The Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday approved a controversial plan to build a new Roosevelt Library at the base of a Chicago Housing Authority building on Taylor Street.
Roughly 560 Little Italy residents signed petitions urging the Plan Commission to put off a vote on the project, one of three in Chicago combining libraries with CHA housing, to give them more time to negotiate the size and scope of the project at 1350 W. Taylor.
“The community has not had an opportunity to provide input to the proposed location, the scale of the building, the number of rental units and types of units, parking and other intended uses. We need to know the overall plan for little Italy and the CHA land,” said Mary Beth Howard, a Little Italy resident.
Psychologist Michael Atella said his grandparents came to Chicago in 1913 and settled on the northeast corner of Taylor and Halsted.
“We’re used to diversity. . . . We’re not here objecting to this plan as racists or anything like that or to be acrimonious about the whole thing,” said Atella, noting that he loves to sit outside at night talking with neighbors from all racial and ethnic groups.
But Atella noted that there has been a “visible increase in crime,” which he fears will only be exacerbated by the CHA project.
Tommy Atella argued that a 9-to-1 ratio between low- and market-rate housing in a seven-story, 73-unit complex in Little Italy was a “train wreck” and a “prescription for neighborhood de-stabilization.”
“If low-income families with the usual stress of depression, anxiety and crime are lumped together, I believe that low expectations, stress and crime will continue. Thriving will not be in the vocabulary,” Tommy Atella said.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) countered that the new library that will anchor a seven-story CHA building will be a sorely needed “shot in the arm” to a Taylor Street commercial strip in “decline.”
Ervin also bristled at the suggestion that the project would open the door to increased crime.
“Poor does not equate crime. Just because one is poor does not mean they are prone to criminal activity. There are plenty of rich individuals who have been prone to criminal activity,” Ervin said.
Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman noted that the Roosevelt Square library is “one of three projects initiated by the mayor combining libraries and CHA housing.”
“It’s a very important initiative and also involved an architectural competition” won by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Reifman said. “This will be a tremendous addition to the city.”
The new library will have 73 units set aside for a mix of low-income renters, affordable housing and market-rate apartments. It’s part of Roosevelt Square, the massive redevelopment of what was once the ABLA homes.
Under pressure from area residents, Developer Jacques Sandberg has argued that it would be “impossible” to build a stand-alone library without the housing component, which makes the entire project eligible for tax credits and federal funding.
“Chicago Public Library is not flush with cash, and the city is strapped, so really, we’re looking at an empty bucket,” Sandberg told residents earlier this month.
Also on Thursday, the Plan Commission approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to sell a valuable North Side fleet maintenance site near the Chicago River and move the city facility to Englewood.
“We are supporting the mayor’s initiative for the 311 mobile upgrade. And most importantly, we are using proceeds to support construction of the public safety training academy on the West Side. These are very important public goals,” Reifman said.