AVONDALE — The developer behind The Fields project at the Logan Square and Avondale border won approval from a key city panel Thursday to redevelop part of its campus, setting the stage for a new film production studio on the Northwest Side even as some community members tried to block the decision.
The Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday approved New York-based developer Knickpoint Venture’s plans to add a 50-foot-tall building, two roof decks, more retail space and several sound stages for a planned film production studio to the 1.5 million-square-foot site at 4000 W. Diversey Ave.
In seeking to add the 50-foot building, which wasn’t part of the initial design, the developer faced pushback from several community organizations. Feeling shut out of the process, organization leaders launched a petition to delay the Plan Commission vote and get the developer to sign a community benefits agreement.
Organization leaders have said Knickpoint Ventures and Ald. Felix Cardona Jr. (31st), who represents the site, have not solicited enough community feedback for a project that could transform the area. The project sits at the edge of gentrifying Logan Square and Avondale, and leaders said they’re worried it could lead to more displacement of longtime Latino residents.
“This development is reinforcing Chicago’s history of exclusion toward Black and Brown people,” Christian Diaz with Logan Square Neighborhood Association, one of the groups opposed to the project, said at Thursday hearing. “It is not clear how a film studio will benefit the many immigrants and business owners in this neighborhood who have been devastated by this pandemic.”
Some city commissioners agreed with residents’ concerns at the meeting, but it wasn’t enough to derail the vote.
Commissioner Marisa Novara called attention to the slogans Knickpoint Ventures is using to promote the development: “We put the diverse in diversity” and “Discover the undiscovered.”
“We have a history in this country of claiming discovery of places that were long since occupied by other people,” Novara said. “To have a project in the area losing Latino population marketed as ‘Discover the undiscovered’ — it feels disrespectful, it feels dismissive.”
Teresa Córdova, chair of the plan commission, said this project — and the community response to it — is a reason to expand the requirement for community notices.
Currently, developers looking to build large developments or asking for amendments to large projects are only required to notify residents who live within 250 feet of the property.
In the case of The Fields, one of the residents’ main concerns was people who live outside of that range were not notified the project was moving forward.
“They are legitimately concerned about losing their neighborhood. Latinos are being pushed out. They’re no longer the majority population,” Córdova said. “This project alone is not going to push them out, but I do think it’s important to be mindful of the concerns they’re raising.”
Throughout the hour-long hearing, the development team defended its handling of the approval process, saying they’ve held “numerous” community meetings with nearby residents.
The developer’s zoning attorney, Richard Klawiter, also emphasized the amendment is merely an extension of the planned development the commission approved back in 2014 and a film production studio is already a permitted use for the site.
The developer needs the amendment to build the 50-foot-tall building, roof decks and other amenities, changes that would make way for the film production studio or another use like a sports facility down the line and would add on to the existing redeveloped campus. The Fields site now includes a mix of loft apartments, offices, a Cermak Fresh Market grocery store and more.
“Despite the press, we are a long way from the film studio being a realty,” said Zain Koita, founder and managing partner of Knickpoint Ventures.
The project has the strong backing of Cardona Jr., but he said at the hearing he will be “watching” the development team to ensure they hire locally and keep other promises made to the community.
“I’m very careful with what projects come into the ward because I respect the integrity of the community,” the alderman said. “I don’t want to see communities displaced. I personally was displaced. I know the feeling. I don’t want that to happen to other families.”
Ultimately, commissioners approved the amendment.
To open a film production studio on the campus, the development team still needs zoning approval. The project has the support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Task Force, which was formed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are approving this with the expectation that you will be working with the alderman to meet the community needs,” Córdova said in her closing remarks.
The project next will be reviewed by the city’s zoning committee.
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