AVONDALE — An Avondale apartment project that initially drew criticism from the alderman appears to be moving forward after a downsized version of the development secured neighbors’ support.
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said at a Thursday community meeting he plans to grant developers Mark Kappelman and Steve Ashkenazi a zoning change to rehab and redevelop a vacant six-unit apartment building at 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave., a project that has been in the works since February.
The zoning change will allow the developers to add three apartments to the building. The developers aren’t planning any changes to the height or the size of the building. If all goes according to plan, they aim to begin construction on part of the building as early as this week.
The approval comes after several months of back and forth between the developers, Ramirez-Rosa and neighborhood groups.
Neighborhood groups were not on board with the initial proposal, which called for a 19-unit apartment building with a two-story addition. They raised concerns about the height of the building, the number of apartments and the size of the commercial storefront.
Ramirez-Rosa then accused the developer of trying to “go around” his community-driven zoning process this summer after the developers posted flyers suggesting the project was moving forward when they had not actually received support from neighbors.
Since then, the developers have significantly condensed the project, which now calls for only three more apartments than what’s currently on site, as well as 1,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space. One apartment will be reserved as affordable under a community benefits agreement.
The construction will take about a year after developers are approved for the zoning change, which they hope will happen in the spring.
Neighbors at a community meeting Thursday evening praised the developers for incorporating the community’s feedback in the new proposal. They said the project will bring vibrancy to a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that has suffered from neglect.
“I think we need to increase the population if we want to support and bring back all of the small businesses on this block. I’m in big support,” said a neighbor who identified himself as Robert H.
Bruce Anderson with Logan Square Preservation, one of the neighborhood groups tasked with reviewing the proposal, thanked Ramirez-Rosa and the developers for sticking with the project despite months of negotiations.
“It was rough times in the beginning, but I think the whole process was productive and we’re going to get a great building out of” this, Anderson said.
Kappelman said their goal is to inspire other developers and property owners to invest in the stretch and bring back small businesses. Community leaders have long complained of the many empty storefronts lining Milwaukee Avenue between Central Park and Kimball avenues.
Kappelman said they hope to bring mom-and-pop businesses into the ground-floor commercial space. He said they’re also open to preserving the mural that currently covers the building. The mural, painted by local artist David Orozco, depicts a small grocer that called the building home in the 1920s.
“We all want the same thing, which is a vibrant block and to bring back the life,” Kappelman said. “So whatever it takes, we’re willing to do” it.
Kappelman and Ashkenazi own two other apartment buildings in Avondale, one at 3565 W. Wolfram St. and another at 3734 W. Diversery Ave. Kappelman said they started investing in the neighborhood in 2014, “loved it and never left.” He has lived in the area since 2015.
In pitching the condensed proposal for 2901 N. Milwaukee Ave., Kappelman apologized again for the flyer snafu over the summer. At the time, he said he had no intention of overstepping and saw the flyers as an extension of his community outreach.
“I do know in hindsight I was very misleading,” he said. “I want to apologize if you were one of those people who was misled.”
But neighbors had nothing but good things to say about the new proposal at Thursday’s meeting. Ramirez-Rosa ended the meeting by all but ensuring the zoning change would be introduced.
“It all looks like we’re on the up and up,” the alderman said. “It all seems like we’re in agreement this is a good proposal.”
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