Rogers Park residents like highrise design, object to lakefront location

To a standing room only audience at Loyola Park Wednesday, Connie Abels, President of Re/Max North Shore, presented her plans to build a seven-story, 79' mixed use development project at 7015 N. Sheridan Road on land protected by the Lakefront Protection Ordinance.

The meeting, sponsored by Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) in an effort to get community input, was packed with residents, developers, real estate agents and small business owners. Attendees spilled into the adjacent hallway.

Kevin O'Neal, Chairman of the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Advisory Committee moderated the meeting for the Alderman's office.

Moore kicked off the meeting with a brief history of the Advisory Committee and a summary of project steps taken to date. He asked that people speak their mind then, to chuckles from attendees, acknowledged that he didn't really have to say that, it was Rogers Park.

Presented to Moore's committee last October as an eleven-story, 121' building with a different design, it was rejected twice by the committee due to the height of the structure. Each subsequent rendering was shorter than the last until Abels requested that this draft be brought before the community for their feedback.

Abels began her presentation with a brief history of her twenty-five year tenure in Rogers Park and with the property currently under advisement. She noted that she raised her daughter in the house which will be torn down to be replaced by the development.

She is a Director of the Rogers Park Community Council, DevCorp North, the Rogers Park Builders Group and was on the Sheridan Road Advisory committee, revelations which would haunt her later in the meeting. She presented Jonathon Split, the architect affiliated with JSA Architects and her zoning lawyer James Banks.

Split took to the podium to present the details and answer questions after the presentation.

The detailed plans for the structure revealed 4500 sq. ft. of commercial space on the ground floor, a three floor parking garage with thirty spaces, four condominiums on the next two stories and a rooftop restaurant on the seventh story. The condominiums and restaurant will have open terraces. There will be two setbacks to avoid overwhelming the adjacent structures.

Next was the three dimensional depiction of the structure in relation to the adjacent buildings. This was shown from various viewpoints and Split explained that they tried to minimize the shadow that would be cast on the neighboring courtyard in the design. The presentation was well received as was the building and the concept. A view was also shown looking east to the lake from Sheridan Rd.

Split explained that the parking is what drove the height of the building. This was an important aspect of Abel's plan because only four of the spots are reserved for the condominium owners, the other twenty-six will be available for neighbors to rent on a monthly basis. Abels presently rents the eight parking spaces on her existing lot and said she always has a waiting list.

Jim Banks spoke next and gave a brief presentation on the zoning issues involved and the Lakefront Protection Ordinance relief that would be necessary to move forward. The building is currently zoned R-4 and would have to be zoned B-3-5 to accommodate the restaurant, the parking garage and the commercial space. They are requesting that a unique planned development district be created.

On the Lakefront Protection Ordinance he explained that a review is needed no matter what is built in areas covered by this act. The height of the building needs approval because nothing over 42' is allowed east of Sheridan Rd. If the advisory committee approves of the plan it would have to go to the planning commission, the zoning board and finally before the full City Council.

The meeting was then open for questions or comments. It was requested that people identify themselves and where they live.

Most of the attendees who asked questions lived in the immediate vicinity of the project. One resident asked how many people a 2800 sq. ft. restaurant would seat. Abels said, 'I don't know how many people a 2800 sq. ft. restaurant will hold – that's not my business.' Split responded that he believed it would hold thirty to forty people.

Martha Dwyer asked a question which was echoed by many others. 'Where do the restaurant people park? You have a 2800 sq. ft restaurant seating thirty to forty people and outside terraces. This is not a well thought out plan. So this is a restaurant with no parking.' Abels responded, 'There are 150 metered spaces' in the area. 'They have twelve hour meters. People will find a place and walk.' She pointed out that several restaurants in the area have no parking. She admitted that the plan was 'not going to address everything, but it's not going to hurt anything either.'

Another resident pointed out that there are many empty storefronts in the neighborhood and suggested that 'the alderman and DevCorp should get the empty storefronts filled before we look at this proposal.' Abels assured the residents that she was working with a restaurant broker and DevCorp on that issue to which a man responded 'then point them to Morse or Howard.' two streets which abound with vacant storefronts.

They were pounded with questions. 'How does this protect the lakefront on each point'; the Lakefront Protection Ordinance has fourteen points which form 'the basic policies which shall govern present and future development programs for Chicago's lakefront.' Split and Banks agreed that all fourteen points could not be covered in this meeting.

Rogers Park residents were the driving force behind this ordinance in 1952 when they stopped an assault by developers and prevented their neighborhood from resembling south Sheridan Rd. in Edgewater.

One resident specifically said she wanted to' keep Sheridan Rd. in Rogers Park from looking like Mary Ann Smith's Ward. (48th)' She warned that 'this is the beginning. This is profit oriented.' Another resident agreed, 'If we give it away now, it's the first shot across the bow.'

The mood grew more anxious when a resident revealed Rogers Park was mentioned as being eligible for Mayor Daley's developer density bonuses as reported in the Chicago Sun Times. 'Lake View, Edgewater and Rogers Park are just some of the transit-friendly neighborhoods that could be in line for expansion.' The density bonuses 'allow developers to build bigger and taller projects than local zoning would otherwise allow.'

Katy Hogan, who grew up in Rogers Park and owns the Heartland Café with Michael James, spoke directly to Ms. Abels. She said 'I appreciate the meeting, you didn't have to do this. It was a classy presentation. It's a unique and lovely plan -- .but I oppose it.' She too warned those in attendance that they had better come up with a plan for the area and soon or it will be too late.

Several people spoke up and thought it would be great to have another restaurant. Mary Bell noted that when Café Suron went in on Pratt everyone objected but 'they love it now. I love the idea of something new and different. Part of change and the diversity of the community is to embrace new ideas.' A man grumbled, 'then put it on Morse.'

Others noted there are successful restaurants in the neighborhood that don't have parking and it isn't a problem. The Heartland Café is one. To counter a man pointed out that several restaurants have failed in that area. Abels responded that the last restaurant was overpriced and no one could afford it, she envisioned her rooftop restaurant with a view of the lake as serving $7 sandwiches and costing an average of $20 per meal. She also promised not to start building until she had a restaurant on board.

A gentleman spoke up and recalled how they started Heartland on the Beach which became a prototype for restaurants on the lake. He asked the community to think about how many jobs it would create.

A developer spoke up and said that people in Rogers Park have to get used to change it was happening all around them.

Jim Ginderske had a question for the zoning attorney. He noted his name was Jim Banks. Then he asked, 'Is Alderman Banks, the head of the zoning committee your father?' He acknowledged it was his uncle. Jim then lit into Abels and said 'you told us you couldn't find a copy of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance anywhere. You've been on DevCorp, RPCC, you hire the biggest gun. I'm a business owner, I know the laws.' Referring to Banks he said, 'Don't you think this might have some effect when you go before the zoning board?' Abels explained that she knew him long before this project started.

As the meeting moved into its second hour, Abels made an appeal to the neighbors. She said 'I live here, I work here, I raised my daughter here. This is my neighborhood too. I'm not going anywhere.' I wanted 'to leave this as a legacy to the neighborhood. It's a beautiful and unique building.' She explained the reason she provided so much parking is because she knows what an issue it is and she wanted to do something for the community. A man said, 'Then build a parking garage.'

Split stood up in her defense saying that she wanted to do something to accent the area. She was approaching this as something personal. She was trying to do good and get a little retirement income.

Questions were raised about the narrow alley and the traffic that would be created by delivery trucks. What would happen in the summer when everyone comes down there to go to the beach. A question was raised as to the concept itself; could you really see the lake from a restaurant on the seventh story with taller co-op buildings to the east. Immediate neighbors were worried about noise, rats, garbage and security. Split said the garbage was enclosed in the building by law and explained the security.

Her ability to manage a development of that size was questioned by more than one neighbor.

A fireman noted that 79' was the magic number for a building height. Split said the building had a sprinkler system throughout, wet on the upper floors and dry on the lower.

One man pointed out that all over Rogers Park there is no rooftop access to see the view of the lake and it would be refreshing to have that ability.

But objections continued, voiced mostly by people who had grown up in the neighborhood or had lived there over twenty years.

More than one brought up the numerous times these plans have been proposed and rejected each time. One person said, 'We don't want to beat up on you -- it's just too high.' Repeatedly it was suggested to be a great project for Morse or Howard or the Gateway areas which are economically depressed and in need of revitalization, but not Sheridan Road.

In August 2005 DevCorp North released a study that identified three regional trade areas, Morse Ave., Howard St. and Jarvis Square. The study noted that a recent survey of Rogers Park residents found that the second most desired new type of business was a restaurant. It also showed that 'there are far more potential customers per restaurant within a half mile walking distance of the Clark Street and Morse Avenue commercial corridors than the rest of the region -- .Consumer expenditure for restaurants in that area is expected to increase 8% -- by 2010.'

As the meeting went on it became more contentious with people telling Abels to put up a parking garage or to just build condos. One woman who lives next door said a building that size sandwiched in that lot would block all of the sunlight in her living room. Though all present thought it was a beautiful design and a wonderful concept, the main objection was - not on the lakefront.

Alderman Moore brought the two hour meeting to a close and summed up by saying they would go back to the advisory committee with the comments. Split had already acknowledged that they had made no filings and had not officially begun the process with the city.

Moore believed the community response represented a 50/50 or 60/40 split on the project and promised to keep residents up to date on the progress. He ended the meeting by saying though the advisory committee reviews the plans, 'the buck stops at my desk. I make the final call.'