LICNA may take city to court over Roosevelt Square
November 30, 2017

While new library facilities on Taylor Street are desirable, local residents want the City to provide more detailed information about the housing and parking aspects of the project.

By Susan S. Stevens

A community organization wants the courts to delay construction of a new Roosevelt Square project until it receives answers to some unanswered questions.

The Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association (LICNA) announced at its Nov. 16 meeting that it was asking an attorney to seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) to delay the start of construction of a new library with six stories of apartments above it.

LICNA Treasurer Doug Bartels said its board has for months sought answers to 20 to 30 questions it submitted to the Chicago Public Library (CPL), Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and the developer, Related Midwest.

“Why and when” decisions were made needs to be explained, said Jim Purgatorio, a LICNA board member. Attorney Enrico J. Mirabelli will act for free on behalf of LICNA, Purgatorio added.

“The group has contacted me to determine if there is a viable legal option to stop construction,” Mirabelli said. “If such an option exists, I have agreed to represent the organization on a pro bono basis.”

‘No transparency’

“There is no transparency,” a member of the audience, Vince Mancini, said. “It is just going to continue to snowball.” Mancini said he heard project leaders will cut the size of the community garden behind the proposed building, even though the developer had vowed it would not move the garden.

LICNA decided on the restraining order after the City Council approved the structure. More than 660 people signed petitions opposing the building, proposed for the site at Taylor and Ada Streets.

“It has cleared all the City hurdles,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said at the meeting. The developer, Related Midwest, will hold a hiring fair this winter, he added. The developer had not issued dates for the fair as of press time.

The plan calls for a 17,000 square foot branch library on the sidewalk level, with six upper floors containing 73 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Of those, seven will rent at market rate, with 37 for CHA residents and 29 offered at affordable rents.

“This innovative partnership will create new affordable housing and a valuable neighborhood resource,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said earlier.

Observers estimated about half the current area residents favored the plan. Many of those opposed have objected to one or more factors: the project’s size, mix of occupants, height, design, and resulting loss of parking.

The number of low-income units drew the ire of many despite the site being on land formerly occupied by the ABLA public housing project before the CHA tore it down and displaced its residents. They rejected the argument that 53 upscale townhouses to be built on Fillmore and Grenshaw Streets will balance area income levels.

Members of LICNA are upset that its list of more than 20 questions regarding the proposed Roosevelt Square library/apartment development is being ignored by the City, the CHA, and the Chicago Public Library.

‘Want apartments back’

“We want apartments to come back,” said Mary Baggett, president of the ABLA Residents Council and a LICNA board member who noted that not everyone can afford to buy a house. “It is actually CHA land.”

Several LICNA leaders spoke against the plan at a City hearing. “We may have lost this battle, but we will be better prepared to fight in the future,” said Ted Mazola, a LICNA founder and former alderman in the area.

City financial aid will include $26 million in housing revenue bonds, $1.2 million in donations tax credit equity (available to donors to encourage them to invest in affordable housing), and $7 million in tax increment financing. CHA commissioners Oct. 17 authorized $15.8 million for the development.

Emanuel on Oct. 11 introduced to the City Council the financial measures necessary to construct the $36.1 million building.

“Chicago will be one of the first cities using this type of partnership between housing and libraries to benefit and beautify our neighborhoods, and I look forward to it serving as a model for cities across the nation,” the mayor said.

Area residents also complained about the building’s seven-story height, saying it would overshadow other buildings in the area; the largely glass façade; and the loss of the vacant lot now used for parking, which has about 50 cars in it most days. Architect Brian Lee redesigned the building so that setbacks along Taylor make it appear lower.

Parking ‘alternative’

Officials are offering a vacant lot on the southwest corner of Taylor and Racine Streets as a parking alternative. Gravel has replaced grass in the lot.

“We are proceeding with the project as announced at community meetings,” CHA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan said, emphasizing that “This is a CHA redevelopment site.” She added, “We are moving forward. We are moving at a pace that has never been seen before.” She expected groundbreaking before the end of the year.

Also moving forward is a plan for SCIO at the Medical District, a 19-story apartment and commercial building on the northeast corner of Taylor and Ashland Avenue. The Chicago Plan Commission gave its nod Oct. 19 for the structure, which will replace a two-story parking garage with 254 rental apartments, retail space, and 245 parking spaces. Six apartments will be affordable, partly subsidized, with the SCIO developer is putting $2.37 million into the City’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund because the number of subsidized units does not meet City requirements.