said she supports new development because it will improve her quality of life and make the neighborhood safer and more aesthetically pleasing.

Johnson said she represents the many “newcomers” in Avondale who “welcome and encourage development.”

“My perspective is shared among many who may not be as verbal because of the onslaught of insults that come with verbalizing this perspective. My only hope is that our new alderman knows that a large part of her constituency supports development,” she said, referring to Ald.-elect Rossana Rodriguez, who just ousted Ald. Deb Mell to take the 33rd Ward alderman’s seat in the City Council.

Margaret Ptaszynska, who has lived in Avondale’s 30th Ward for a decade, said new development makes the neighborhood more attractive, which is largely a good thing.

“Pluses: new residents, new businesses, safer place to live, more places to go out, buy coffee or meet friends. Minuses: bigger traffic, less spaces to park a car,” Ptaszynska said.

Added resident Tim Friese: “There’s a huge demand for more housing in the area and without more supply that’s only going to drive prices even higher.”

Reboyras was one of the few Mayor Rahm Emanuel supporters who managed to narrowly preserve his seat in April’s runoff, taking 51.9 percent of the vote to opponent Jessica Gutierrez’s 48.1 percent. Only 296 votes separated the two candidates.