Plans to plug a giant gap in the Six Corners shopping district with a 248-unit residence for senior citizens hit a snag Tuesday in a major blow to departing Ald. John Arena (45th).
No sooner had Zoning Committee Chairman James Cappleman (46th) opened debate on the $120 million project than retiring Ald. Marge Laurino (39th) asked for a roll call to determine whether a quorum was present.
It was a rare move for an alderman whose ward does not include the contested project.
“I don’t feel like there has been enough discussion on this issue,” Laurino said, apparently doing a favor for incoming Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th).
Laurino left the City Council chambers after making the motion. She could not be reached for comment. When the roll was called, only four aldermen were in the chambers, six short of a quorum. The meeting was abruptly adjourned.
Gardiner refused to discuss his opposition. When a nearby resident tried to tell a reporter after the meeting that she opposed it because proposed rents are too high, Gardiner interrupted, trying to end the interview.
For Arena, Tuesday’s defeat was a bitter pill to swallow at the end of his eight-year tenure as 45th Ward alderman.
He’s leaving office May 20, soundly defeated on Feb. 26 with 36.2 percent of the vote to Gardiner’s 50.9 percent.
Arena has spent years trying to fill the hole in a Six Corners site that, in its heyday, was Chicago’s premier shopping destination outside the Loop.
“It’s a blow to my community that has worked for four years to bring this project home,” Arena said.
“If my successor wants to start over, then you have Lake Gardiner, as they want to call this now. It’s been empty because we had a retail development that failed. We’re at the mercy of the market….And Six Corners has had enough uncertainty.”
Arena said he has no idea why Laurino “feels that inserting herself like this is good for the Northwest Side.”
“Do we have a problem with senior living developments? Do we have a problem with 50,000 square feet of retail and an Aldi? Public plazas?” Arena said.
“I feel really confident this is a great project for the area, having lived there 25 years and raised two kids. Sitting with such few opportunities and then being on the cusp of seeing things turn with a project like this. It’s frustrating.”
Arena has been at the center of controversy in recent years for his support of a still-pending and hotly-contested Jefferson Park apartment development plan that included affordable housing.
He was asked whether Tuesday’s political snub was personal.
“On my part? No. Personal to me is I want to see my community finally get its due,” Arena said. As for Gardiner, Arena added: “He’s gonna have to answer to the community he’s looking to serve in a couple of weeks. And the community is looking for development at Six Corners.”
The 10-story building at Irving Park Road and Cicero and Milwaukee avenues would have filled a corner left vacant since a Bank of America branch was torn down in 2016.
The project includes an Aldi grocery store and a public plaza. An earlier version anchored by Ross Dress for Less and Aldi collapsed for lack of financing.
The residential complex for seniors was expected to include 248 units, 102 of them for independent living, the remaining 146 for assisted living and memory care.
No on-site units would be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents. Instead, 10 affordable units would be built off-site, a point of contention with some residents.
As incoming alderman, Gardiner also must figure out what to do about the vacant former Sears store across Irving Park Road from the project site.
“The only thing he told me today was he wanted to fully understand the project. Then, take notes. I don’t know what to tell the poor guy,” Arena said.
The departing alderman said he expects the Zoning Committee to meet again May 13, one week before Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot and the new City Council are sworn into office.
If not, the Six Corners project isn’t necessarily dead. Unlike most legislation, zoning matters pending in the old Council don’t die automatically — they carry over to the next Council.