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405-unit ‘Union West’ apartment plan formally introduced to West Loop neighbors

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Known as Union West, the mixed-use development would deliver 405 rental units and 232 parking spaces

Image courtesy of bKL Architecture

Last night, scores of West Loop residents braved the bitter windchill to attend a public meeting where a 405-unit apartment development proposed for the block bordered by Washington, Sangamon, Morgan, and Madison officially broke cover. Slated for land currently owned by The Haymarket Center for addiction treatment, the so-called Union West project comes from developers ZOM Mid-Atlantic & Verde Communities and Chicago-based bKL Architecture. Union West’s footprint is rather unique as it consists of three smallish rectangular lots (currently a pair of surface parking lots and an unremarkable single-story building) linked via a central mid-block spine.

Like a perfect gas from chemistry class, the lower portion of the proposed development—consisting of parking, loading docks, lobbies, and retail bays—expands to completely fill the available volume. Things change a bit as the development rises and its three distinct masses emerge. Instead of stretching out to the property line as allowed under the site’s Downtown Mixed (DX) zoning, the upper levels step back 12 feet as a courtesy to create an added buffer between the new development and the block’s existing residential buildings.

Image courtesy of bKL Architecture

Union West’s three mid- and high-rise components would rise to a height of 8, 15, and 17 stories—representing a reduction from the 8-, 17-, and 19-story plan that was discussed prior to the project’s public debut. The height, massing, and material of each building are modulated and articulated in a way designed to break things up a bit visually. While Union West may be taller than many of the West Loop projects in the pipeline, it’s also considerably thinner. Such a layout allows more light and air to reach the streetscape versus some of the neighborhood’s more recent wide, blob-like massings.

The materials of Union West also offer a fresh take on the standard post-industrial West Loop aesthetic. Thomas Kerwin of bKL architecture describes the exterior treatment as a “tripartite” design—consisting of a lower portion clad in brick and metal, parking levels screened by opaque glass framed in metal, and an upper portion that transitions into architectural precast and airy glass. A centrally-located amenity deck with a pool occupies the top of the podium and would be shared by the three apartment components.

Image courtesy of bKL Architecture

The proposal would be served by 232 off-street parking spaces with 64 reserved exclusively for the Haymarket Center and the remainder serving Union West’s 405 apartment units. A transit-oriented development (TOD), the project features a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom floor plans aimed at attracting younger urban singles and couples expected to work in the neighborhood or downtown and forgo personal car ownership. Apartments will roughly range between 500 and 1,400 square feet and rent between $2,000 and $4,000, according to the developers.

Given the West Loop’s history of opposition to new developments taller than about nine stories in height, last night’s neighborhood reception to the Union West project was unsurprisingly icy. The aforementioned reduction from 19 to 17 stories was little consolation to some in attendance. One resident even went as far as saying the meeting was a “waste of time” considering that the community has made its thoughts on tall buildings, renters, and low parking ratios well known in the past.

The development team is hoping for a zoning bump from DX-3 to DX-5 with an additional 3.1 points of floor area ratio (FAR) to be purchased via Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus program. Local 25th Ward Alderman (and Chairman of Chicago’s Committee on Zoning) Danny Solis was not in attendance last night but did send a representative from his office. A follow up meeting regarding the project seems likely to take place at a future date to be determined.

Image courtesy of bKL Architecture