AUBURN GRESHAM — A much-discussed affordable housing development engineered by the city’s Invest South/West program is moving forward after clearing a key vote Tuesday.
The city’s Community Development Commission signed off on a proposal to direct $15 million in TIF funds to two mixed-use affordable housing buildings along 79th Street in Auburn Gresham. The city board also gave developers at Evergreen Imagine JV, the team spearheading the project, the green light to buy city-owned vacant land for the apartments at 838-58 W. 79th St. and 757 W. 79th St.
The city funding for the housing and commercial space, called Auburn Gardens, will wind through several City Council committees before it goes before all 50 alderpeople for final approval.
Construction of the apartments is expected to begin this year and is scheduled to wrap by 2023, Patrick Brutus, a Department of Planning and Development staffer, said at Tuesday’s hearing. The project initially was slated to cost about $20 million, but city officials said the budget is now more than $39.9 million.
Evergreen Imagine, a joint venture between the Imagine Group and Evergreen Redevelopment, was the only bidder for the site.
Auburn Gresham neighbors pushed against the project for months, with several residents saying they weren’t aware of the developers’ plans before the city awarded the contract.
Some said they think local officials should focus on bringing key amenities to the neighborhood, like a grocery store or pharmacy, before adding more residents. Tim Thomas, an Auburn Gresham resident for 50 years, called the community the “doughnut hole of the city” at a past meeting.
Local officials, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, argued the community needs the housing to encourage more investments in the area — although some experts said it’s not always the case that businesses follow residential development in predominately nonwhite neighborhoods.
Other neighbors questioned the density of the housing. In its initial proposal, Evergreen Imagine pitched a 61-unit building on vacant land at 838-58 79th St.
After pushback from the community, Ross Barney Architects redesigned the building to include two buildings with parking and ground-level retail.
More changes are coming to the project, according to plans shared at Tuesday’s meeting.
The design for 838-58 79th St. originally included 26 units, 13 public parking spaces and 27 residential spaces. It now will have 28 affordable rental units and 28 parking spaces.
The Park Supper Club, a restaurant owned and operated by Torrey Barret, principal of Evergreen Imagine, will also open on the ground floor.
The site at 757 W. 79th St. initially had 24 affordable units and 10 parking spaces. It now will include 30 affordable units and ground-floor retail.
Patrick Brutus said construction of the 58 units is “critical to the overall development of Auburn Gresham.” The parcels have been vacant for more than 10 and 23 years, Brutus said.
Developers said they will work with neighbors to ensure those who live in the community can get construction jobs for the buildings and work in the retail spaces once they’re complete.
Sean Flynn, chief of staff for Ald. David’s Moore (17th), said the alderperson supports the project.
“The community was definitely involved in this process, and definitely the alderman feels it was that community involvement that brought such a great development to the ward,” Flynn said.
Norma Sanders, director of special initiatives at the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, also gave a stamp of approval on behalf of the organization. The Healthy Lifestyle Hub, a 15,000-square-foot health center led by the Auburn Gresham group, will sit across the street from the apartments at 839 W. 79th St.
The development process was “shaped and formed by the community’s input,” planning Commissioner Maurice Cox said. He commended the development team for “sticking it out” with the neighbors.
The development team “was always very attentive and mindful that people were pushing back out of love of their community,” Cox said. “They stuck with them, and I think the results speak for themselves.”
The affordable housing is one “stepping stone” to the multimillion Metra station planned for the community, and it will encourage reinvestment in Auburn Gresham, Cox said.
“I think [the buildings] will signal the inclusive nature of Auburn Gresham,” Cox said. “The more housing options I think will probably signal to other investors that this is a place to invest in.”
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