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Proposed Transit-Oriented Towers Return with Slight Changes

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Developers Rob Buono and Paul Utigard returned to Logan Square last night to present an updated version of a proposal to build two towers on Milwaukee Avenue, just a stone's throw from the California Blue Line station. And similar to the first meeting that took place last October, last night's meeting was presented to a large audience in a completely packed room. Residents who attended were given a folder that contained a few items: a printout of Blair Kamin's recent column about the merits of transit-oriented development, a letter of support from the Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA), a letter from the Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association (GGNA) that offers a number of recommendations, and finally a memo from the city's Department of Planning and Development that acknowledges the developer's participation in the Affordable Requirements Ordinance by setting aside a number of units for affordable housing.

The meeting kicked off on an intense note, with Alderman Moreno addressing the continued flyering throughout the neighborhood, calling the latest flyer "cowardly" and "misinformation." No doubt, Logan Square is experiencing some growing pains and this particular project more than others has become the lighting rod of criticism against gentrification.

So, how has the plan changed? Over the weekend, the GGNA released a letter that offered some insight regarding the major changes. The most noticeable change is in the project's height, going from a 15- and an 11-story tower to a 12- and 11-story tower. In total, the development would deliver 213 rental units to the area, down from the previously proposed 253 units. Parking has dropped from 71 spaces to 68 spaces. There will also be 21 affordable housing units, eight workforce units and ground level retail space has been bumped up to 9,000 square feet. Aesthetically, there hasn't been as dramatic of a change, as the dark, Mies-inspired design from Wheeler Kearns looks to be about the same as it did when it was formally unveiled last year. Beyond the numbers, Buono and team have announced that they have teamed up with the Chicago Sculpture Exhibit organization to bring public art to the 450' long property. Architect Jon Heinert was also on hand to show residents a scale model of the project.

The biggest difference between this meeting and last was not necessarily the changes to the proposal, but instead how the plan was presented. Throughout the presentation, Buono compared the project to the city's Milwaukee Avenue Corridor plan and attempted to show how the proposal fit in with the broader plan for the area. At times, the presentation didn't seem to be focused so much on the two towers specifically, as it seemed to be more focused on transit-oriented development and the Milwaukee Avenue Corridor plan.

Since the very beginning, the development's size, density and massing has been one the primary concerns among Logan Square residents, and this hasn't changed. Despite the updates, the most recent plan actually seems to be closer to the original plan that Buono unveiled to Curbed last July than the proposal that was presented in October. However, when comparing how much other TOD projects for the area have changed from start to finish, there's certainly a chance that there could be even more changes to come. For example, the California Avenue studio apartment proposal that was presented to the Chicago Plan Commission earlier this month is a completely different deal than the proposal that was first presented to the community several months prior. The same goes for the Property Markets Group proposal for Milwaukee Avenue. The original proposal looked like something that'd be better suited for Naperville than one of the hottest neighborhoods in Chicago, while the final proposal featured a complete redesign from Brininstool + Lynch.

While Alderman Moreno took a different approach to this meeting by having attendees submit written questions instead of having an open mic question and answer session, the meeting had very tense and at times, just downright unruly moments. Shouts from the back calling for a vote on the project were met with ejection from the room and affordable housing advocates lambasted the project. A variety of questions were asked, ranging from the estimated price of the retail space ($28-$34 per square foot), to which school young children would be eligible to attend (Goethe Elementary School, which currently has a waiting list), to estimated tenant retention and turnover (depending on the month, 1611 W Division has renewal rates from 77% to 55%). Others asked about the zoning change, and why it was so drastic. Buono reiterated that the proposal falls under the guidelines presented by the Milwaukee Avenue Corridor plan. And despite his partnership in the 1611 W Division deal, Mark Fishman is not involved with this project.

Despite how the proposal was framed, or how the presentation was conducted, it was pretty clear to many at the first meeting that the proposal was going to have a long battle to be built. And despite making some changes and framing the proposal as a game-changing TOD project or one that will fit in with a greater plan for the neighborhood, it's still very clear that Logan Square residents are going to continue their fight against this particular project. According to the alderman, no decision has been made yet, but he also stated that vacant lots are "unacceptable."

·Logan Square Dual Tower Proposal Faces Stiff Resistance [Curbed Chicago]
·Battle Over Logan Square Towers Reveals Generational Divide [Curbed Chicago]
·Logan Square Gearing Up for Battle Over Dual Tower Proposal [Curbed Chicago]
·Developer Proposes Dual Tower TOD for Milwaukee Avenue [Curbed Chicago]