JEFFERSON PARK — Developers are trying to build a four-story apartment building on Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park that would have two dozen units and space for shops.
The $9.5 million development at 4415 N. Milwaukee Ave. would have 24 units, 24 parking spots and ground-floor retail space. The lot has sat empty since 2004. The project is being proposed by First Western Properties.
The developers shared revised plans for the project at a virtual community meeting last week held by Ald. Jim Gardiner’s (45th) office. The alderman was not in attendance due to a scheduling conflict, said his aide, Maree Joyce, who ran the meeting.
The building would have 18 two-bedroom units renting at $1,800-$2,200 a month and six one-bedroom units renting for $1,200-$1,500, developers said. Three units would be earmarked as affordable for renters earning 60-50 percent of the area’s median income.
Developers are trying to get a zoning change for the project, as the lot can only have 13 units with its current zoning, said attorney Tyler Manic, who represents First Western Properties. The lot is currently used as parking by people who live in an adjacent building.
While some neighbors welcomed the increased density, most at the meeting raised concerns over the project’s few affordable units and how input was gathered for the proposal.
Under the city’s revised Affordable Requirements Ordinance, developments that require a zoning change in areas with low levels of affordable housing need to have at least 20 percent of their units earmarked as affordable. In this case, the project would need five affordable units.
“I am looking forward to it … but I want to see [the developer] make a commitment to at least five affordable housing units,” said resident Sara Khan.
Jason Gronkiewicz-Doran, who lives two blocks away from the proposal and is part of the group Neighbors for Affordable Housing, said he also wants to see that commitment from developers,.
“Those are necessary because home prices are rising so quickly people can’t stay in their homes,” Gronkiewicz-Doran said. “It’s important we don’t have a buyout or partial buyout in this building.”
Paul Tsakiris, founder and developer of First Western Properties, said there is no buyout involved in the project and the rent for the apartments is in an affordable range. Project leaders “are doing what we can,” he said.
“The solution to affordability is density,” Tsakiris said. “We have to walk a fine line trying to meet the needs of the community and stakeholders. There are lots of stakeholders in an investment that has not produced a lot since 2004.”
After neighbors pressed developers to commit to having at least five units rent for less than $1,200, Manic said a financial analysis for that has not been done, “but we will take that feedback and get back to you.”
Other neighbors were upset about the way information was shared regarding the development. Some residents who live close to the lot said they only heard about the proposal last week from the alderman’s office.
Developers and the alderman’s aide said there was no intent to shut out neighbors. Meeting with community groups before residents is standard for Gardiner, Joyce said.
The building was originally proposed to be six stories high when it was brought to Gardiner in 2019. The aldermen met with neighborhood groups that opposed the height and design elements.
At last week’s meeting, Tsakiris said he would have liked to keep the six-story height, but the revised plans are a compromise. Manic said the new plans fit with the character of the neighborhood.
Marian Sherrell Haas, the owner of Chicago-themed gift shop Rep Chi next to the vacant lot, said she agrees six floors would have been too high but likes the increased density and business space.
“I welcome the expansion of vibrancy and storefronts and hope it’s done in a fair way,” Haas said.
Sherrell Haas and her husband, who took over the store in 2020, expressed concern over construction and its impact on their business, though she agreed with the developer the lot should be revitalized and “not be a janky lot of despair.”
Tsakiris said it’s too early to know the scope and timeline of construction, but local the business owners will be the first to know.
Tsakiris has owned the lot since 1998. After a 2004 fire destroyed a three-story, which included a bowling alley, at the lot, Tsakiris tried unsuccessfully to sell it to a developer. He eventually decided to develop it himself — and hopes this proposal will stick.
“I think we have a project we can be proud of… . We have been your neighbors since 1998,” said Tsakiris, who grew up on the Northwest Side. “We look forward to getting rid of the parking lot, which is frankly a little bit of an eyesore.”
The revised plan would need aldermanic approval and zoning approval from City Council.
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