OLD TOWN — Four years after first winning city approval, a plan to redevelop the former site of O’Brien’s Restaurant & Bar into a 13-story hotel is still moving forward with a revised — albeit still controversial — design.
At an Aug. 20 virtual meeting, the Chicago Plan Commission voted to amend the proposal from Condor Partners and Chicago Development Partners. Although the 151-foot-tall hotel tower slated for 1528 N. Wells St. remains mostly unaltered, changes to the rear of the site drew opposition from neighbors living on North Wieland Street.
The developers originally planned to build four single-family homes along Wieland, but were forced to tweak their plan after shifting the hotel’s 53-stall parking garage from below-ground to above-ground.
The west side of the site now calls for two new single-family homes. Instead of running perpendicular to the residential street, the new dwellings will be oriented parallel to Wieland. Neighbors say the “shallower” layout of the homes would reduce the buffer between the mid-rise hotel and Wieland from roughly 80 to 30 feet.
“The developer of the hotel wants to retrade the deal to the detriment of Wieland,” said neighbor Andy Carter, who argued that the latest plan positions the garage too close to the residential street where children play. “They told us a below-ground garage costs too much. Is that my fault or my neighbor’s fault?”
“Hundreds showed up to community meetings and were vehemently against the development,” added Old Town resident Matt Blauvelt. “We acquiesced, and now they’re changing the deal. We shouldn’t have to pay for the developers’ mistakes.”
An online petition titled “Help stop [the] hotel on Wieland Street,” which stands in opposition to the most recent zoning amendment, collected more than 400 signatures.
Residents also voiced concerns that the top of the garage — shown in renderings as a green roof — would become a terrace used by hotel guests. The development team said it had eliminated balconies on the west side of the hotel to address some of the noise and privacy concerns raised by neighbors.
After listening to public testimony and reviewing the drawings of the proposal, Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox said he was surprised by how well the development will be incorporated into its surroundings.
“In terms of urbanism, it’s a skillfully done project given that the height and use of the hotel was already granted,” Cox said. “They buried the density of the hotel in the very center of the block, so no one on the side streets will see the bulk of the hotel. This is not what I expected to see based on the comments we had heard from residents.”
Not everyone on the Plan Commission agreed with the assessment.
“I think privacy of Wieland is compromised because of the west side of the hotel,” countered Commissioner Linda Searl. “If I were a neighbor across the street on Wieland, I would not be happy either.”
“Wieland Street was the biggest issue [with this development],” added Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th). “I don’t think these new houses will hinder property values. You have to look at what was there before. This was a parking lot for a very long time. I think this is a great compromise, and I think it is going to enhance the street.”
Commissioner Linda Searl ultimately voted in favor of the amendment, adding that Ald. Burnett’s comments helped change her mind.
The revised plan also boosts the number of guest rooms from 190 to 203. Chicago-based design firm Pappageorge Haymes Partners serves as project architect.
The new construction homes along Wieland are expected to be priced between $1.25 million and $1.5 million, according to developer Howard Weiner. The entire project will cost an estimated $100 million.
The zoning amendment for the Wells Street hotel and adjacent homes will require additional votes by the Committee on Zoning and the full City Council to take effect.
Crews demolished the former O’Brien’s Bar & Grill structure in early 2017.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.