The April 24 meeting at Rutherford Sayre Fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave., was supposed to be public’s last opportunity to provide input on the proposed redevelopment of the closed Sears at the northeast corner of North and Harlem Avenues.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) had announced on his social media accounts and in his official ward newsletter that residents of his ward would have a chance to vote on whether they want the project to proceed.
He held a similar public voting process for the luxury apartment development that was proposed at 6600-6700 W. North Ave., which would have included, among other things, the former U.S. Bank site.
But during the April 24 meeting, Taliaferro said that he decided to postpone the vote because there were too many unknowns: the traffic study would not be finished until the end of April, there were still discussions about reducing density and developer Tucker Development was still in negotiations with the city regarding how many affordable units would be included in the development.
Taliaferro said that, when he does decide to hold the vote again, residents will be able to weigh in by phone, in person, by e-mail and through Facebook comments. The alderman wasn’t prepared to give a precise date for when the voting would happen.
The Sears redevelopment project has attracted attention not only in Galewood, but in neighboring Oak Park, River Forest and Elmwood Park, since the property happens to be located at the spot where the four communities converge.
Although it is up to the Chicago City Council to sign off on any zoning changes, the Council traditionally defers to the wishes of the aldermen whose wards those changes are located in.
For the earlier U.S Bank site project, Taliaferro promised to follow the wishes of the community and when the residents overwhelmingly spoke out against the project, he followed their lead and did not recommend that the project go forward.
During Taliaferro’s March 25 community meeting, Tucker Development unveiled their plans for the property. It called for turning the Sears store building into a mixed-use development, with branches of an unnamed “national grocery store” chain and “national health club” chain occupying the first floor, apartments on the existing second and third floors, and two more floors built on top above them.
The developers are also planning to build apartments and townhomes on the parking lot north of the Bank of America building, with the buildings wrapping around a resident-only parking lot in the middle.
During that meeting, most residents who spoke said they were concerned about density, an increase in traffic and the fact that most of the new units would be apartments rather than condos.
Since then, Taliaferro has held two more public meetings about the project, as well as private meetings with residents of the nearby blocks. He said that he asked Tucker Development to remove 18 out of 27 townhouses and replace them with green space. He said that they will talk about more potential reductions, but he was conscious of the fact that the project has to make financial sense to the developer.
“My goal is to reduce the numbers that they’re presenting us with,” Taliaferro said. “They have to figure out what’s best for them, [just] as the community has to figure out what’s best for the community.”
He said that, ultimately, he hopes to find a solution that would be palpable for both the residents and the developers. When asked whether he had an alternative plan if Tucker Development simply decides to look elsewhere, Taliaferro said that that he did not.
Residents were also concerned about affordable housing. Galewood housing activist William Smiljanich called for 16 of the units to be affordable, arguing that the new development could increase property values and tax bills, potentially pushing long-time residents out of the community.
“We, as the community, are entitled to have some units [that are] affordable to us and our children,” he said.
Taliaferro responded that this is something the city and the developer are currently discussing.
While most of the residents who spoke at the March 25 meetings expressed reservations about the project, the April 24 meeting was more evenly split between opponents and supporters. The supporters argued that the vacant site hurts nearby businesses by being an eyesore and that a mixed-use development could bring in more customers.
“In regards to changes in density, that would be good, but the way things are looking at North and Harlem Avenues now, it’s not attractive,” said Lacey Harris
Guisepinna Mancuse argued that leaving the site as is would hurt area homeowners.
“My concern is that if we don’t do anything, guess what, our property values will go down,” she said. “More than in our last [2008 housing] bubble.”
Most of the opponents who spoke said they lived on the nearby stretches of Nortica Avenue, and that people who live further away don’t understand how the development would affect them.
“I’m not against the commercial part, which is the grocery store and [the fitness center], because it will bring revitalization to the community and the schools,” said David Guzman, adding that he was concerned about how traffic would affect his kids.
State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th), who attended the April 24 meeting, urged compromise.
“Not everyone is going to be happy with everything,” she said. “It is time for us to put our hands together and move the community forward. So, I want to thank the alderman for continuing to bring projects and the committee that he works with. It is part of growth and development. This is what makes the community better.”