AVONDALE — Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) is accusing a developer seeking to build an apartment project in Avondale of trying to “get around” his community-driven zoning process.
But the developer said he had no intention of overstepping.
Mark Kappelman, of the residential real estate firm Tri Homes Today, is seeking a zoning change to build a 19-unit apartment project at 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The plan calls for rehabbing the existing six-unit apartment building, carving out a 1,400-square-foot commercial space on the ground floor and building a two-story addition. Four of the 19 apartments would be reserved as affordable housing, one more than the city requirement.
Kappelman recently posted fliers at the site suggesting an imminent community hearing. But Ramirez-Rosa said the project has not yet received the necessary approval from neighborhood groups for the project to move forward.
“For me it’s very upsetting that we would have someone who would seek to mislead the community,” the alderman said.
Meanwhile, Kappelman said he was only trying to spread the word about the project and get more community feedback. The developer said this is the first time he’s ever worked with Ramirez-Rosa and he was not looking to mislead anyone.
“I thought we were doing a good thing,” he said.
‘That’s Not How We Do Things In The 35th Ward’
Kappelman brought his development proposal to relevant neighborhood groups — Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Logan Square Preservation and Avondale Neighborhood Association — in March at Ramirez-Rosa’s request.
The alderman requires developers seeking zoning changes to get approval from neighborhood groups under his community-driven zoning process. Only once they sign off can a larger community meeting take place.
So far, the neighborhood groups have not endorsed Kappelman’s proposal. Some group members have raised concerns about the height of the building, the number of apartments and the size of the commercial storefront, the alderman said. Others have questioned the best path forward given the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re in a very unique moment here where it’s unclear to us as a community and to the alderman’s office how exactly we ensure a good, robust community input in the era of COVID,” said Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation.
Bhaskar Manda, a board member at Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said Kappelman “did not propose any meaningful changes in response to the feedback from the community groups.”
“Rather than try to short-circuit the community-driven process, the developers can act on their invitation to the community ‘to revitalize this intersection’ by immediately cleaning up the existing storefront and bringing in a business that serves low- and middle-income Chicagoans,” Manda said in an email.
Ramirez-Rosa said he told Kappelman that to host a community meeting the neighborhood groups have to sign off on the project and Chicago would have to reach Phase 4 of reopening to allow for groups of 50 people indoors.
But the alderman said he also made it clear Phase 4 “doesn’t mean the meeting is going to happen.”
Kappelman put up fliers announcing a community meeting not long after Chicago entered Phase 4 of reopening.
“It was my impression, my hope that it was going to happen. It wasn’t based specifically on something the alderman told me,” the developer said.
The way Ramirez-Rosa sees it, Kappelman became “impatient” with the lengthy community review process and decided to go rogue.
Ramirez-Rosa also takes issue with the look of Kappelman’s fliers because they look a lot like the fliers his office distributes. The alderman said some residents have reached out to his office, thinking they were official fliers.
“I feel like it was dishonest and misleading to put up a community hearing notice and to use a similar font and layout as our official posters,” he said.
But Kappelman said he hired someone from out of the state to make the fliers and has never seen the alderman’s flier “template.”
“It’s our understanding that there are some people who thought it was his actual notice. Certainly that was not our intention at all. I thought I was doing a good thing. I’m very sorry for causing any confusion, if we did confuse people,” Kappelman said.
Kappelman said the fliers were simply an extension of the community outreach his team has been doing over the last few months.
“We were just trying to tell people what we were doing. We walked on Allen [Avenue] and knocked on doors. We have a flier printed up in Spanish because I know there are a lot of Spanish-speaking people in the area,” he said.
Kappelman and his wife founded Tri Homes Today seven years ago. Tri Homes Today redevelops single-family homes and multi-unit apartment buildings throughout Chicago.
Kappelman said they bought the Avondale building in February with the goal of bringing new life to the building, which has sat vacant in recent years. He lives in neighboring Logan Square and has for four years.
“I think that Milwaukee Avenue is an amazing block and has a lot of potential,” he said. “We love the area and we thought it was a good opportunity.”
But now the fate of the project is unclear.
Ramirez-Rosa wouldn’t explicitly say whether he will reject Kappelman’s request for a zoning change because of the flier snafu. But he noted more than 30 developers who have participated in his community-driven zoning process have gotten “the outcome they wanted.”
“It’s really upsetting that someone would mislead the community and take it upon themselves to make their own notice. That’s not how we do things in the 35th Ward,” the alderman said.
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