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LOGAN SQUARE — A group of Logan Square property owners including prolific Northwest Side landlord Mark Fishman want a judge to nullify the city’s support for a planned affordable housing development, writing in a lawsuit that replacing a surface parking lot with 100 subsidized apartments would cause them “irreparable injury.”
The lawsuit takes aim at city leaders and the nonprofit Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, which aims to begin construction this year on a seven-story complex at 2602-38 N. Emmett St. after spending the past year navigating a multi-layered public approval process.
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Members of the group Neighbors for Responsible Development allege in the lawsuit that the City Council’s November vote to approve the proposal’s zoning application (O2019-2659) and its January vote (O2019-9419) to back the complex with $22.5 million in multifamily housing bonds violated neighbors’ “constitutional rights to be free of arbitrary and irrational zoning and finance decisions.”
The dozen plaintiffs in the lawsuit include multiple neighboring property owners who vocally opposed Bickerdike’s proposal at multiple steps. They also include four limited liability corporations controlled by Fishman, who also opposed the plan.
They allege in the lawsuit that the development, which is planned next to the CTA Logan Square Blue Line station, would have a “substantial…negative impact” on the neighborhood by taking parking spaces off the map.
“For over a decade the Logan Square Environs has benefited from the investment and hard work of persons and entities such as Plaintiffs who have made the Environs a thriving residential, retail and restaurant corridor,” the 15-page legal complaint reads. “By eliminating the only public parking in the area and replacing it with 100 apartments…the Project will choke off those residents, businesses, employees and visitors as people will no longer have a place to park and traffic will be a nightmare.”
No local retail business owners are party to the lawsuit.
Joy Aruguete, the CEO of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, said in a statement on Monday that her firm is “aware of the complaint” filed against them and is “seeking to dismiss as soon as possible.”
“As Logan Square has continued to experience rising rents and displacement, there is a dire need for affordable housing, and the Emmett Street Project will fulfil part of that need,” Aruguete said. The project has been thoroughly vetted by the community, and we have strong community support. This has been demonstrated by the outpouring of support at public meetings, and by the investment of the community, the alderman, and the City of Chicago, to see the project to completion.”
A spokesperson for the city’s law department declined to comment on the lawsuit on Monday.
About half the units in the complex 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. The development’s approximately $40 million cost is set to be underwritten by $13 million in financing from the housing authority and $10.1 million in tax-increment financing, plus the city-issued multifamily bonds.
Authors of the legal complaint called that the city’s financial support for the development “arbitrary, irrational and capricious,” arguing that the subsidy violates the Illinois Constitution because it “serves no public purpose and instead benefits only the Private Party Defendants.”
The plaintiffs also asked a judge to strike down the planned development ordinance that aldermen and city planning officials endorsed last year in support of the proposal. They alleged that the measure was illegal because it “allows density, height and bulk that is unprecedented and inappropriate for the neighborhood, which causes hardship on Plaintiffs and nearby residents, and the public as a whole.”
The combination of out-of-character building materials and a shrinking supply of parking “affects the life of the entire neighborhood,” according to attorney Thomas Ramsdell, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“You’re talking about putting a ton of density in one of the only parking areas that services what has become a pretty vital and up-and-coming areas of the city,” Ramsdell told The Daily Line on Monday. “We all think density is good…but this particular building is going to be much, much larger than anything around it, and take up a really critical asset in that community.”
Before he voted with the Chicago Plan Commission to approve the proposal in November, city planning department Commissioner Maurice Cox called the proposal a “textbook case study” for creating housing opportunities in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara last year 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 in November.
The suit opens another front in the years-long feud between Fishman and Ald. Carlos-Ramirez Rosa (35), who has championed Bickerdike’s proposal and shepherded through the approval process. Fishman used a litany of LLCs to contribute more than $100,000 to Ramirez-Rosa’s opponent in the 2019 aldermanic campaign, according to an analysis by Block Club Chicago.
Ramirez-Rosa is the target of a pending lawsuit in which Fishman alleges that the alderman skipped paying rent at his Logan Square ward office. Ramirez-Rosa denied that he violated the terms of his rent, calling the lawsuit a “political weapon.”
Ramirez-Rosa declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday, telling The Daily Line that he was waiting to hear from city attorneys.
Fishman did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit is not the first legal challenge neighbors have filed against the city in an attempt to stop construction of an affordable apartment complex.
And in 2010, Ramsdell represented a group of neighbors who challenged another Bickerdike proposal, for the 61-unit Zapata Apartments at 3230 W. Armitage Ave., in which they aired similar complaints over traffic and density. The lawsuit was unsuccessful, and the apartments were completed in 2014.