NEAR NORTH SIDE — Developers of a controversial proposal to build a 43-story luxury condo building on the Near North Side responded to neighbors’ concerns during a lengthy virtual hearing Wednesday.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) held the meeting over Zoom so developers from Fifield Companies could answer questions about their plans to build a 457-foot building on the southeast corner of Maple Street and LaSalle Drive.
“This is a community process to vet this proposal … and a decision has yet to be made,” Hopkins said. “This may not be the last meeting such as this that we have and it certainly won’t be your only opportunity to submit your comments.”
Fifield plans to knock down the existing building at 125 W. Maple St. to build a luxury apartment tower with 406 units and 3,700 square feet of retail space, Fifield’s executive vice president Lindsey Senn said during the group’s presentation.
The building would also have a seven-story parking garage with 146 parking spaces, Senn said.
Zoning for the project requires buying the air rights from the adjacent Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral at 1017 N. LaSalle Drive, Senn said.
The church agreed to sell its air rights for an undisclosed amount to the firm so it could eventually build a 7-story community center in the lot between the cathedral and would-be Fifield building, Senn said.
Neighbors at the Gold Coast Galleria condominiums, which sits east of the planned development at 111 W. Maple St., have previously criticized Fifield’s plans, claiming the development is too big for the lot.
Residents of the Galleria — a 34-story building with 330 units — said the new tower would reduce airflow, block sunlight, congest traffic and reduce their property values.
Neighbors also said the development would leave just 20 feet between the two buildings, creating a narrow shared alley used to access both buildings’ parking garages, according to the Galleria’s condo association.
Fifield’s developers addressed these concerns during their presentation before opening the meeting to questions from the hundreds of neighbors tuning in.
“This proposal is in Downtown Chicago, which is home to many high rise buildings, and it is unavoidable that some views will be blocked — similar to when existing high-rises were developed and blocked some of their neighbors’ views,” Senn said.
The group presented shadow and traffic studies it commissioned to understand their proposal’s impact on the area. But neighbors rejected the studies, claiming the sunlight projections seemed inaccurate and the traffic study didn’t compare to their lived experiences with street congestion.
Senn also said the alley is “more than capable of handling the slight increase in car traffic” and it would see “significant improvements” under the proposal, such as relocating the building’s utility poles to expand the usable width of the alley.
Rene Graza, a 29-year-old graduate student who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, said he was concerned about his west-facing studio losing sunlight and airflow.
Graza said he put all his money down on the apartment in late 2016, hoping to rely on the property as his major investment in life.
“Property values of all west-facing units will go to the floor,” Graza told the developers. “You would be completely ruining us.”
Steve Fifield, CEO and chairman of the development firm, told Graza he would get “more sunlight in the 20 feet [between buildings] — and plenty of airflow — than you realize.”
“If every building that blocked another building were turned down, the city of Chicago would have half the population downtown it has today,” Fifield said. “That’s one of the aspects of living in a city — that you don’t have a view.”
Fifield’s developers said their proposal would benefit the community by generating more than $2 million in tax revenue each year, creating construction jobs and offering 11 affordable housing units.
The firm would also make a $5.5 million payment to the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund and give another $5.7 million to the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.
Members of the Annunciation cathedral who live in the neighborhood also spoke in support of Fifield’s proposal. Other supporters included construction workers who said their industry needed the jobs and people interested in buying or renting condos in the new building.
Noel Torres, who’s president of the condo association board at the building being sold to Fifield, said he supports the development.
“Since [I moved in], my view has changed multiple times. I no longer see the top of the board of trade anymore, and I see other buildings,” Torres said. “I hate to say it, but the Gold Coast Galleria can’t be the only ones to keep their views forever. This is Downtown Chicago.”
A few dozen people were still in queue to share feedback on the development when the meeting was cut after nearly three and a half hours.
Hopkins encouraged people to share more feedback on the proposal by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This was thoughtful dialogue and discourse both from the supporters and critics of this project,” Hopkins said. “A lot of questions were answered, and a lot of questions remain. I want to assure everyone that we are not even close to a decision on this project yet.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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