LOGAN SQUARE — Community backlash over a large development proposed for the Project Logan site is growing, with Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) catching heat for accepting campaign contributions from the developer.
At a community meeting Monday, about a dozen neighbors voiced strong opposition to the long-discussed project, which would bring a 56-unit apartment complex to 2934 W. Medill St., a site that includes the graffiti wall Project Logan.
One neighbor pressed La Spata about two $500 campaign contributions he received from developer Stanislaw Pluta last March. La Spata said he’d refund the developer “to make sure there is no sense of impropriety.”
“I will write a check back to Wilmot [Properties], refunding those campaign contributions,” La Spata said. “I don’t want you to have any perspective that is what’s swaying this development choice if we do move forward with this zoning.”
Reached by Block Club on Tuesday, La Spata strongly denied any misconduct.
“I would never work with someone to obfuscate or try to hide the influence they were trying to put on me, nor have I actively solicited any kind of contribution from this developer,” he said, adding that before he makes fundraising calls, he checks with his staffers to make sure the fundraisers aren’t doing business in his ward.
La Spata was also grilled about a campaign contribution from Hanna Architects, the architecture firm behind the project, but didn’t say whether he would also refund that contribution. Hanna contributed $500 to the alderman’s campaign in March, according to state records.
While it is legal for developers to donate to political campaigns, the practice of developers donating to aldermen whose support they need to build developments in their wards is often criticized as pay-to-play politics.
On the campaign trail, La Spata repeatedly criticized his predecessor, Proco “Joe” Moreno, for accepting cash from developers building in the 1st Ward, and he even called for a ban on the practice.
La Spata’s campaign contributions were just one of many concerns raised at Monday’s meeting, the second community meeting on the project since its unveiling in March.
Pluta’s original proposal called for a five-story, 56-unit apartment complex at 2934-40 W. Medill St. with 56 parking spots and about 14 percent of the units set aside as affordable. Under this proposal, the future of Project Logan was uncertain. La Spata said Pluta told him he’d keep the graffiti wall if it meant he could have the zoning change.
After community pushback, Pluta made slight changes to the proposal. The developer didn’t change the scale of the building, but he increased affordable units from 14 percent to 20 percent under the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance, and he agreed to incorporate the graffiti wall.
Under this proposal, 11 of 56 apartments would be reserved as affordable and the graffiti artists would get two walls — one on the north side of the building and the other on the east side. Rather than a parking lot, the building would have a parking garage. The building would also have 56 bike parking spots, a bike repair room and a green roof.
Several neighbors at Monday’s meeting said they weren’t satisfied with the changes. They said the development is simply too large for Medill Street, which functions more like an alley than a road. The site is home to one-story commercial buildings covered in graffiti art and facing garages.
Neighbors also criticized the development’s modern design, calling it “the same box” being built across the city.
“There’s too many things getting torn down, and the box goes in its place. Soon, all you have left is the box, and then you’ve lost your neighborhood,” one neighbor said.
Agnieszka Plecka, an attorney for the developer, defended the project’s scale and modern design.
“This is the project that’s viable that will bring some profit margin,” Plecka said. It will provide 11 on-site affordable units, she added.
Saying Logan Square is facing an affordability crisis, others called on the developer to include more affordable apartments in the development.
“I think the applicant should be required to provide more than 20 percent,” said Bhaskar Manda, of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “An upzone in this area is worth a lot more. As the applicant has stated, this is a very desirable area. The community benefit should be commensurate to the value given. The graffiti wall is really great and commendable, but I don’t think that’s enough.”
Supporters of the project said the 11 affordable apartments would benefit Logan Square, which has lost population in recent years as it has gentrified.
“We have an affordable housing crisis in this city, and this project would enable 11 families to have access to decent housing,” neighbor Richard Day said. “If we reject this project because it doesn’t look just right, we’re making a decision that those aesthetics matter more than those values. I think that’s wrong.”
As for the graffiti wall, Bboy B, one of the founders of Project Logan, said they’re pleased with the developer’s plan, which would recreate the graffiti wall and give the artists full control over what’s painted there.
La Spata is accepting feedback on the development proposal through an online survey. The alderman said he’s hopeful there’s a path forward for the development, as the project would bring much-needed affordable housing to the gentrifying neighborhood and save the graffiti wall.
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