JEFFERSON PARK — A 96-unit apartment building, a 265-space parking garage and eight shops will strike the “right balance” and help revitalize the Jefferson Park Business District, Ald. John Arena (45th) said Wednesday evening.
Several dozen residents at a community meeting were evenly divided on whether the project from Mega Realty that needs special permission from city officials, including Arena, to soar 12 stories on a triangular piece of property at 4849 N. Lipps Ave. would end decades of economic stagnation near Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues.
Approximately half of the crowd applauded when speakers said the project would benefit the neighborhood by transforming a long vacant lot where decades ago Cowhey Materials & Fuel Co. once mixed cement but is now adjacent to the Jefferson Park Transit Center.
But others applauded when speakers criticized the project as too big, too tall and too dense for Jefferson Park, where most residents live in single-family homes or two-flat apartment buildings.
Arena defended the project, saying it represented “an important step” in efforts to bring new life to the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in Jefferson Park, which the alderman said was “economically depressed.”
Arena, who vowed to make the revitalization of the Jefferson Park Business District his highest priority after winning re-election in April, has said the key to revitalizing neighborhood shopping districts — like the one in Jefferson Park centered at Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues — is to increase the amount of people living there to attract the shops and restaurants that will benefit the entire community.
“If you build it, they will come,” Arena said.
Ald. John Arena [45th] touted his support Wednesday for a 12-story mixed-use project, saying it struck the “right balance.” [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
The alderman said he rejected Mega Realty’s proposal several years ago to build a parking garage — with shops on the ground floor — for tenants of Veterans Square, where approximately 40 percent of the office space is vacant, as a “bad idea.”
“It was a bad idea because it did not bring in the people with wallets and change the dynamic that has kept this area economically flat,” Arena said.
The 12-story tower would fit in with the height of Veterans Square and the Copernicus Center, and would be buffered from nearby residents by the Kennedy Expressway, Metra railroad tracks and the Jefferson Park Transit Center, Arena said.
“This is the high bar,” Arena said in response to concerns that the development would set a precedent that would allow tall buildings elsewhere in the 45th Ward. “This type of development does not fit anywhere else.”
If the project included fewer residential units, it would not be financially feasible, Arena said.
Mega Realty, led by Demetrios “Jimmy” Kozonis, has told the alderman’s office that the lack of designated parking spots near Lipps and Higgins avenues has made it difficult to lease offices to tenants. The gravel-covered lot set to be developed is now used as overflow parking for the office building even though it is zoned for manufacturing uses.
“We are doing our best to make things happen in Jefferson Park,” Arena said, acknowledging that there is no guarantee that this project — along with a a four-story, 39-unit apartment complex and retail development on Lawrence Avenue supported by Arena — will ignite a rebirth in the Jefferson Park Business District.
The project is expected to generate $2.4 million in tax revenue for the city and spark 26,700 trips on public transportation during the 10 years after its completion, according to a study commissioned by the alderman’s office.
The project is not expected to worsen overcrowding at nearby Beaubien Elementary School, since most residents are expected to be empty-nesters looking to downsize from a home and young professionals looking for an apartment with easy access to transportation Downtown, Arena said.
Other concerns expressed by residents included increased traffic in an already-congested area and the location of a loading dock on Ainslie Street, along the route to Beaubien for many children.
The project would include 42 one-bedroom apartments that would rent for around $1,000 per month and 54 two-bedroom apartments that would rent for approximately $1,800, said Loukas Kozonis of Mega Realty.
Ten of the apartments would be set aside for low-income residents to comply with a city ordinance designed to increase the number of affordable housing units included in projects that need special permission or a subsidy from city officials.
The five-floor parking garage would include 96 parking spaces for residents, while the others would be used by tenants of the 10-story Veterans Square office tower. At night, the parking garage would be used by the Copernicus Center, which often hosts concerts and other events that draw large crowds.
For the last several years, the center has been using empty lots on the south side of Lawrence Avenue as overflow parking lots in what Arena has called a “quasi-legal” arrangement.
Several supporters of the project told Arena the 265-space parking garage was too big, and would encourage people to drive to Jefferson Park and then hop on the CTA Blue Line or Metra to get downtown.
Arena said he agreed, and would be happy to trade one floor of 53 parking spaces for 16 more apartments, and promised to ask the developer to consider the change.
Loukas Kozonis, of Mega Realty, said his firm wanted to provide its tenants with “diverse transportation options.”
“I’m confident there is a need for this parking,” Kozonis said.