NIMBYs in Neutral as Trio of West Town Buildings Get Neighborly Reception

Plans for the new 37 South Sangamon development

Plans for the new 37 South Sangamon development

Music wafts from every nook and cranny of the Merit School of Music at 38 South Peoria Street. The building is filled with good vibrations.

The current warehouse occupying the 37 South Sangamon location

The current warehouse occupying the 37 South Sangamon location

The exception may be the main floor auditorium when it plays host to community meetings where developers and architects propose new buildings. I’ve witnessed a half dozen such meetings at Merit over the past year. At some point in the proceedings, tension builds to a crescendo.

Usually, the issue is building height, or density. West Loop residents are a feisty, protective lot. They very much like not having high rises, and they want to keep it that way.

Developers who propose anything exceeding nine stories in the West Loop usually get a reception not unlike how Al Capone and Johnny Torrio welcomed rival mobs.

Tonight, the vibes inside the friendly confines of the Merit auditorium were decidedly warmer. Developer Quest Realty and architect Studio Dwell breezed through the presentation of their proposed development.

It’s a grouping of three buildings (two 77 feet tall and one 65 feet tall) which will replace a two-story warehouse at 37 South Sangamon Street, just across from Mary Bartelme Park. The 28-unit condominium development will target families with some serious shekels. They’ll run from $600,000 to $2.5 million, plus a $300 monthly association fee.

Studio Dwell Principal Mark Peters

Studio Dwell Principal Mark Peters

The community meeting was required because the property is currently zoned DS-3, and a DX-5 rezoning is required for the size and scope of the residential plans. The meeting moved along smoothly, with residents only asking a few perfunctory questions about materials (brick and pre-finished metal panels) and timeframe (construction is scheduled to begin around April 2014 and take just over a year to complete).

A couple of residents even commended the effort and suggested this is just what the West Loop needed—residential options for families. One gentleman punctuated the point and held up a fistful of copies of a recent Chicago Magazine article promoting the West Loop as a newly attractive option for families.

The meeting was without drama. I wondered if I were possibly hallucinating. After all, I had just taken a couple of hydrocodone and a naproxen an hour earlier, due to a muscle pull and back spasms I now endure after checking out the Bloomingdale Trail and reporting same earlier this month.

And in the blink of an eye, the meeting took an ugly turn. Punch List Mike stood and addressed the audience. Mike doesn’t live in the West Loop. He’s a Bucktown resident, but he told the audience he had a very bad experience with Quest Reality and used the 37 South Sangamon meeting as an opportunity to air his grievances, like the Costanza family during Festivus. Punch List Mike cautioned the West Loop folk not to trust Quest. He stated that he’s been trying for more than a year to get the developer to correct a half-dozen items on his unit’s punch list.

Exterior brick planned for 37 South Sangamon

Exterior brick planned for 37 South Sangamon

There was a brief, awkward pause in the proceedings. Then, Jason Vondrachek from Quest spoke directly to the audience, much to the chagrin of his attorney. He claimed that Punch List Mike denied access for Quest to correct the items in question. He also claimed that Punch List Mike threatened Quest personnel, and that the police were involved. He told the audience that the resident, obviously frustrated about issues not resolved to his satisfaction, used the West Loop meeting to publicly call out the developer.

Vondrachek suggested that the clientele his new development might attract won’t tolerate poor quality.

“Nobody wants to be a bad developer,” Vondrachek said. “You can’t do it the wrong way and expect to attract buyers.”

The good vibrations returned to the house of music, and the meeting adjourned with the West Loop crowd feeling satisfied with what they’d heard.

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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