UPTOWN — Plans to replace a Weiss Hospital parking lot with a 12-story apartment building won approval from the city’s Zoning Committee Tuesday over some aldermanic objections, setting up the controversial project for a final vote in the City Council Wednesday.
The development would bring 314 apartments to the corner of Wilson Avenue and Marine Drive. Three members of the Zoning Committee tried to defer the project, saying it doesn’t do enough to benefit the community and needs more consideration.
After a robust debate among aldermen over the project’s affordability and whether it will contribute to gentrification in Uptown, the development was passed. Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Maria Hadden (49th) voted against it.
Lincoln Property Company’s plans for the Weiss parking lot have sparked multiple protests in Uptown, resulted in an unprecedented vote change by a local zoning advisory board and ignited conversations about how best to build housing in booming neighborhoods.
Dallas-based Lincoln Property is under contract to buy the Weiss parking lot, where developers want to build a courtyard-style apartment building. It would include 136 parking spaces, a bike room and a rooftop deck.
Eight of the units will be earmarked as affordable, the minimum required for new developments under city ordinance. Lincoln also will contribute $3.1 million to Sarah’s Circle — an in-lieu payment for the remaining 23 required affordable units — for a new housing facility in Uptown.
The building would have 86 studios, 164 one-bedroom and 56 two-bedroom apartments, said Joe Segobiano, vice president of Lincoln Property. Market-rate rents will range from $1,600 for a studio to $2,900 for a two-bedroom, while affordable rents will range from $900 for a studio to $1,100 for a one-bedroom, he said.
Some aldermen and city officials have blasted the practice of including the bare minimum of affordability in developments — especially as the affordability requirement is set to increase in the fall. But others, including Ald. James Cappleman (46th), have said the donation to Sarah’s Circle is a novel way to boost options for those in the most dire need of housing assistance.
Cappleman said he has heard “people’s concerns about displacement” and the loss of diversity in Uptown. And while the people focused on those issues object to the project, Cappleman said the Weiss project will actually help to retain Uptown’s affordable and public housing options.
While much has been made over Uptown’s major development projects, Cappleman said about 50 percent of the area’s housing is “naturally occurring affordable housing,” which he defined as being market-rate housing for those making around 60 percent of the area median income.
Allowing for development on a parking lot satisfies demand for new housing in the community and keeps developers away from the smaller, older housing units that are more affordable, Cappleman said.
“I’ve heard many times over … about people’s concerns about displacement. The concerns about displacement, they’re occurring across the country, and it’s happening here in Uptown, ” Cappleman said at Tuesday Zoning Committee meeting. “My concern is if we don’t build more, developers will go after our naturally occurring affordable housing and upgrade that.”
Others on the zoning committee said this development is not attainable for most in the neighborhood and is not the best use of land that is currently used by a community hospital.
Hadden said Weiss Hospital is used by residents in her ward and she is concerned that developing its parking lot boxes the hospital out of future growth. Weiss has said it has injected millions into adding new features to the hospital and that its office building is nearly 50 percent vacant and able to accommodate future growth.
But given the makeup of apartment sizes and rents, Hadden said the project was not geared toward current residents of Uptown and doesn’t do enough to address displacement.
“This just does not seem to be the type of place that current low income Uptown residents are going to be able to live in,” Hadden said. “I don’t think there are enough community benefits going into this.”
Hadden moved to defer action on the Weiss development, a move that was supported by Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) and Sigcho-Lopez.
“Would this be something that you can reconvene?” Sigcho-Lopez asked. “It seems like having more time perhaps can help the community and your own committee to address the concerns we have seen.”
Aldermen voted down the motion to defer, with some including Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) standing up for Cappleman’s community input process.
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