LINCOLN PARK — A plan to rehab a historic single room occupancy building into permanent supportive housing on Clark Street is moving forward.
On Thursday, the Chicago Plan Commission signed off on a zoning change for the nonprofit NHP Foundation to rehab the 114-year-old Covent Hotel and erect a seven-story, mixed-income apartment building next door.
Located at 2653 N. Clark St., the Covent dates back to 1906 when it was constructed as a hotel to accompany an adjacent theater, which was demolished in the 1960s. The surviving three-story building has long served as an SRO, but it has fallen into disrepair after its owner passed away.
The proposed rehab would create 30 affordable units with dedicated kitchens and bathrooms–amenities SRO dwellings traditionally lack.
A contemporary 7-story building designed by architecture firm Brininstool + Lynch will replace the surface parking lot east of the historic building. The development team says it plans to sell the new building to help finance the Covent rehab.
Although the new structure calls for 84 rental units, only two will be offered at an affordable rate. To satisfy the city’s 10 percent Affordable Requirements Ordinance, the developers will pay the city $794,000 to cover the six-unit shortfall.
That money will go directly toward the funding renovation of the old Covent building, according to Paul Shadle, an attorney for the development team.
Maurice Cox, Chicago Department of Planning and Development Commissioner, said he supports the project, but was “curious about the logic” of including only two affordable units in the new 84-unit building instead of the required eight.
“I think it’s very difficult for the general public to understand why the developer would not accommodate all of the affordable units on-site,” said Cox at Thursday’s meeting.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) spoke to “clear up some of the misconceptions” about the project and respond to criticism that the two units of affordable housing in the new building were insufficient.
“I was approached by a procession of developers that wanted to tear the property down and put up a high-rise, and we said no because we wanted to preserve the SRO and supportive housing,” Smith said. “No developer save the NHP Foundation was willing to do the four years of work to preserve a building that is loved by the community, put in supportive housing, and build at a scale acceptable to the neighborhood.”
The alderman described the area as “the most expensive in Chicago,” noting that single-family lots in the 43rd Ward typically sell for $1.3 million. The situation, according to Smith, creates real challenges when it comes to building new affordable units in the community.
“I appreciate that some of you think that the two units [in the new building] is not enough,” Smith said. “But in order to have 32 affordable on-site units in Lincoln Park, we would have to build a 320-unit high-rise to get to the 10 percent figure.”
Plan commissioner and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who represents the adjacent ward, voiced his support for the proposal.
“I’m excited that the Covent Hotel is being restored,” Tunney said. “This is an area that is desperate for affordability, and I’m excited for my community — our community — Lincoln Park and Lakeview to maintain [the Covent].”
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