When the final audience speaker of the evening praises Chicago’s NIMBY attitude for keeping the city honest and inhabitable, it might be hard to get a good read on the proceedings of a community meeting. Nevertheless, Tuesday evening a capacity room debated the merits and drawbacks of the new Jewel flagship store and 390-unit apartment tower proposed to replace the existing Gold Coast store at 1200 North Clark Street.
The proposal, which includes a 35-story residential building sharing the site with the new grocery at Clark and Division, has been in the works for more than two years. Originally envisioned as a 50-story tower, the current plan has been pared down to the 42 stories first submitted by the developer, with the elevator to approval stopping briefly on the 37th floor on its way down to 35.
Developer Steven Fifield lead the crowded room at the Thompson Hotel (21 East Bellevue Place) through renderings and the plan, including an agreement to add additional floors to the Fred Lasko-owned building at 1201 North Clark Street and converting it from a vacant office building into a 98-unit residential building.
Some in the audience, including 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, the host of this community get-together, were less than pleased that the Lasko endeavor is being included with the Jewel project. A third building, the Mark Twain Hotel at 111 West Division Division, was also in the mix, but as of this meeting, the owner’s asking price was too high for the developer to consider. Though just hearing the owner was willing to sell drew the loudest, most-positive crowd reaction of the evening.
While at least two neighborhood condo associations have signed off on the flagship grocery store and condo tower, the board of Eliot House Condos, at 1255 North Sandburg Terrace, were adamantly opposed, claiming they had not been adequately informed of project specifics. Steve Fifield disputed their claim, stating he has held five meetings with the board, and an email of the final proposal was passed along to Eliot House back in September.
A woman speaking for a condo building on LaSalle Street also chimed in saying her building was not informed of the plan. But when Mr. Fifield countered that he had, indeed, met with the condo board, she was forced to admit it was true.
Eliot House representatives claimed that the developer won support from some nearby condo associations through the receipt of money and concessions from the sale of air rights.
One neighboring condo member clarified for the room that his board approved the plan from the outset, and it was later that they learned about the monetary advantages. He very strongly made his point that they were not influenced by money, but rather by the merits of the project, first and foremost. They aren’t alone. Mr. Fifield stated that 74% of respondents to his survey are in favor of the project moving forward, while 81% answered that the new 24-hour Jewel store, and the security that comes with it, will make this particular intersection a much safer place to be.
Representatives from the Eliot House are also concerned about truck traffic utilizing the loading docks at the new Jewel. Citing poor trash control and all-hours truck traffic, the current Jewel was called a “bad neighbor” amid concerns the larger store would require even more freight coming and going. However, with 3 loading dock spaces as opposed to the single space at the current store, Fifield is confident the new location of the docks would keep noise away form the Eliot tower, as well as clearing the line of trucks often waiting up and down Clark Street for space at the single loading dock.
Also a concern for Eliot House is how traffic would leave the store, particularly exiting shoppers attempting to turn left across traffic to head north on Clark. Ideally, the developer designed the flow in such a way that cars would use Clark to go south, and LaSalle Street would provide northbound exits. Ultimately, the control of traffic flowing out to the street would fall on CDOT.
The two-and-a-half-hour meeting concluded with Alderman Fioretti urging attendees to continue to be involved. This would not be the last time folks have a forum to give input into this project, but at the end of the night, it seemed there was very little resistance outside the Eliot House Condo. Whether or not they have the voice to alter the Gold Coast Jewel project remains to be seen.
Interestingly, the issue of parking didn’t come up during this meeting. The five-story Jewel will include three levels of parking, to be used by shoppers, tower residents, and the public. Seemingly, that is enough to keep everyone happy.