15-Story Condo Building Proves A Tough Sell In River North

Drawing of 400 West Huron

“Are you a concerned citizen?” asked the gentleman seated next to me.

“No,” I replied. “I’m a reporter.”

Maybe that didn’t come out exactly right. It may also have inadvertently perpetuated a stereotype about the fourth estate. Nevertheless, there were plenty of bona fide concerned citizens in attendance Monday evening at 633 North Wells to hear details about a new River North planned development.

Drawing of 400 West HuronThey didn’t much like what they heard.

“Make it lower!” barked out one resident.

“This design is grossly out of scale from everything around it!” screeched another.

For an instant, I thought I made a wrong turn and stumbled into a West Loop community meeting. I’ve witnessed many yoga-pant-clad young mothers tsk-tsk a similar refrain when a developer proposes a 15-story building west of Halsted.

But this was the central business district. I figured anything under 30 stories in River North was considered a low-rise. It turns out the farther west you go, the more residents consider it a “quiet neighborhood.” Small-town America, family values. That sort of thing.

All the fuss is over a luxury condo building proposed by FoodSmith Huron Associates. The property in question is at 400 West Huron Street (at the corner of Sedgwick). Plans call for 46 residential units on 10 floors with three floors of parking (73 spaces for cars, and another 36 spaces for bicycles). At ground level will be a 2,700 square foot space for a restaurant.

Living units will be well appointed and quite spacious, ranging from 1,700 square feet to 3,100 square feet. The building will top out at 178 feet, 7 inches.

Architect Joe Antunovich offered up a few more design specifics.

“No sides will be left unfinished,” he said. “It will have a similar style and color of the neighboring buildings.”

The roof will be 50 percent green and the building will have LEED certification, Antunovich said.

Architect Joe Antunovich

Architect Joe Antunovich

No zoning change is necessary; the current zoning for the site is DX-5, without a height restriction. Instead, FoodSmith is shooting for a planned development. Hence the community meeting (there will be a follow-up one) and Chicago Plan Commission hearing. Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) was on hand to patiently explain the process to residents. He offered up this bit of back-story on the development.

“This team presented a much taller building—20 stories—for a rental proposal,” he said. “I pushed back. The developers were disappointed but they went back to make changes.”

That didn’t seem to soothe most of the residents, like the woman behind me who presented Alderman Reilly with a petition signed by 110 neighbors. It wasn’t a plea to set up a lemonade stand in this quiet little corner of the heartland.

“We are upset about the height, and we’re very concerned about density and the flow of traffic,” she said. “This is an eyesore!”

Reilly also explained that River North is an extremely popular development spot right now, and that he can do little to prevent any resident’s view from obliteration, “unless you live along Lake Shore Drive.”

To which one resident called out: “This isn’t about view! It’s about density!”

400 West Huron pre-construction

400 West Huron site

The number of parking spaces in the building caused agita for several residents, including one woman who was new to Chicago, but wondered why the alderman would want to increase traffic by adding any parking.

“A two-to-one parking ratio—that’s ridiculous for an urban setting!” she said. Reilly countered that the size of these units would be attractive for families, who might well have two cars. Perhaps to drive out to the ‘burbs to jobs to help pay the mortgage?

Yet another resident asked if the development would be dog friendly. Yes, answered Jack George, the group’s attorney. Part two of the same resident’s question: “Will it have some sort of dog run so the pets don’t run all over our green space?”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any green space in River North, but maybe it’s there and I mistook it for gray pavement.

Reilly explained that density-wise, the 400 W. Huron development was nowhere near the level he usually sees in Streeterville, or as River North folks probably call it, Dubai.

“We didn’t choose to live in Streeterville!” spat another resident. “We chose to live in River North!”

Location: 400 West Huron Street, River North

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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  1. no green space in river north?? there are 2 major parks not 2 blocks away from this site. and a city farm 2 blocks in the other direction. and a bunch of little parks dotted throughout the entire neighborhood. also, i moved FROM streeterville because of the density 10 years ago. this area was a dead zone then. and that’s how we liked it. nothing stays the same for long, i get it. but we’re trying to keep some semblance of the quiet, more residential neighborhood we’ve enjoyed for so many years. this is not in keeping with the area, simple as that.

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    • There are literally dozens of buildings nearby that are far denser and much taller with 1 and 2 bedroom only units in the buildings. Its a pure family style condo development that I welcome with open arms because there are far too many rentals as it is and the city needs more family size condos to keep people here and not moving to the burbs, which will also help develop a sense of community and ownership in the neighborhood. I wouldn’t expect anything less though from the brain dead RNRA organization however, they whine and dumb down every proposal no matter what. And what we’re always left with is some hideous bland and beige Schaumburgian low rise which does not belong in this part of town.

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    • Bill Motchan

      Unless I’m mistaken, River North has about as much green space as the Sahara Desert. I just checked Google Maps and found a postage-stamp size deal called Park No. 560 a couple of blocks from the property. There’s a slightly larger Montgomery Ward Park along the North Branch of the Chicago River. That’s also a few blocks away. If you’re referring to the city farm at 1204 North Clybourn Avenue, it won’t be growing corn for much longer; that chunk of prime real estate will soon be an eight-story residential tower.

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    • “this is not in keeping with the area”

      Excuse me? There are similarly sized buildings all around this property, and many that are significantly larger within three blocks. Do you have something against 46 very well to do families moving into the city of Chicago? What ridiculous logic are you using to conclude that 46 very well to do families will somehow keep the neighborhood from being quiet and residential? Will the residents opposing this development make annual donations to the city of Chicago’s tax base to compensate for the blocked revenue?

      What about the residents who lived in the area before you? Did you have to ask permission to live there? Are you against your neighborhood becoming more a more attractive place to live? Did you think moving to downtown Chicago, the third most populated city in the United States was a proper way to avoid living in dense neighborhoods?

      Grow up.

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    • Well if the park two blocks away counts as being proximate green space then the 12-story tower down the block also counts…as does the even taller tower a block away on Erie. In which case, using your own logic, you’re mistaken when you say that this tower is not “in keeping” with the neighborhood.

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    • • The architecture firm (Berkelhamer Architects) have produced similar buildings throughout Chicago including Sono East, LaSalle and Chicago, and now this building, which is the most common typology in Chicago — a tower atop a podium. It is not unique and probably inexpensive to construct. It adds no value to the neighborhood…just to the developer’s pocket

      • Why does every downtown neighborhood have to look like every downtown neighborhood? This part of River North is rich in history with its turn-of-the-century manufacturing and the loft buildings that housed them. Many of these buildings still exist in the immediate area and much of the newer development have used (some) styling cues of these older buildings (material, design, size, etc). Examples: the many townhomes on Huron and Superior; the parking garage on Kingsbury and Superior; the new Chase bank on Chicago and Larrabee, etc.

      • Why can’t this part of River North have its own identity? Why can’t new construction offer some continuity and enhance the neighborhood? Why can’t the developer take this into consideration and think about the neighborhood and its residents – not just the bottom line?

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  2. Not only that, there’s no zone changing so it is “keeping with the neighborhood” by default is it not? I really hate the RNRA and their housewife-esque boredom and made up complaining leading to lack of solid development in the neighborhood. Frankly they should be encouraging development since there are so many parts of the west side that are awful empty lots and vagrant magnets. How on earth they can be against this is beyond me, but they screw up every single modern looking proposed development. Its why I refuse to be a part of their stupid organization even though they only lobby condo boards to boost their numbers. Lot easier to influence a small board than hundreds of people with brains.

    I remember they came to our condo board’s annual meeting one year and they were complaining about the proposed Gino’s East tower and how “Hideous” it was… and all I could do was think to myself “this person is an idiot, there is zero chance ANYTHING is uglier than the giant pizza slices and ice cream cone on that awful building” anyways… There was a bunch of other nonsense she talked about, like the development on wells/huron being “too modern and not fitting in with wells street there (what?)” now we get that hideous beige mid rise… THANKS geniuses. Anyway I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg that these idiots are influencing, I know Reilly panders to them like no other because he believes the garbage that they have large numbers and its all about votes with that clown.

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    • Sonies

      I agree with you on almost every single point. Thanks for listing them out so I don’t have to. Interested in forming a new 42nd ward organization for proper planning and dense urban development? That way Reilly would have to recognize our viewpoints and input. I bet we could get a boatload of members from skyscraperpage and dnainfo.com that would join. Thoughts?
      Also, are you the same sonies from cribchatter?

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      • I would but I am likely not going to remain in the 42nd ward much longer, will be moving to the 27th in a short time (burnett ick). Guess we could maybe start a near north side organization? And yeah i’m the same person on cc.

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  3. Wow… Citizens who live in DOWNTOWN are concerned about density??? Do they not want their city’s central core to grow!?! If you’re an individual who’s concerned about density, then don’t live DOWNTOWN. Plain and simple. Such a joke. Either these people are knowingly spewing B.S., or they’re so dumb they didn’t see the unavoidable and undeniable growth that will take place in their neighborhood over the next 25 years…

    The only whining I agree with here is the two to one parking ratio for units… Grossly unacceptable in an age where more and more are giving up owning cars (including families, who can now do fine with one car, or car sharing services). Reilly needs to get his head out of his ass on that one…

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  4. The argument is NOT about density. It is about cars and how they degrade urbanism. Why do people living in the city need two parking spaces? Multiply that for every new building and it’s a problem.
    The main issue is at the ground level, with cars pulling in and out and the large garage doors with sirens every time a car pulls in and out. This degrades the pedestrian environment significantly.
    But also significant is the extra height that accommodation of parking requires. Take away the 4 story parking deck and you have a reasonably proportioned building.
    Forget about “sense of community”. The people living here, apparently, will be driving everywhere.This building is vertical suburbia.

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    • Its 46 units and 73 spaces, people who buy 1.5+ million dollar condos want to/have to have a space for company to park rather than deal with the ridiculous street meters at 4 bucks an hour. Even if every single car left the garage at the same time (which is ridiculous), it would create traffic for about 10 minutes tops based upon the capability of the streets. Get a life, having parking is not an issue. My building has over 3 times the units and probably twice the amount of parking spaces and it doesn’t degrade the pedestrian experience one bit.

      I’m going to laugh when this nice proposal gets nixed for a 40 story rental tower with 300 parking spaces instead

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  5. Bill Motchan

    I get it that discouraging traffic and encouraging walking/biking/public transportation is a good thing. We have one indoor parking place in my West Loop building and our car gathers dust from lack of use. But let’s think about this River North proposal. I’m going to assume this building’s luxury units will sell for somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $1 million. If these 45 condos would be attractive for families, then you might reasonably figure they need two incomes to be able to afford it. If the couple happens to have jobs in the suburbs with no Metra access, they really do need two parking places. And for the kind of dough they’re spending on the apartment, they expect it. That means they’d be commuting and “clogging the River North streets” really only before 7 a.m. and after 6 p.m., and only then to get in/out of the building. I’m not sure how that detracts from the quality of life in the neighborhood for pedestrians.

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  6. Its actually nice to me but the color is a bit cold, repressed or somber. This sounds like the beginning of a controversy about what the city wants for River North and areas west of North Michigan etc. Its actually Manhattan like in nature to me when many people are trying to live it differently which is in sync with how that area was neglected for so long in the past. In this sense it boils down to people who want the city to push forward with new life, action and investment and people who are not planning for it to change into anything of the sort anytime soon.

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