AJ LaTrace, Curbed Chicago
The ambitious, and equally controversial, proposal to redevelop the Julia C. Lathrop Homes along the Chicago River’s North Branch was presented to the Chicago Plan Commission, where it was discussed for three hours before receiving approval.
The proposal comes from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and a group of stakeholders called the Lathrop Community Partners, which is made up of the developers Related Midwest, Bikerdike Redevelopment Corporation, and Heartland Housing. While referred to as a “transformational” and “cutting edge project” by the Lathrop Community Partners, the plan has been the target of criticism from affordable housing advocates, preservationists, and even another City Council member. According to Jacques Sandberg of Related Midwest, this Planned Development has been in the works for the last five years and represents tens of millions of dollars in development that could not only reshape Lathrop, but also the surrounding areas. The housing project, which initially opened with 925 public housing units in the 1930s, will be redeveloped as a mixed-use and mixed-income project. And while the plan has evolved and received the support of various groups, Friends of the Chicago River as one example, yesterday’s presentation seemed to leave some Plan Commission members confused and community members in attendance divided.
While the project will take years to complete from start to finish, the Planned Development presented yesterday only includes specific details for the first phase, which will focus on the area north of Diversey Parkway. The Planned Development does however spell out the parameters and sets limitations for the remaining phases. According to the plan as it was presented, the redevelopment will include a total of 1,208 residential units and 50,000 square feet of commercial space. When asked for a percentage breakdown of the residences by Alderman Joe Moore, LCP’s Jacques Sandberg stated that 36% of the units will be public housing, 20% will be affordable, and 44% will be market rate rentals. (400 public housing, units 222 affordable, and 494 market rate units).
In addition, the plan seeks to create or restore 11 acres of park space as well as a half-mile stretch of pedestrian riverwalk. Fourteen of Lathrop’s historic brick housing buildings will be preserved during the first phase, and will have their exteriors restored to the way they looked when they were new in the late 1930s. The two-acre Great Lawn designed by Jens Jensen will also be restored and reworked by prominent landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh. If approved by the Chicago City Council, work on the first phase could start later this year and be completed by 2018.
After the proposal was presented, Plan Commission members had numerous questions about the timeline, parameters and requested zoning change. The Plan Commission did indicate that the proposal was “appropriate for the area” and “consistent with the density of surrounding areas,” however there was some uncertainty about the specifics for later phases. When asked why the LCP seeks a change from B-2 zoning to C by Alderman Tom Tunney, the LCP indicated that this zoning was needed because specific live/work scenarios are not allowed under B zoning. While the plan for the redevelopment includes 400 public housing units, Lathrop once had over 900 public housing units. When asked what will happen to the “missing” public housing units, Alderman Joe Moreno (1st) touted a written commitment from the Chicago Housing Authority to return those units to the North Side. Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. (27th) praised Bikerdike, Related Midwest and Heartland Housing for their work in his ward, but stated that he hoped that the area would continue to be a diverse housing project. “Lathrop has been one of the most diverse housing projects in Chicago, with everyone living in harmony,” Burnett stated. “It’d be beautiful to see all of those folks get to come back and really enjoy the community. They were living in deplorable conditions so it’d be good to see them have some decent places to live.”
One final uncertainly was where Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd) stood on the proposal. While Ald. Waguespack was not at the presentation, his chief of staff Paul Sajovec was in attendance and spoke on behalf of the alderman. According to Sajovec, Ald. Waguespack was not prepared to support the proposal for a few reasons. The first being the use of TIF for the project, which has been another point of contention in the community. A second reason was the plan to build high-rises (six stories) on the site, stating that the city hasn’t had much success with high-rises for public housing projects in the past. Finally, Ald. Waguespack was concerned about the amount of commercial space, which had initially started off at 25,00 square feet and doubled to 50,000 square feet.
Audience members also appeared divided. Dozens of attendees wore bright green shirts that read “Quality Housing for Lathrop Residents.” The shirts also featured the logos of Related Midwest, Bikerdike Redevelopment Corporation, and Heartland Housing. During the question and answer period, there were numerous pleas that the Plan Commission delay the vote until there was a clear plan for the 500 missing public housing units. A member of Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s zoning committee called the plan an effort to “tear down a mixed-income community” while leaving more families “to choose between rent and health care.” However, Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller supported the plan. Miller said that approving the first phase plan “is a positive sign in so many ways as the north development emphasizes preservation.”
In his plea to his colleagues, Alderman Moreno continually suggested that the planning has taken too long and that the redevelopment needed to move forward. Moreno also suggested that there were many requests from various community groups asking everything from having the project be entirely made up of public housing to having no public housing.
While, the Planned Development that was presented yesterday creates the guidelines and parameters for the entire redevelopment, Commissioner Patricia Scudiero issued a motion to approve only the first phase of the project. The motion received support from two other Plan Commission members, and will require the CHA and LCP to return to the Plan Commission for approval for the following phases.
·Lathrop Redevelopment Proposal Heading to Plan Commission[Curbed Chicago]
·A First Look at the Lathrop Homes Redevelopment Plan [Curbed Chicago]
·Lathrop Homes Redevelopment Plan to Be Revealed Next Week[Curbed Chicago]