Meeting Strays from Development to Neighborhood's Future

In a large meeting room at Gale Academy, Rogers Park residents met with Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) and developers in another of a series of meetings designed to inform the public about projects in their neighborhood that can't proceed without zoning changes.

This project, developed by Nicholas Kopley, is a mixed-use condominium utilizing the long empty building previously occupied by Pivot Point International at 1791 W. Howard St.

Kevin O'Neil, Chairman of the 49th ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee moderated the meeting.

Presenting first was Graham Grady, zoning attorney with Bell, Boyd and Lloyd. Mr. Grady's online biography notes he served as chief executive of the Chicago Housing Authority, Zoning Administrator, Building Commissioner of the City of Chicago under Mayor Richard M. Daley, and was an ex-officio member of the Chicago Plan Commission.

The Northwestern University School of Law honored him in 2004 for "his many varied important contributions to the public interest through his work as both a public official and a private practitioner in the 20 years since graduating from Northwestern University School of Law."

He said the purpose of this meeting was to get "input, cooperation hopefully and collaboration" from the community.

The Pivot Point building was constructed in 1928 as an office building. The zoning request is to change its rating from B3-2 to B3-5. The current B3-2 rating allows for one unit per 1000 sq. ft. per lot limiting the number of residential units to ten on the 10,000 sq. ft. base. Changing to B3-5, a 200 to 1 ratio, allows for more units.

The plan includes 37 condo units and retail at ground level. Washington Mutual currently occupies one of the available retail spaces. Kopley voluntarily set aside four units for affordable housing under the Chicago Partnership for Affordable Neighborhoods (CPAN). He has a history of rehabbing problem buildings and maintaining their prior rental status.

Work on the building to date has included restoring the limestone facade, repairing the limestone and brickwork and removing cement medallions that were crumbling and falling from the building creating a public safety hazard.

The plan includes recreating these medallions, affixing them and painting them to restore the original look of the building. Tom Melvin, a member of the developer's team, in anticipation of questions, excitedly explained that KEIM paint would be used for this restoration.

KEIM is a mineral paint, harmless to the environment that consists of natural compounds with a liquid potassium silicate binder.

Silicate paints result in a solid mineral and insoluble compound of paint and substrate. Its high water vapor permeability ensures that humidity present in masonry can pass out from the building structure preventing bursting and cracking between the paint layer and the substrate.

Its composition prevents fungi and algae from forming and its minerals don't burn. In the event of fire no substrate damage occurs and no poisonous gases are emitted. It reflects light and thermal rays reducing thermal stress on building structures.

Its color can't be altered by harsh climate or UV radiation so redecoration in the same color shade is possible after many decades. These paints are not damaged by acid and are related physically and chemically with all mineral building materials.

Kopley assured the residents, hesitant that such a restoration would fall into disrepair, that the condominium agreement would include a covenant that the panels be "maintained in good repair." Some residents were concerned that the building's look would be changed sometime in the future. No corresponding covenant preventing that was planned.

Parking was considered and it was determined that due to structural constraints, onsite parking could not be accommodated. The CTA lot, within one block of the building, offers monthly parking for $125 and the Kopley team is working with Trident, the Gateway Shopping Centre's management company, to allow off-hour overnight parking in the Gateway Shopping Centre parking lot adjacent to the building.

According to the current zoning regulations, the developer has a credit of forty-eight off street parking spaces from the building's prior use and is in a transit oriented development area - within 600' of the CTA Red Line - which further reduces the requirement for spaces. The change in the city's zoning laws during the development process reclassified it to non-conforming use.

The City of Chicago zoning regulations state that "A non-conforming use is a land use that was lawfully established in accordance with zoning regulations in effect at the time of its establishment but that is no longer allowed by the use regulations of the zoning district in which it is now located. A non-conforming use may be changed to any other use allowed by the subject zoning classification."

This change requires only an administrative authorization with the determination of the Zoning Administrator "that the substituted use will create no greater adverse impacts on the surrounding area than the previous use."

Aldermanic notification of the filing of a use substitution is required, but the Alderman's approval of the substitution is not.

After the presentation questions were invited from attendees.

Craig Gernhardt, a community activist asked if the people purchasing these condos would be informed that the Howard Street Special Service Area Tax, levied on property owners to maintain the entire Howard Street area, would be attached to their bill.

The Howard Street Special Service Area was created to provide services such as sidewalk cleaning, special events for customer attraction, coordination of sidewalk sales, landscaping, public safety improvements and snow removal.

The tax is added to the property tax bill of those residing within the district. Many property owners have questioned the proper use of this tax money since its imposition in 1999.

Graham responded that this tax comes up in the title process as a condition to the title. Gernhardt expressed concern that it may make people not want to buy.

Another resident asked if there were plans for a rooftop garden or other enviro-friendly features. Kopley replied that they are considering a roof deck but it would probably have potted plants not landscaping.

David thought it was a good idea and believed it would revitalize the area. He expressed concern, as did many others, that if it sparked more development eventually there would be no parking.

Though Kopley could not predict what would happen in the future, he pointed out that 'the building sits on all the land, it's been vacant for years, has no constructive use, and they are trying to get it started and make it productive.'

Helen spoke up and said she's lived here forty plus years. She was very upset when the decorative medallions came down. She was glad to hear they will be going back up - but she emphatically told them it was "not the right color green."

They agreed to work on the color to get it to match as closely as possible to the original.

Another woman rose and asked where the on-street parking was that they'd identified. She noted that they had been working on it for a year and when she called the alderman's office to inquire about it she was told it would need no zoning change. Now it does. Why did that change?

They explained that originally they didn't need one. They began work on the outside of the building because it was a safety hazard. In the meantime, the original Zoning Administrator left and the new zoning laws came into effect and with them a new Zoning Administrator with a new interpretation.

They fought him, spoke with Moore and O'Neil, already had all the permits, and had a review with the Zoning Commission.

It received a non-conforming use designation and requires a zoning change for the lot ratio. "There are trade-offs on all things in life," said Graham.

Katy Hogan, owner of the Heartland Cafe, asked for a floor by floor explanation of the building. Steve, one of Kopley's team members, explained the first floor is retail, is half occupied with an additional 3000 sq. ft. available, the second floor is nine residential units and the third through sixth floors hold seven units.

Don Gordon of the Rogers Park Conservancy, and running against Moore for Alderman, asked if Kopley knew anything about the seventeen story condo project across the street in Evanston and asked if parking is planned for that project.

Kopley replied that that project will include parking for 200 to 250 cars, enough to raise the building above the "el" tracks, and that it was rental not condos.

He explained that they had looked at putting parking underneath the building but the structure wouldn't allow it.

When I spoke to him later he said that the building was very interesting. When it was originally planned in the early 1900's it was to be twelve stories high and at the time was advertised as the first high rise outside of downtown Chicago. The first six floors were built and then the depression hit and construction halted. The other six stories were never completed.

When the group first went into the building they noticed there were three elevator shafts, two in use and one empty. Their research showed that the third shaft and been installed in anticipation of the other six stories.

The planned height was the reason they couldn't build underneath the structure because the beams were built to sustain the added weight.

He was going to share that with everyone at the meeting until the topic strayed.

Gordon also asked why they didn't put parking on the back. Kopley told him they looked at that but it would have increased the condo cost significantly and they wanted to keep it affordable.

Glenn questioned Kopley about the iron canopy that was on the façade but noted that he appreciated that they put the balconies on the back of the building. Kopley said the shelving that supported it had deteriorated but they plan to reconstruct and return it to serve as a grand entrance.

Fran Tobin of the Rogers Park Community Action Network, the sponsor of the Jobs and Economic Justice referendum placed on the March 21 ballot, asked Kopley if there was a local hiring program and who he was working through to achieve it.

Kopley said that he was hiring locally through several contractors to try to bring more jobs into the community. Part of the negotiations will be to hire more Rogers Park residents.

A woman stood up and said she'd been living here for twenty years. She asked what they had for the working poor. She's 'tired of being displaced by those properties.'

Rose said it was a beautiful place; can't they build for low income people?

But it wasn't just low income people who spoke up on this issue. As the meeting moved into its second hour, more questions and comments were being directed at Alderman Moore himself to answer.

Katy Hogan revealed that she is paying $850 per month for her apartment, she rents and the prices keep going up. She said if it goes up much more she won't be able to live here.

Diana, who has lived here twenty five years said $1100 dollars, the estimated cost of the mortgage after the CPAN contribution, is a lot of money and a lot of people don't have that. They're on a fixed income. 'You're making it harder for us.'

Jim said 'the drawings were excellent; I'm excited about the paint, but back to CPAN. The other 90% of the building will result in people moving in that don't live here right now. In a broader sense, I see Edgewater, Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Wicker Park and I'm worried. I look around and I see people that don't look like me (Jim is white) and I kinda like that.'

Brian White of the Lakeside CDC suggested that $7 million in TIF funds were available; couldn't it be used to buy down the cost of the condos?

Long time residents of Rogers Park understand something that newcomers to the neighborhood do not. They know why their neighborhood has been the subject of documentaries and is named the most diverse neighborhood in the City of Chicago if not the country.

Not only does Rogers Park experience incredible racial and ethnic diversity, at one time over 200 languages were spoken at Senn High School, but it is socio-economically diverse as well.

The residents of Rogers Park like that. It is part of their civic pride.

It reflects their values and represents the tolerance for others they want to instill in their children.

They are proud that the top of the map of Chicago proves that all people, regardless of class, race, religion or ethnicity can share their experiences, learn from each other, and live together.

Increasingly they see development robbing them of this unique environment and destroying the fabric of their close knit and diverse community.

Moore took the helm of the meeting at this point, as it was straying far from its intended purpose.

He explained to Tobin that the TIF job pre-apprenticeship program would be established when the CTA reconstruction begins.

He explained to attendees that assistance for low-income housing is getting harder now; Washington is slashing affordable housing funds.

He disputed the figure of $7 million as the remainder of the available TIF money, though White said that was the city's figures, and pointed out that Gateway Shopping Centre had not yet been paid.

He assured White that they were looking into exactly what was left and how to appropriately apportion it to benefit the community.

Questions were raised by many about a plan for Rogers Park. What could we do to maintain our neighborhood, stem the traffic congestion, create affordable housing and still grow?

Moore took issue with the assertion that we didn't have a plan.

He pointed out that we did a house to house neighborhood survey before the zoning changed to identify the properties in the neighborhood.

We had community meetings to decide what zoning changes, if any, people wanted to see in their areas.

Moore told people that he didn't have to have these meetings and in some wards they had none.

As the meeting approached the third hour, it was adjourned.

Having strayed so far from the original subject, the reason for the meeting was nearly forgotten.

What was clear was that there was growing discontent with the development trend and it was causing people to wonder just where Rogers Park was headed and who would still be a part of it when it got there.