Developer reveals plan to build 36-story tower in Old Town

Fern Hill is proposing 500 apartments in a zoning tradeoff that could limit new development on adjacent properties and attract a grocery store.

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Rendering of Fern Hill’s proposed Old Town Canvas development.

Rendering of Fern Hill’s proposed Old Town Canvas development.

Fern Hill/GREC Architects

After two years of discussions with neighbors, a developer has proposed transforming a section of Old Town by bringing a 36-story apartment building to a stretch of North Avenue between La Salle Drive and Wells Street.

The firm Fern Hill would build on property that includes a parking lot and a Walgreens. Plans call for a new Walgreens to be integrated into the development.

To get zoning authority for a high-rise, Fern Hill wants to acquire development rights from nearby property owners, including Moody Church on the opposite side of La Salle Drive. The deals for so-called “air rights” would limit what could be built on adjoining sites and amount to a tradeoff allowing the developer to build a taller building than typically allowed.

Fern Hill would include other property it owns in the air rights transaction, including two gas stations that could be demolished to make way for expanded Moody offices. One of the stations would be a BP at 1647 N. La Salle Drive with a curved canopy that’s an unofficial neighborhood landmark.

In a reverse of the normal process, Fern Hill issued details for its project after gathering input on community needs. Working with GREC Architects, it proposed a 500-unit apartment building with a metal and glass facade that would change color with the sunlight.

Fern_Hill_Old_Town_facade.png

A rendering of the facade proposed for the Old Town Canvas apartment building.

Fern Hill/GREC Architects

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who hosted an online meeting about the project Tuesday, said Fern Hill has responded well to community concerns. “I feel like there’s a path forward for improvement in this. It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there,” said Hopkins, whose assent would make city zoning approval easier.

He said more work needs to be done on the development’s traffic impact. Hopkins expects at least one more community meeting on the subject.

The alderperson said most residents have given the developer positive feedback, in part because the new building could spur development on another Fern Hill property nearby — the former Treasure Island grocery store at 1639 N. Wells St.

Residents have repeatedly expressed a desire for a new grocery store on the property, but Fern Hill has yet to sign one up.

Nick Anderson, founder and president of Fern Hill, could not be reached for comment.

The planned apartment tower, called Old Town Canvas, would include 100 units marketed as affordable under rules laid down by city ordinance.

Don Copper, managing principal of GREC, said the high-rise’s changing hues will acknowledge Old Town’s history as an artists’ enclave. That was long before demand overtook the area and made it among the wealthiest areas in the city.

The development will use facades to mask parking at North and La Salle. Plans call for 300 spaces to be reserved for Moody and another 150 for residents.

Some neighbors have opposed the apartment tower’s proposed 395-foot height. Fern Hill has countered that the building is comparable to three other towers in the area.

Fern_Hill_Old_Town_North_and_LaSalle.png

A rendering of part of the Old Town Canvas development showing a parking garage with ground-floor retail space at North Avenue and La Salle Drive.

Fern Hill/GREC Architects

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