IRVING PARK — Irving Park neighbors and their alderman are pushing back against a plan to build apartments and dozens of townhouses along a residential street, saying they worry the developer is fast-tracking the high-priced project before the city’s new affordable housing rules kick in.
Developer Lexington Homes applied for a zoning change in June to build a six-story apartment building and 88 townhomes between four and five stories high at the former site of DePaul College Prep, 3633 N. California Ave.
The proposal would add 357 homes along the North Branch of the Chicago River. As few as nine apartments could be earmarked as affordable, according to the zoning proposal. The townhomes would cost $599,000-$800,000, and rents would be $1,399-$2,900 for the apartments, according to the plans.
The City Council’s zoning committee was scheduled to review the proposal at its July 20 meeting, but it was pulled from the agenda on the day of the hearing. At that point, the developer had yet to participate in the ward’s community-driven zoning process, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) said.
“Nothing is gonna happen until we consult neighbors,” she said. “I am not in support of this project, and the Department of Planning and Development is not in support of this project as it has been proposed, either.”
The alderman said she thinks Lexington is trying to “hurry the process” to secure a zoning change before the city’s revised affordable housing rules go into effect Oct. 1.
The new rules will require developers building in most parts of the city to include 20 percent affordable units, up from the current 10 percent. The rules also reduce the amount of “in-lieu” payments developers can give the city in exchange for building on-site affordable units.
For the California Avenue project, the developer plans to meet its requirement of 36 affordable units with a mix of new apartments and in-lieu payments, according to the zoning application. It’s unclear what that ratio would be, but city ordinance in this case requires the developer build no fewer than nine affordable apartments.
“If anyone knows me, you know I’m going to try to protect the possibility of more affordable housing as much as I can,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “There is a need for our communities to be developed in a very responsible way that is inclusive, that allows our neighbors to stay, that doesn’t promote gentrification and is in harmony with the environment.”
Jeff Benach, principal at Lexington Homes, said his firm is still conducting its “due diligence” with the city and declined to comment further.
In a statement after this story was published, Nate Wynsma, Lexington’s vice president, said the proposal was submitted to the City Council using “standard operating procedure,” and he expects the city’s zoning committee will review the proposal “once there is a favorable recommendation for the Chicago Plan Commission.”
“There was and is no ‘fast track’ of the process. This is the standard process for all Planned Developments in the city of Chicago,” Wynsma said. “While we can’t comment on the alderwoman’s concerns, we have been in discussions with the alderwoman and her staff for 11 months on this project and have been looking forward to starting the community process with her office.”
The apartment building would have 215 parking spaces, and the townhomes would have 176 parking spaces. The developer said it would add 50 bicycle parking spaces.
The plan would also feature 2,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor of the apartment building at Addison Street and California Avenue.
Lexington Homes also wants to build a “landscaped 30-foot-wide river setback” for a continuous riverside trail, according to the application submitted to the city. It would allow adjacent properties to connect their riversides trails to that “when the river edges of the adjacent properties are similarly improved” and would allow the public to access the setback, which would not be gated and would have signs saying it was open to the public, according to the application.
Riverview Bridge — the longest pedestrian riverfront bridge in the city — opened to the public in 2019 along the river near the former DePaul College Prep campus. The bridge is part of the 312 RiverRun path that connects Belmont to Montrose avenues along the Chicago River and extends more than 1,000 feet in length and is 16 feet wide.
A group of neighbors in the California Park Neighborhood Association also oppose Lexington’s plans. A major concern is how massive the development is. No other building nearby is six stories tall, and the apartment building would push up against the property lines along Addison Street and California Avenue with virtually no setback, neighbors said.
The group members also said they worry about how many trees and how much green space will be removed, how the project will affect the river and how traffic could be exacerbated at an already busy intersection.
The current proposal is a “monstrosity” that is “bursting at the seams” on the block, said Anthony Bolla, who’s lived near the former high school for 25 years.
“This doesn’t seem to be very well thought out. Frankly, you have a really good piece of land there,” Bolla said. “We probably need some affordable housing there. But you don’t have to rezone for that, and you can do it in a way that allows everyone to take advantage of the river.”
Group members have been going door to door to collect signatures for a petition against the development. They’ve collected about 500 signatures so far, said Iris Sanchez Hacker, the association’s vice president.
The neighborhood group plans to meet again Sept. 22 to continue organizing against Lexington’s plans.
DePaul College Prep High School announced in 2019 it would open a new, 17-acre school campus on the other side of the river in Roscoe Village.
The school rented its former California Avenue location from the Congregation of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ religious order. After the school moved, the now-vacant property was put on the market.
The Archdiocese of Chicago said the property belongs to the religious order and declined to comment further. Messages left with the Congregation of the Resurrection were not returned.
Neighbors can submit feedback to the 33rd Ward on Lexington’s plans by clicking here.
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