LINCOLN SQUARE — An affordable housing development in Lincoln Square that stalled for months due to a fight about parking is finally moving forward after local leaders and developers reached a compromise.
The affordable housing building at 4715 N. Western Ave. was redesigned to be six stories tall instead of five and have 65 affordable apartments instead of 51. A second-floor parking deck with have 36 spaces, half for residents and the rest for the public, down from 41 spaces.
Ald. Matt Martin (47th) and developer Community Builders announced the compromise in statements Thursday, saying the redesign is backed by community groups, business owners and city leaders, who are considering committing critical tax credits to make the building a reality.
Other changes in the latest plan include moving the development’s parking entrance back to Western Avenue instead of an alley off Leland, adding ground-floor commercial space and an expanded outdoor public space consistent with the vision laid out in the 2019 Lincoln Square Master Plan, Martin said.
While a coalition of neighbors and business owners are happy the badly needed affordable housing development appears a step closer to happening, they’re frustrated their push for more public parking was ignored by city officials, they said.
City leaders previously said they did not want to use tax credits to subsidize so much public parking when their priority is maximizing affordable housing and encouraging public transit. The proposed building is across from the Western Avenue Brown Line and several bus lines.
“This is the best deal that the city offered. I would have liked to see more to support local businesses, but this is the best we could do as a community,” said Adam Kingsley, with the Heart Of Lincoln Square community group.
Community Builders was pre-approved for highly competitive tax credits in December after two years of tense community meetings on bringing low-cost units to the increasingly expensive area while maintaining business district parking.
The city’s housing and planning departments approved an early version of the developer’s proposal last year but later said the developer needed to cut back parking and move the building’s entrance to secure final approval for the tax credits.
The compromise was ironed out after months of back-and-forth between the developer, neighbors, business owners, 47th Ward officials and city departments, Martin’s office said.
This design has the backing of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, Heart of Lincoln Square Neighborhood Association, Greater Rockwell Organization, Lincoln Square North Neighbors, Build Housing Now coalition, the departments of housing and planning and the Mayor’s Office, Martin said in the statement.
“While this compromise may not represent everyone’s ideal building design, the project has multiple features that will complement our already dynamic and unique Lincoln Square community,” Martin said in the statement.
The plan is a “significant net benefit” to Lincoln Square despite the latest changes, Community Builders representatives said in a statement.
“The development will create a better pedestrian-friendly community gateway with active ground floor commercial space and improved sidewalks and landscaping matching Lincoln Avenue. [And] public parking will continue to be provided, if at a reduced level to align with the City’s transit-oriented development priorities,” the developer said in the statement.
The compromise for the 4715 N. Western Ave. development was based off of the city’s transit-oriented development policy and a review of “current parking utilization” at that lot, Housing department spokesman Eugenia Orr in a statement.
“The Lightfoot Administration recognizes and appreciates the strong support for affordable housing shown by Lincoln Square throughout this process,” Orr said.
The proposal will still need to undergo additional review before the Community Development Commission, Plan Commission and City Council before the tax credits will be finalized, she said.
“If these steps are completed, construction could begin as soon as spring 2023,” Orr said.
Merz Apothecary co-owner Anthony Qaiyum joined other Lincoln Square businesses and neighborhood groups in a June 30 letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot asking her to push through a plan for 65 units of affordable housing with 48 parking spaces — 30 for the public and 18 for residents, he said.
The compromise announced Thursday still has room for “paint on the ground” on the second-floor parking deck to add more public parking, Qaiyum said.
But the city’s commitment to reducing public parking when there is still room for it without losing any affordable housing is “baffling,” he said.
“I’m hoping that there’s a new mayoral administration by the time this thing is underway that has a more common-sense approach. This administration just doesn’t listen to anybody,” Qaiyum said. “They don’t compromise on things. It’s very frustrating. It’s like they’re writing a textbook on ‘How do we piss everyone off and lose an election.’”
Officials with the city, however, said they have never used affordable housing funds to cover the cost of public parking for off-site businesses.
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,” planning department spokesman Peter Strazzabosco previously said.
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