Rogers Park neighbors are asked to envision what should be done with the city-owned lot at Howard and Ashland. Credit: Facebook/Ald. Maria Hadden

ROGERS PARK — An undeveloped stretch of prime Howard Street property could help transform the area, and neighbors have plenty of ideas for how to use the space.

Community leaders and urban planning professionals are working on a project that will help shape the future of the one-acre lot at Howard Street and Ashland Avenue.

The city-owned lot sat vacant for years before being used as a community garden. Multiple developer proposals for the property have come and gone. Now, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) is spearheading an effort to let neighbors — not builders — lead the redevelopment.

Last week, Hadden’s office and the Metropolitan Planning Council held a meeting to discuss neighbors’ ideas for the property — and how those ideas can be realized.

Many Rogers Park neighbors working on the project are in favor of keeping the site a community garden. Or, at the least, the site should retain some green or community gathering space, according to neighbors and survey results.

It remains to be seen if the cash-strapped city would OK the site’s continued use as a garden, or if it would rather sell the property and get it on the tax rolls. But several community suggestions seek a best-of-both-worlds solution.

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Four community-driven proposals for the site were presented Thursday. The first seeks to maintain the garden or expand it into an urban farming site.

The three other proposals call for a mixed use of the site, blending residential, commercial and community space.

One plan supports the continued use of the community garden while building a mixed-use complex along Howard Street with housing and retail space.

Another idea proposes a garden, a plaza or community space, and a retail component such as a grocery store.

The final proposal would be the most development heavy, with a commercial building along Howard, residential building along Rogers Avenue to the south and a community garden in between.

The Hello Howard Community Garden Credit: JOE WARD/BLOCK CLUB CHICAGO

The Metropolitan Planning Council invited community development and planning experts to weigh in Thursday on the neighbors’ ideas for the site.

One the challenges will be making sure the community proposals are practical and financially feasible, said Wendell Harris, vice president of lending operations with the Chicago Community Loan Fund.

“There’s so much opportunity in this particular space,” he said. “What is it going to take to keep the green space in? How do we … create an economic model that’s feasible?”

The city is seeking to offload the Howard and Ashland site for about $1.5 million, according to previous request for proposals for the property.

To keep the site as a community garden, someone would likely have to buy it and donate it the garden group, planning experts said.

Another obstacle could be finding a developer that would take up the neighbor’s proposals, which are lower density than what many developers typically pursue, experts said.

And adding retail to the space might actually put pressure on the existing Howard business corridor, where vacancies are already an issue, some said.

The Metropolitan Planning Council is still seeking neighbor input on the future of the Howard and Ashland site. A survey for the project can be found here.

Next year, a final report on the neighbor proposals will be published and Hadden’s office will work with the city’s Department of Planning and Development to issue a request for developer proposals for the project.

No matter what comes to the site, the most important thing is that community members lead the way — not outside developers, neighbor Ashaki McClain said.

“The big thing is community,” she said. “How can we make it a community development from ground breaking to ribbon cutting?”

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