Dueling petitions, dispute over rental buildings, cloud Roosevelt Square future
August 7, 2010

By Susan S. Stevens

One petition circulated in and around Roosevelt Square opposes extending public funding for the development until an issue about rental units is settled. Another petition calls for continuing current plans for the mixed-income community’s next construction phase.

Opponents of Roosevelt

Square’s proposed Phase 2A object to plans for building two 60-unit rental buildings, which in the original Phase 2 were to be for-sale condos.

A stagnant real estate market led to the revision, although developers and City officials said the number of rentals as part of the development’s total of 2,441 housing units would remain the same as in the earlier plan.

When the balance would be restored has not been decided, said Mike Kelly, director of sales and marketing for the master developer, Related Midwest. “How it plays out depends on land use going forward.”

Nevertheless, the short-term plan has raised fears among some that the project will turn into a new version of the demolished ABLA Homes housing project rather than become a healthy and diverse community.

One petition calls on Mayor Richard M. Daley to stop Phase 2A and a proposed Roosevelt/Racine Tax Increment Financing [TIF] District extension “until our community is satisfied that Roosevelt Square will proceed in a manner that enhances the quality of life in our community.”

The other petition asks “public officials to act resolutely and effectuate the necessary actions to move this development forward, most immediately the extension of the Tax Increment Finance District duration and scope which will allow the process to move forward without any burden on taxpayers.”

TIF extension sought

The petitions followed a stall in the TIF approval process, which delayed the beginning of construction from this summer to later this year at the earliest. The City Council must approve extending the TIF.

In each of two buildings at the center of the issue, three-quarters of the units would be market-rate apartments starting at $1,050 for a studio. Each building also would have one-fourth of the units designated for former Chicago Housing Authority families, said Kerry Dickson, CEO of Related Midwest.

The buildings would face Roosevelt Road, on the southeast corners of Loomis and Throop Streets, with for-sale buildings in between. Dickson and Kelly said they would seek as renters hospital employees such as those at Rush Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“That is where we are marketing,” Kelly said. “We will continue to work on those relationships.” However, he added, “They are not going to give us an answer at this point.”

Some area property owners fear more low-income renters would escalate the crime, noise, and other problems that they blame on current renters. Bill O’Connor, and his wife have lived just outside Roosevelt Square, in the 1300 block of west Fillmore Street, for five years. He wrote the petition seeking to halt the development after attending two community meetings explaining the revisions for Phase 2. O’Connor believes the new plan “will be a real black eye on the neighborhood.”

Also, he felt the presenters “were not receptive to the 200 people there who opposed this ‘progress,’ whatever you call it.”

O’Connor belongs to the community group Near West Neighbors. Many of its members are soliciting signatures for his petition, and the University Village Association e-mailed the petition to others.

After hearing about the petition, Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) officials invited O’Connor, University Village Association (UVA) President John Walsh, and UVA Executive Director Dennis O’Neill to a July 21 meeting, noting that UVA officials “want to really work more closely” with community groups and want regular meetings with the community so they can understand its concerns.

Related Midwest began distributing its own petitions July 20 at the first of a series of meetings it scheduled for community residents, with some people signing at the meeting and others taking copies with them. “We need the TIF for marketrate” for-sale housing, Dickson said. “The TIF extension needs to be passed.” Rental housing development could continue without the TIF because “there is lots of public money” for it, he added.

Also, with rents in the market-rate apartments in the two large buildings starting at more than $1,000 a month for a studio, the buildings will be “anything but low-income housing,” Dickson noted.

Developers want to build the apartment units because they are “guaranteed” income while the forsale market remains weak, O’Connor said. He quoted President Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Don’t buy something just because the price is right.” O’Connor said developers “are doing something just because the price is right.”

Phyllis Mategrano, who lives in the 1200 block of west Flournoy Street, circulated petitions on behalf of Near West Neighbors. “I am very curious about following the money,” she said. “I think they [the developers] lied. I am very concerned that the two 60-plus unit buildings that Related Midwest is proposing will end up being subsidized housing… because marketrate apartments will not fly in that location—not with all the crime occurring.”

“It can be a nice community,” said Denise Jackson, a Roosevelt Square owner. So far, however, she said it is “horrible.” She complained about frequent fights in the area and three burglaries in her building.

O’Connor reported “a little bit” of crime, while Mategrano said she had been told of numerous robberies.

Jackson moved to Roosevelt Square from a gated community on the North Side, Landmark Village, where “we did not have any of these problems,” she said. The difference was that everyone in the smaller Landmark Square development “was an owner.”

A history of renters

Dickson countered with an estimate that 40% of the residents of the older surrounding community are renters, saying the tenants contribute to the tax base with their rent and support local businesses. “They do everything that owners do for the neighborhood, except they do not attend community meetings,” he said.

Kelly agreed. A resident of Grenshaw Street, near Roosevelt Square, Kelly said, “I raised my two children here. I understand the parameters better than anybody.”

Ann Deuel, owner of a condominium in Roosevelt Square for four years, supports the proposed 2A plan. “I certainly have enjoyed Phase 1, but I would like to be able to walk around and see buildings instead of vacant lots,” Deuel said. “It seems a little isolated right now.”

Phase 2A would fill in several vacant lots with 193 for-sale condominiums as well as the two 60-unit apartment buildings, Dickson said.

Chicago police statistics show crime in Roosevelt Square and surrounding blocks is similar to other nearby communities. Beat 1232, which includes the east side of Roosevelt Square, had nine reported crimes in the first two weeks of July. Beat 1231, immediately west, also had nine. Most were thefts.

Beat 1213, which straddles the northern border of both Roosevelt Square beats, had 21 reported crimes. Three beats from the South Loop recorded 49, 11, and four crimes.

The proposed TIF amendment would extend the TIF for 12 years and increase its potential expenditures from $47 million to $87 million.

More than $190 million has been invested in Roosevelt Square, the city’s largest redevelopment project, and 80% of that figure is from private funds, according to Related Midwest.

To date, 591 units are in place. All of the for-sale units sold, with only four foreclosures, “the lowest rate in the city,” Kelly said. Phase 2 stalled when the recession occurred and potential buyers could not get mortgages, he noted, saying “We need help with that from the TIF.”

Deuel is tired of the disputes about the development, saying, “We all need to be working together to make our little world better.”

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