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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Lincoln Square Affordable Housing Proposal Goes Back To Drawing Board After City Demands Less Public Parking

City officials say the proposal would take parking away from low-income residents. Some worry the city's demand could threaten the project after two years of tense community talks.

Rendering of Community Builders' proposal for 4715 N. Western Ave.
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LINCOLN SQUARE — The developer behind an affordable housing complex in the heart of Lincoln Square must overhaul the project after city officials said they would not approve critical financing because of the number of public parking spaces the development would offer.

Developer Community Builders won highly competitive tax credits in December to build a five-story building with 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, 51 affordable apartments, 41 public parking spaces and nine parking spaces for apartment residents at 4715 N. Western Ave. It was the second time the company sought the tax credits after losing out in 2020.

The project was controversial among neighbors who wanted the affordable housing but feared losing public parking in the popular commercial area. The latest plan would have preserved all but two of the public spaces.

But housing Commissioner Marisa Novara and Maurice Cox, Department of Planning and Development commissioner, want the public parking scaled back before they’ll sign off on construction, Ald. Matt Martin (47th) said. City officials also want less commercial space and the entrance for public parking moved to an alley just off Leland Avenue.  

The changes could lead to Community Builders pulling out of the project altogether, Martin said.

“I recognize that for numerous community members, it’s deeply frustrating to hear that we may lose this transformational development. I share your frustration,” Martin said in a statement Tuesday. 

Will Woodley, Community Builders’ director of development, said he is optimistic there is a compromise to keep the project moving forward.

“The concept is a pedestrian-friendly gateway development that preserves public parking for local businesses, while also providing apartments to improve neighborhood affordability,” Woodley said. “We believe that is the right mix of uses.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The parking lot at 4715 N. Western Ave., as seen from the terrace of the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center, 4740 N Western Ave., on Sept. 9, 2021.

The housing department has never used affordable housing funds to cover the cost of public parking for off-site businesses, planning department spokesman Peter Strazzabosco said. Prioritizing parking for shoppers in a commercial district instead of for low-income residents is not an “equitable use of extremely scarce affordable housing dollars,” he said.

The developer’s plans for the public parking would “inequitably exceed the residents’ spaces by 300 percent,” Strazzabosco said.

Additionally, the amount of public parking spaces across from the Western Brown Line train station conflicts with the city’s equitable transit-oriented development policies supporting more low-cost housing near public transportation, officials said. 

Putting the parking entrance on Western Avenue is prohibited by the city’s zoning requirements and design guidelines, and it would impair infrastructure improvements intended to make Western more pedestrian-friendly, Strazzabosco said.

“A compromise plan with approximately 60 residential units and widened alley access could still advance with an equitable ratio of resident and public parking spaces at an amount that more closely corresponds with the parking lot’s typical use,” Strazzabosco said. 

Community Builders pitched its plan for 4715 N. Western Ave. in 2020. Almost immediately, neighbors raised concerns with losing public parking. 

The original plan was not approved for the needed tax credits. The developer sought more feedback and reviewed the 2019 master plan for Lincoln Square to revise and resubmit its proposal.

During sometimes contentious meetings over the past two years, some neighbors said preserving the current lot’s public parking was more important than affordable housing in the dense commercial area. 

“We definitely spent a lot of time [on parking], and rightfully so. But this is the most amount of time we’ve ever spent on a development concept around parking,” Woodley said in May. “But it makes sense for this site and development to focus on that.”

The project looked to be a go after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the proposal was one of the 24 affordable housing efforts chosen to benefit from $1 billion in tax credits.

Novara, Cox and members of the Mayor’s Office spoke to Lincoln Square neighbors and business leaders last week. The commissioners said they didn’t view the December plan as final and expected to make more changes, said Adam Kingsley, planning and advocacy committee co-head for Heart Of Lincoln Square.

“When we heard from the commissioners that this was not a done deal, it surprised everybody,” Kingsley said.

Credit: DesignBridge.
Rendering of proposal for 4715 N. Western Ave.

Lincoln Square neighbors and business leaders told commissioners at the meeting the developer’s most recent plan came about after years of intense community discussion, and business owners may yank support for the project if there were less public parking, Kingsley said.

The Heart Of Lincoln Square Neighbors Association, Greater Rockwell Organization, Lincoln Square North Neighbors and Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce wrote to Novara and Cox this week asking them to find a compromise that preserves parking, increases affordable housing and guarantees pedestrian safety on Leland Avenue.

“This can be accomplished by ensuring that the building contains an adequate number of publicly accessible parking spaces to handle daily peak utilization. The building should also include ample ground-floor commercial space to help activate the proposed plaza on Leland Avenue and create a connection with the businesses along the north side of Leland near Lincoln Avenue,” the letter said. 

Moving the public parking entrance to the narrow alley with “blind angles and busy commercial delivery traffic” would also negatively impact pedestrian and bike activity along Leland Avenue, which is in the process of getting a new neighborhood greenway, the letter said.

“While we remain hopeful, we do have to express our frustration that the departments are proposing such significant changes more than two years after we began our community-driven process, and after the City announced in December that it awarded tax credits to the proposal,” the letter said. “Nevertheless, we remain committed to seeking a reasonable compromise that maximizes the number of on-site affordable units, supports our small businesses, and improves pedestrian safety along Leland Ave.”

Rudy Flores, the area chamber’s executive director, said the city leaders weren’t considering how much nearby businesses use the busy alley.

Gene’s Sausage Shop, 4750 N. Lincoln Ave., gets 30-50 deliveries a week. Other local businesses also have delivery drivers park in the alley to pick up online orders to deliver to customers throughout the day, Flores said.

“That becomes problematic if you have vehicles trying to access parking from the alley, because a lot of times those alleys are going to be blocked,” Flores said.

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