Dozens of Galewood residents packed Ald. Chris Taliaferro's (29th) ward office on Oct. 3 to express their opposition to the proposed redevelopment three lots at 6600-6700 W. North Avenue, with many complaining that they felt like they were being kept in the dark about the project.
Noah Properties, a developer based in Albany Park, is looking to build an 80-unit, three-building luxury apartment complex that would be made up of two-bedroom units, most of which would be leased for $1,800 a month — 10 percent of which would be affordable.
While original plans called for one parking spot per unit, the developer subsequently revised it to an average of one spot per 1.7 units, with the number of parking spaces each household gets determined by whether they own one or two cars.
The majority of the residents that attended the meeting argued that the development would be too dense and filled with renters, who some attendees argued are not as invested in the neighborhood as homeowners. They also feared that the development would increase traffic issues.
Taliaferro argued that Galewood businesses along North and Harlem Avenues have been struggling to stay afloat. He hopes that developments similar to the Noah Properties proposal will create enough foot traffic to help those businesses grow their customer bases. At the same time, the alderman insisted that the decision wasn't final and residents' wishes will be taken into account as the project progresses.
During the meeting, Taliaferro explained that the development would span across the former U.S. Bank branch building, the bank's parking lot and the parking lot currently used by the Redeemer Church of Chicago — not, the alderman emphasized, the church itself. All three parcels are owned by a Galewood resident who was approached by Noah Properties about the project.
Taliaferro insisted that, contrary to rumors that have spread over social media, the development isn't eligible for the Housing Choice Voucher program (formerly Section 8), even though the developers agreed to build affordable housing on site.
Under the City of Chicago's Affordable Requirements Ordinance, developments made up of at least 10 units should make 10 percent of the units affordable, either on-site or off-site, or pay a fee.
The amount of rent on the affordable units can't be more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income. If all utilities are included, Noah Properties would have to lease the affordable two-bedroom units for no more than $1,067. If only heat is included, that cap drops to $1,002. If utilities aren't included at all, the cap drops further to $934.
The developer is looking to build a three-story building, which would require a zoning change. Because the city traditionally defers to local aldermen when it comes to approving zoning changes, Taliaferro effectively has the power to either approve or deny it.
Because he wanted to make the process transparent, Taliaferro said, he had Noah Properties meet with his North Avenue Business Development Committee on Sept. 5. Taliaferro then held a public meeting on Sept. 20. The meeting on Oct. 3, and one scheduled to take place in Oct. 11, are designed to get more feedback from residents.
"Community input — that's going to weight whether we pursue it," Taliaferro said.
When asked about how the committee was picked, the aldermen said that they were all volunteers and any 29th Ward resident who wants to join is welcome to do so. The committee meets every first Tuesday of the month at the ward office at 6:00 p.m.
Some of the residents raised concerns about Noah Properties. A July 13 CBS Chicago report stated that the company was sued by residents of one of its condominiums, alleging that it was designed with "dangerous and unsafe conditions."
Taliaferro replied that he hadn't had any issues with the properties the company built and managed in his ward. He said that, while he was aware that the lawsuit was filed, he didn't know any details.
Resident Verlia Thomas said she was worried about the tenants the development would attract.
"We have so many strange people walking in the area already," she said. "You're talking about more buildings, more strange people walking around."
Resident Duane Watts had a similar concern.
"I don't care if you charge $1,800," he said. "There are certain people you want to live here, and certain people that you don't."
Resident Rachel Davis argued that apartment-dwellers didn't have as much investment in the neighborhood as property owners.
"I prefer town homes and people who are more invested in the community," she said.
Resident Ray Smith, said he was uncomfortable with the implications.
"I don't think it's fair for us to assume that [people who will live in the development] are riff-riff," he said. "Maybe my son might move in one of those apartments."
Even if the apartments were Section 8 housing, it is unfair to make sweeping judgements, Smith said.
"I was raised up in Section 8 — I didn't turn out bad."
Taliaferro said that one of the major reasons why he supports denser developments is because they might help Galewood's struggling commercial corridors.
"One thing I noticed, and not just along North Avenue but along Harlem as well, is that we're losing lots of businesses," he said. "One of the biggest problems that we're having is keeping businesses afloat, because they weren't getting the traffic."
Taliaferro said that, while he recognized residents' concerns about density, be believed that having denser developments and encouraging walkability would help reverse the trend.
"I would say one of the benefits of having foot traffic on North Avenue is that we're able to keep businesses open," he said.
The alderman cited Chase Bank as an example.
"We lost Chase for a couple of reasons," Taliaferro said. "One of the reasons that we lost Chase was because banking has changed. We can now go to ATMs to deposit checks, deposit cash.
"Most things you could only do [by walking into a branch], you can now do on your phone," he said. "The other reason is that there wasn't enough traffic going into the bank to justify [operating a branch]. I heard that straight from the manager."
Dushawn Luttery, who said he has been living in Galewood for the past 30 years, argued that a better way to address the issue would be to encourage mixed-use development, with retail on the first floor, above resident units.
"If you just put apartments there, foot traffic goes nowhere," he said.
Taliaferro responded that one of the first things he asked Noah Properties was if they were interested in building precisely that kind of development – only to receive a firm 'no.'
Lee Owens, president of the North Avenue Business Association, felt that residents were too resistant to development for Galewood's own good.
"The conception that business people have of North Avenue is that [residents] will shut down any kind of business," he said. "We got to talk to people, and be open-minded, but at the same time, let them know where they stand."
Ultimately, Owens agreed with Taliaferro.
"If you want to get grocery stores and steakhouses and places like this, you need to have people living on North Avenue," he said.
The next meeting on the issue will take place on Oct. 11 at Rutherford Sayer Park field house, 871 W. Belden Ave., at 6 p.m.
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