Heated exchanges, community center proposal highlight Peoria St. meetingSeptember 4, 2015
By Hayley Carlton
In a meeting organized by the West Loop Community Organization (WLCO), community members packed the Merit School of Music recently to protest a planned condominium building at 111 S. Peoria St. Some suggested a community center for the site.
Although LG Construction + Development has scaled down the proposed residential building’s size, changed the original plans from rentals to condos, and stated the building would feature a 24-hour doorman, some local residents expressed concern about fire safety and their property values. Other residents stated the building would rob them of their existing views.
“No one is promised a view,” said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th Ward), resulting in an angry reaction from some of the meeting’s attendees. Burnett said he does not make “decisions based on views” because “everything blocks someone’s views.”
“It’s lawful to block all of my light?“ asked a woman in the audience. Another woman in the audience asked Burnett “You said that people’s views don’t matter. Could you please tell me what does matter?”
Burnett replied that he “considers reasonable things.”
“Could you give three examples?” she pressed. Burnett said he considers things such as what community organizations think and what the Department of Planning says.
“I almost feel like I should be praying,” said Burnett, at the beginning of the meeting, referring to the community opposition at previous meetings on the topic. It was that opposition at a meeting in June that caused Burnett to withdraw support from a proposal to build rental apartments on the property.
LG Construction + Development is seeking a zoning change for the property, currently a parking lot, to build a nine-story plus penthouse building for 95 condo units. The property is zoned DS-3; LG wants that changed to DX-5. LG does not own the land but has an agreement to buy it for $6.25 million pending the zoning change.
Burnett said his rule about new developments setting aside part of its units for affordable housing would apply to this development, noting the set-asides are “not low-income housing; it’s affordable housing” explaining that affordable means a unit that might sell for $400,000 on the open market would sell for about $200,000 and therefore be available for people with lower incomes.
Some audience members told Burnett they would prefer a field house for Mary Bartelme Park, which is across the street, to a new highrise. “I would put a field house in Skinner Park first,” said Burnett.
Thomas Comforte, who serves on the West Central Association (WCA) board of directors, supported the proposal. “All of you are in your condos because of zoning changes,” he said. Attendees booed Comforte when he said he did not live in the area.
Armando Chacon, WCA president, said at the meeting that WCA would support the project now, but did not support it when the developer proposed rentals instead of condos.
Michael Ezgur, an attorney representing LG Construction + Development, said, “There are no changes” anticipated to the development any longer, adding that previous meetings “have resulted in changes to the building.”
Ezgur believes that most of the current opposition is coming from residents in neighboring buildings, and that issues regarding safety and views have already been addressed and covered at previous meetings.
“There are some people that you are never going to please,” Ezgur said.Community center
After the meeting, some community members presented their vision of what they want in that spot: a two-story community center. “Community members have raised $2 million to purchase the land,” said Richard Dees, who supports the center. If built, he said the center would feature underground parking to replace the parking spaces that the property presently provides.
“We wouldn’t be able to provide a library, but we would have a media center.” Dees added the center would include a gym, multipurpose space, and overflow space for organizations such as Merit School of Music.
Dees said the community center would cost about $10 million, to be raised through “fundraising,” and that residents would hold on to the land until the rest of the money was raised.
A group called West Loop Residents Association started a petition for the community center on GoPetition.com; more than 360 people have signed. The group also set up a Facebook page for the community center and distributed literature at the meeting to promote it.
Not everyone feels enthusiastic about a community center, however.
“I’m not opposed to a community center, but I would much rather be a block away from a luxury condo building than a community center that is poorly maintained and supervised,” said local resident Nikki Kantor, who noted she has lived by badly run community centers in the past and questioned who would clean the bathrooms if the center opened.
“We don’t have any comment, because it [the community center] is speculative at this point,” Carla Agostininelli, WLCO executive director. Agostininelli said it is up to Burnett to organize any future meetings.