JEFFERSON PARK — A proposal to convert a vacant Jefferson Park firehouse into a brewery and taproom with upstairs apartments cleared one of its final hurdles Wednesday.
Members of the City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate unanimously voted during their Wednesday meeting to approve the sale of the property at 4841 N. Lipps Ave. to Ambrosia Homes for $208,000, which would be put in an escrow account to fund environmental remediation of the property.
Selling and redeveloping the firehouse has been years in the making and hasn’t been without consternation, as the nearby Copernicus Center filed a lawsuit against the city last year “alleging the process was unfair and biased.” Copernicus Center’s lawsuit sought an injunction that would stop the city’s plans to sell the firehouse to Ambrosia Homes while other proposals are considered.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), chair of the housing committee, told aldermen the active lawsuit will “not take any impact or effect on action that we would take today or at City Council” if approved.
Maggie Daly Skogsbakken, President of Jefferson Park Forward, supported the sale to Ambrosia Homes.
“We are pleased to see development that reuses and adapts existing buildings, particularly one such as this with historic value to our community,” Daly Skogsbakken said, adding the proposal incorporated years of community feedback.
Some members of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association and the Copernicus Foundation on Wednesday urged aldermen to table the proposal so the center could submit another plan.
“As a valued member of the community, the development of the firehouse would allow the foundation to further strengthen its roots as a cultural community in the neighborhood,” said Brian Wardman, vice president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, adding the neighborhood association is “pleased” that an initial proposal from Copernicus would remain a two-story structure with a restaurant in the ground floor with residential above.
Others took a cue from the lawsuit and argued the Copernicus Center did not have a fair shot at submitting a proposal.
Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara clarified that Copernicus Center did not have only 30 days to draw up a proposal for the property, as some people who oppose the Ambrosia Homes development have insinuated.
“In fact, they had 30 days plus eight years, which is how long the property has sat vacant and available for application for negotiated sale,” Novara said. “This property was available for over eight years, and 4841 North Lipps LLC spent three of those eight years developing a strong proposal.”
Jim Wheaton, program manager for the city’s Department of Housing, detailed to aldermen why the proposal from Copernicus was not chosen.
Wheaton said Copernicus did not demonstrate financial qualifications, submitted an incomplete project budget and has limited demonstrated experience in development with no residential development experience.
When it comes to the sale of the city-owned property that will be sold to the developer for $208,000, the amount will be put into an escrow account to fund remediation on the property. During the meeting’s public comment period, some people likened the $208,000 property sale to the city selling the property for $1.
Additionally, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said that “to say we’re selling it for $208,000 and making it sound like we’re making $208,000 on this parcel isn’t necessarily being fully honest with the situation.”
Lopez said he wanted to make clear “we are selling for costs of remediation which the developer will get back.”
Wheaton said the remediation cost is at least $208,000, “if not more.”
And Chenin Kilduff Kienzler, general counsel for the Department of Planning and Development and the housing department, disputed that the city was selling the parcel for $1 and said finding money to clean up “dirty land or dirty buildings” is something the city “needs to go through on these land sales.”
Now that the sale of the firehouse has a positive recommendation from the housing committee, it is set to be considered by the City Council at its meeting next week.
“This is sort of the final step,” Tim Pomaville, president of Ambrosia Homes, told The Daily Line on Tuesday prior to the committee meeting. “Assuming it would be passed by the committee, it would go back to the entire City Council.”
The total construction budget for the project is over $2 million, according to Pomaville.
The City Council approved a zoning change for the project in September.
Plans for the development went before the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building standards and the full City Council last year.
Additional Housing proposals approved :
Aldermen also approved an amendment of redevelopment agreements for the Third Ward Parade of Homes Program, adding a requirement that a deposit from the sale of the properties be placed into environmental escrow accounts.
The Parade of Homes program gives a limited group of residential developers the opportunity to construct market-rate homes on discounted city-owned property.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said the Parade of Homes is an “important 3rd Ward initiative to bring new market-rate single-family homes to our community, a community where over 30 percent of our housing stock is subsidized.”
The housing committee also unanimously approved a proposal (O2020-6211) for acquisition authority related to an INVEST South/West Request for Proposals for properties at 8840, 8844, 8850 and 8854 S. Commercial Ave. in the 10th Ward as part of a larger commercial project funded by tax-increment financing.
All other proposals outlined in The Daily Line’s preview of the housing committee meeting were approved.
Committee on Transportation and Public Way
The City Council Committee on Transportation and Public Way also met Wednesday and approved a proposal (O2020-6018) to fill city freight tunnels under a property in the 15th ward.
The proposal to fill the existing freight tunnels beneath the 6.25-acre property at Harrison Street and the South Branch of the Chicago River and add access points to the city’s tunnel system on the northern property line was approved unanimously.
Arthur Dolinsky, senior counsel in the Real Estate Division of the city’s law department, said the Chicago Department of Transportation determined the tunnels below the property “are not necessary for the city’s tunnel system” and the new access points [developer] plans to build will allow the city to access other sections of the tunnel system.
Aldermen also gave unanimous support to the vacation of an 826-square-foot dead-end alley stub in the block bounded by Wilson Avenue, North Broadway and Leland Avenue. A portion of the vacated alley will be used for loading and accessory uses for the new mixed-use building adjacent to the alley, according to Dolinsky.
During the meeting’s public comment period, four people urged aldermen to vote on renaming Outer Lake Shore Drive after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable sooner than an April date the committee’s chair Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) had previously set forth.
Ephraim Martin, a persistent advocate for the name change, told aldermen that April is “too late” for the committee to vote on renaming the non-residential outer drive after Du Sable, Chicago’s first non-Indigenous settler.
“However, next month, Black History Month, is a significant month for the African American community,” Martin said.
Three other commenters followed Martin’s lead.
“I stand before you today to petition this committee to move forward post haste with the recognition of the city’s founding father Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable,” said Paul Pearson before urging Brookins to “rally your counterparts, your colleagues to come together to unify unanimously to rename Lake Shore Drive after the founding father, father of our great city, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.”