Albany Park development details don’t ease residents’ gentrification worries

SHARE Albany Park development details don’t ease residents’ gentrification worries
lawrencekedziebeforeafter.jpg

The current Lawrence-Kedzie Self Storage building (left), 3215 W. Lawrence Ave., and how it would look in a rendering supplied by Kolbrook Design. | Patty Wetli photo

A standing-room-only crowd of Albany Park residents turned out on a frigid Wednesday night to learn more about a mixed-use development proposed for the site of the Lawrence-Kedzie Self Storage building, and what they heard did little to allay concerns about increasing gentrification in the neighborhood.

Nick Ftikas, a zoning attorney representing the developer, noted that the plan for 27 apartments — 14 one-bedroom, 4 one-bedroom-plus-den and 9 two-bedroom units — would add housing where none exists. Neighbors countered that the preponderance of one-bedroom units, with monthly rents expected to start at $1,200, aren’t what the community’s working-class families need.

“We’ve lost 200 kids over the last five years because of gentrification,” said Scott Ahlman, principal of Hibbard Elementary, where the meeting was held.

“I’ve seen a lot of families displaced and I don’t know where they went,” he said, including 25 students whose families were evicted from a single building in 2017.

Ald. Deborah Mell (33rd), who hosted the forum, said Communities United and the non-profit Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation had proposed converting the storage building, 3215 W. Lawrence Ave., into all-affordable-housing, but that fell through.

“We couldn’t make the numbers work,” said Diane Limas, board president of Communities United, an organization instrumental in pushing the City Council to pass the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance.

Architect Ryan Arnaudov discusses plans for the Lawrence-Kedzie Self Storage building at a public meeting on Wednesday. | Patty Wetli

Architect Ryan Arnaudov discusses plans for the Lawrence-Kedzie Self Storage building at a public meeting on Wednesday. | Patty Wetli

Developer Spiro Arsenis has committed to designating four units — likely three one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom apartment — as affordable, Ftikas said; that’s one more than the 10 percent of units required by city ordinance. Neighbors want two of the two-bedroom units earmarked as affordable, a point Mell said she would press.

The development requires a zoning change to move forward, which does give the alderman some leverage. Mell said she would even consider allowing Arsenis to add height to the six-story building, pending community agreement, if it meant three-bedroom apartments could be added to the plan.

Arsenis plans to renovate the existing structure, preserving features including an original elevator — with a folding gate — and a massive safe dating to the nearly 100-year-old building’s former life as a bank.

Though neighbors encouraged Arsenis to retain as much of the facade as possible, the project’s architect Ryan Arnaudov, of Evanston-based Kolbrook Design, said a significant amount of brick must be removed to install windows that meet lighting and ventilation requirements.

Because the building is about two blocks from either the Kimball or Kedzie stations on the CTA Brown Line, the project qualifies as a transit-oriented development, meaning fewer parking spaces are required. Ftikas said 12 spaces, in a lot behind the building, will be provided to residents on a first-come, first-served basis.

Additional tenant amenities will include in-unit washers and dryers and a basement with a fitness area, business center, movie theater room and a multi-purpose room available to members of the broader community for meetings.

The plan calls for two commercial spaces on the building’s ground floor. Cupitol Coffee, which has two locations — Evanston and Streeterville — has signed a letter of intent to lease one of the storefronts. Cupitol bills itself as an all-day lounge, with a cafe, bakery, coffeehouse and bar. Owners would have to separately apply for a liquor license to serve alcohol.

Factoring in the zoning and permit processes, as well as construction costs pegged at $2.5 million, Ftikas estimated it would be 18 months before the building is ready to occupy.

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