UPTOWN — A proposed 9-unit condo building taking the place of a parking lot in Uptown is causing waves as some neighbors question why the local block club wields so much power in the approval of the plan.
Neighbors currently pay for spots in the parking lat at 4502 N. Beacon St. But the lot’s owner, Steve Sgouras, wants to convert it into a four-story condo building. To do so, Sgoruras will need a zoning change, which typically requires a blessing from the alderman.
But Ald. James Cappleman (46th) has a self-imposed policy of letting local block clubs decide who does and does not get a zoning change. In this case, the Beacon Block Club has final say as to whether the developer will have their zoning request backed by Cappleman.
On Tuesday evening, neighbors piled into Longacre Chicago, 1303 W. Wilson Ave., to hear from the Beacon Block Club and from the zoning attorney and architect involved in the proposed development.
The leader of the meeting and vice president of the Beacon Block Club, Stuart Berman, shared with neighbors the process in which the block club has been gathering feedback from neighbors.
Berman said the Beacon Block Club has collected email responses, Facebook responses and a survey on SurveyMonkey. Although there have been hundreds of responses (at least 230 respondents to the survey alone according to Berman), the decision rests with three people.
Berman, Dustin Fogle and Ben West are the three board members of the Beacon Block Club.
Unlike block clubs where members vote, Beacon Block Club zoning matters are decided by the three board members, according to its bylaws.
Berman said the board is taking into consideration the desires of neighbors and would make a determination soon. But some neighbors voiced their displeasure at the process.
“Is it appropriate for a decision of this magnitude to be decided by a body of only three people who are not a government entity?” asked one neighbor.
“It should be far more democratic than a SurveyMonkey survey,” said another neighbor. “I just don’t understand why you have that right at all.”
But Berman defended the block club’s operating procedure, calling it “a very inclusive process.
“We believe the process we have set up is as democratic as it can possibly be,” he said.
Neighbors asked to see the results of the survey, which to date have not yet been published by the Beacon Block Club.
Berman said he would not be releasing the results because it could expose the private names of the survey’s respondents.
The biggest concern from neighbors was the zoning change. The developer is requesting a zoning change from residential (RS-3) to a mix between commercial and residential (B2-3).
Neighbors worried that changing the location to a business district would be problematic for the neighborhood in the future.
“Why is it appropriate to use business zoning in a residential and historic district?” one neighbor asked.
Zoning attorney Nick Ftikas, assured neighbors that there could be no “bait and switch” techniques from the developer. Any alterations to the plans presented to neighbors would trigger an entirely new zoning application, he said.
In other words, there would be no commercial use of the property.
But neighbors said that changing the zoning from residential to commercial could bring future business developments to the neighborhood.
“What about the vacant areas that can then use the zoning code as a precedent?” asked one neighbor.
Although there has been plenty of talk from neighbors about losing valuable parking spaces — including fliers distributed throughout the neighborhood — that notion was generally squashed on Tuesday evening. The development will be providing 10 parking spaces at the 9-unit building so residents would not need to street park, as the fliers warned.
While many neighbors would love to see the 28-spot parking lot remain, Sgouras has indicated that he will develop the property even if he does not receive the zoning change.
The proposed development would have a three-story building height along Beacon Street with a one-story step up along Sunnyside Avenue for a fourth story penthouse unit.
The maximum building height would be 48 feet 10 inches. The building would house only 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom family apartments. With the exception of the ground level unit, every unit will be accessible.
At the conclusion of the meeting, neighbors asked the Beacon Block Club to pump the brakes.
“We are feeling as though this is being rammed down our throats,” said one neighbor. “Why can we not prolong this and give us more of a process?”
Berman noted that the process had been ongoing for over a month and at some point would need to conclude.
“Unfortunately there has to be an end to this process eventually,” he said.
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