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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