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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

As Parking Fight Risks Derailing Lincoln Square Affordable Housing Project, Residents Call For Compromise

The project at Western and Leland has been controversial among neighbors who want affordable housing at a city-owned lot and those who want to preserve public parking in a busy shopping district.

Rendering of Community Builders' proposal for 4715 N. Western Ave.
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LINCOLN SQUARE — How much parking does Lincoln Square’s business district need?

That question is at the center of a debate between Ald. Matt Martin and the city’s planning and housing departments, as plans for a proposed affordable housing complex at 4715 N. Western Ave. stall.

Developer Community Builders won highly competitive tax credits in December for a five-story building with 51 affordable apartments and 5,000 square feet of ground-floor retail at the city-owned parking lot across from the CTA’s Western Brown Line station.

While the city’s departments of Housing and Planning approved an early version of the developer’s proposal, officials said that was just a starting point — and the project would need to scrap quite a few public parking spots to secure the funds.

Housing officials said the number of parking spots far outweighs what’s needed, takes away land that could be used for low-cost housing and doesn’t support goals to prioritize public transit over cars.

Housing officials say they’ve told Martin for months that 41 parking spaces were a no-go, but accused him of continuing to tout the spots to residents. Now, the parking must go or the tax credits won’t be awarded, city officials said this week.

Martin held a Zoom meeting Wednesday night to update neighbors on the stalemate. He vowed to keep fighting for the existing proposal and said he would get Mayor Lori Lightfoot involved if needed.

Lightfoot’s office said the mayor works with her Housing and Planning Department commissioners to safeguard affordable housing investments, but did not answer if she would meet with Martin about the stalled project.

The debate over parking near this development has raged on for years, but at the meeting this week several neighbors voiced their support for the city’s position.

“I also live in [Lincoln Square], and though I have a car I would definitely be okay with more walking and less driving/parking,” resident Cici Fernandez said at the meeting. “I hope we can come to an agreement that works for most.”

Fernandez argued more people living near the heart of Lincoln Square would mean more shoppers for its business corridor, and others pointed to a city study showing the existing parking lot is underutilized.

Requiring public parking on the scale in the current proposal is “ridiculous,” said neighbor Jeremy Wolff.

Neighbor Kyle Ryan said the entire complex should be larger to offer more housing and parking.

“Why can’t the building just add another floor of parking and two or three more floors of housing? Businesses get more parking spaces and residents as possible patrons,” Ryan said. “An 8-10 story building next to an ‘L’ stop should not be controversial.”

Planning department spokesman Peter Strazzabosco previously told Block Club an alternative to the existing design would include 60 apartments and about 19 parking spaces, based on city data for how much the lot is used. The city also has pitched a design that would have 18 spaces.

The lot is rarely full and underutilized, housing officials said.

Martin said the city is underestimating the lot’s use and scaling down parking that much would force developers to make the building taller to make room for more apartments, which would make the project more expensive.

“During the winter holidays, in particular, the lot is oftentimes above capacity,” Martin said.

Since the project was first announced two years ago it has been controversial among neighbors who want affordable housing at the city-owned lot and those who want to have ample public parking in the shopping district. The latest plan would have preserved all but two of the public spaces, a design some felt was a good compromise.

“We’ve continued talking with departments but recently we’ve hit a bit of a wall,” Martin said. “We’ve requested a meeting with the mayor to make sure that she’s brought up to speed. We had a meeting that was scheduled that had to be moved. We’re still waiting on a new date. But we want to make sure all the crucial decision makers here understand what the impediments are and what is really at stake.”

Neighbors did not learn of the parking standoff until March, when city leaders and members of the Mayor’s Office spoke to Lincoln Square residents and business leaders. Housing officials accused Martin of leading residents astray by not flagging the parking issue to residents sooner, something the alderman denies.

In general, the tone of the meeting was in support of the housing — but parking concerns remain for some.

“Give ‘em hell, alderman. The compromise that keeps public parking is the best option. The city’s ham-handed position will lead to loss of revenue and harm a jewel of a neighborhood business corridor,” neighbor Jim Poole said.

Last week, neighbor Jesse Hoyt launched a petition asking housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, planning Commissioner Maurice Cox and Lightfoot to not “allow a debate over things like parking and curb cuts to derail a critically needed affordable housing development.” As of Thursday, more than 430 people had signed. 

Despite the latest delay Martin still thinks the project is salvageable, he said.

“I think that there’s clearly a path forward, multiple paths forward, to having that happen. And it’s going to take all of us continuing to work together,” Martin said.

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