Tuesday night, 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno hosted a public meeting at the Chopin Theatre to gain community feedback on the proposed Wicker Park Connection development.
Centrum Partners wants to add some 200 units at 1640 West Division Street, which right now serves as a surface parking lot. Designed by Hirsch Associates Architects, the ambitious project will include apartments in a 15-story tower, a seven-story structure with condo units, and a row of townhomes.
The most unique feature on paper of the Wicker Park Connection is the “connection” itself. A pedestrian thoroughfare would be open from Milwaukee Avenue on the northeast of the property, and continue between the condo and townhome portions out to Division Street. This walkway would include a small recreation area, perhaps with a water feature meant for children, as well as space to sit, relax, and enjoy the outdoor space. This connection would make up about 30% of the overall nearly-two-acre site, a percentage unheard of in most developments. Some citizens expressed concern over safety and security for the pedway, and it was acknowledged by the developer that discussions are ongoing as to whether or not gates at each end would need to be locked from late-night to early morning, with only the residents of the development being able to gain access.
Slightly less unique is the inclusion of three different types of housing, what with the rental tower, condos, and townhomes all on one site. Now, no one is ever against condos and townhomes. But towers are another story. Well, multiple stories. We’ve seen disagreements about building height in the 1st Ward before, and tonight was no exception, albeit a kinder, mellower exception. The apartment portion of the Wicker Park Connection would be built in a tower boasting 11 stories fronting Division Street, with four additional stories added after a setback moving north off the street. And in a neighborhood with very little height, that’s an issue.
And for the foreseeable future, 1611 West Division will be the poster child of that issue. Not because the development hasn’t been successful; it has been. It’s been a model of what good Transit Oriented Developments can be. But because it looks rather…let’s say “distinct”…folks either love it or hate it. And those who hate it use every available opportunity to let others know they hate it. The 11-story tower set a new precedent in a neighborhood known for low buildings, and now that a 15-story edifice is on the table, some people are sure it will block out the sun and obstruct everyone’s view.
But as Centrum’s John McLinden pointed out, you can’t achieve density (Wicker Park Connection is even aiming for max density; it is slated for 3.5 FAR, when new regulations would have allowed 4.0) on a plot of land this size without building tall. Remember, there are 11- and 12-story towers going up about two miles northwest of here, at Milwaukee and Washtenaw, so altitude is coming to the 1st Ward. Whether buildings will continue higher than this projects 15 stories, as was the concern of one attendee Tuesday night, remains to be seen. Though Alderman Moreno assured him there are steps in place to control additional height in his ward.
Perhaps the only real surprise of the night came from the alderman himself. One Milwaukee Corridor resident voiced his concern about traffic issues with regard to the rumored private school which may be taking some of the commercial space along Division Street. Every parent driving to the school every morning and afternoon to drop off and pick up their children is a legitimate issue when streets are tight (looking down at you, St. Pat’s.) While Moreno acknowledged that was indeed a concern, he also made it abundantly clear he is *not* a big fan of the school idea for this project. Mr. McLinden intimated the unmentioned private school in talks for the space has a timing schedule in mind to allay those fears, he also said it was too early in the game to know if a school would even end up in the finished project.
Time will tell. This project has changed substantially since it was first proposed. We’ll see if this iteration is the one that gets approval.