Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward) and the West Loop Community Organization hosted an introductory meeting at the Merit School of Music for a new apartment building proposed for the 900 block of West Lake Street.
Patrick FitzGerald, CEO of FitzGerald Associates Architects, along with associate Richard Whitney, detailed what would be a 10-story building containing 168 rental units. The ground floor would include a lobby and garage parking for 11 residents (of the 66 overall parking spaces) and 2,415 square feet of new commercial space. The second floor would have a link connecting the new building to the existing Lake Street Lofts next door at 912 West Lake Street. And topping things off would be a green roof, part of the developer’s plan to achieve LEED certification with this project.
Alderman Burnett stated towards the end of the meeting that he’s done allowing developers in his ward to buy their way out of the Affordable Housing plan; he will require this apartment building, with approval, to include affordable housing units.
Ben Spies of the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago lead off the public debate by opposing this planned development, stating it doesn’t conform to the Innovation District guidelines that state residential construction should only be allowed south of Lake Street. Even-numbered addresses on Lake, are, of course, on the north side of the street.
Mr. FitzGerald countered that those same guidelines encourage improvement and expansion of existing developments (FitzGerald manages the LLC that owns Lake Street Lofts) and pointed out there have been residential buildings north of Lake Street for the last two decades.
Mr. FitzGerald also quickly and decisively responded to concerns about the number of parking spaces (cover that on your NIMBY Bingo cards, folks). The 66 spaces proposed for 168 units amounts to a .392 ratio, well within Transit Oriented Development standards. And even when a complaint was lodged about the parking lot they’d be building atop to create the 66 spaces — “One-to-One parking is needed” — he stated the Lake Street Lofts have seen marked reduction in their residents’ needs for parking in recent years, especially with the new Morgan Street Green Line station that opened in 2012.
Of course, density and height were also brought up by attendees. Though at just ten stories, height doesn’t seem like it should be an issue. As Mr. Whitney pointed out during his presentation, there are taller buildings in the vicinity, including the 28-story tower being built at Lake and Halsted. One thing no one seemed to take umbrage with is this building’s design: The tower pays homage to its Fulton Market predecessors, eschewing Chicago’s glass-tower fixation for an industrial factory look that fits perfectly into the neighborhood.
The big issue of the night came down to this building consisting of apartments rather than condominiums. Folks, as a life-long renter, this was finally the meeting that I took some offense to. No, I’m not a “transient.” Yes, I realize condo owners have property values to consider, and I don’t have that as a renter. But that doesn’t mean we mere lessees don’t care about the neighborhoods in which we live, about being safe when we walk down the street and ride the trains, about where we eat and shop. But I should probably save that for another time, and we can talk about it in more detail.
But Alderman Burnett? He wasn’t having any of it. “I don’t make my decisions based on types of people. And that includes whether they be renters or owners.” And Mr. FitzGerald? “Rental is a life style choice many people make.” He also pointed out that the turnover rates claimed by many owners aren’t as high as they’re claiming. Marc Koronkiewicz, the property manager at Lake Street Lofts, was passionate about the renters he oversees — over 70% of them rent for more than four years. He said they’re involved in the community and invested in the neighborhood just as much as the homeowners are.
When one attendee challenged the developers in the room about why so many rental units were being built instead of condos, JRG Capital principal Harry Huzenis was happy to respond. It’s very difficult, he stated, for developers to obtain financing on large condo projects. Lenders want to see a big portion of pre-sales before they’ll forward the money needed to start construction. That’s the reason you see today’s small condo projects, and large rental projects. Mr. Huzenis would love to see the day when condos are all the rage again, but for now, the market calls for rentals.
At the end of the evening, support for this new apartment project was voiced by Armando Chacon, representing the West Central Association, Don Madia of the West Loop Community Association, and residents “Frank” (who’s lived in the neighborhood for 10 years) and Jeff Johnson. A show of hands at the alderman’s request showed a minority in opposition. A good sign for FitzGerald Associates in the early stages of this proposal.