Ald. Arena thinks Irving Park condo development can help neighborhood businesses

Condo_Leader-Post[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast week, residents voiced concerns that a proposed condo development could change the character of the Irving Park neighborhood.

“This is an interesting area. You’ve got a little of everything,” said William Banks, an attorney with Schain, Banks, Kenny & Schwartz, Ltd. He’s representing MK Construction & Builders, Inc., which wants to build two condo buildings at 4041 – 4049 N. Pulaski Ave. Each building would feature six condos for a total of 12 residential units. Pricing would be $399,000 for first-floor duplex units, $349,000 for middle-floor single units and $429,000 for top-floor duplex units. Additionally, there would be eight parking spaces within the two buildings for condo owners. The estimated cost of the construction project is around $2 million.

Previously, Banks was an alderman for Chicago’s 36th Ward from 1983 to 2009. During that time, he was chairman of the committee on zoning as well as chairman of the mayor’s zoning reform commission, which was responsible for updating and rewriting the city’s zoning ordinance.

“This neighborhood is a challenge from the development standpoint because there’s not a lot of room,” said Banks. Located on the northwest side, Irving Park’s boundaries are mostly the Chicago River on the east, the Milwaukee Road railroad tracks on the west, Addison Street on the south and Montrose Avenue on the north. The CTA Blue Line, Metra’s Union Pacific/Northwest line and the Kennedy Expressway also cut diagonally through the neighborhood. Most of the residential properties in the area are single-family homes on oversized lots with an average listing price of around $350,000.

Marcin Kawa, owner of MK Construction, told EXTRA that he was able to purchase the property at 4041 – 4049 N. Pulaski for $650,000 back in February after he saw a foreclosure listing for it online. The two single-family homes on the property have since been torn down in preparation for the new condos.

Before construction can begin, the city has to approve a rezoning of the property from B-32 to B-23. The reason being that the property’s current B-32 zoning requires a commercial unit on the first floor. If MK Construction’s zoning request for B-23 gets approved, the first floor will instead be allowed to be a residential unit.

Ald. John Arena, of Chicago’s 45th Ward, held a public meeting Aug. 20 to get resident feedback on the project and to explain how the rezoning could impact the surrounding businesses and homes.

“I think Irving Park Road has seen an increase in retail and restaurants. I think we’re moving in the right direction there,” said Arena. The stretch of Irving Park from Pulaski Avenue to Springfield Avenue has had numerous restaurants and other business close over the years, thanks in part to the recession. Arena says these businesses have been hurting because not enough foot traffic and disposable income are in the neighborhood to sustain them.

“It’s not a concentrated shopping district. I think for this project, why it has merit, is that it’s an additional residential property that’s not too dense and near public transit,” said Arena. He said the condos could attract younger professionals that commute via bicycling, public transit, car services like Uber and Zipcar, and [people that] would rather invest their money in real estate instead of a car.

“I believe we need to increase some residential density on our commercial and business corridors to help support that retail,” said Arena. “Where we’ve struggled retail wise, we can help if we put a few more wallets within a couple blocks of these stores.”

In this vein, Arena also recently introduced a new measure to increase foot traffic and prevent strip malls from being built on vacant pieces of land near Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues in the Jefferson Park Business District and at Six Corners Shopping District near Cicero, Irving and Milwaukee avenues.

In Irving Park’s case, he said its lack of a strong commercial presence meant residents usually drove to nearby Niles and Skokie’s retail centers to purchase items, depriving his ward of retail sales tax revenue.
“I think it’s suitable for the neighborhood. Especially for a busy street like Pulaski,” said Kimberly Furtek. She said the condos gave potential residents a nice alternative to the maintenance associated with the neighborhood’s large, expensive single-family homes.

Some Irving Park residents at the meeting were concerned that the rezoning would open the door to more single-family homes on double lots in the area being torn down by developers in order to build two condo buildings on the same property. An example they used was Lincoln Park, where the average listing price for a single-family home in Lincoln Park is $1 million. They said that neighborhood is saturated with condo developments aimed at “transients,” people who have no desire to plant roots in their neighborhood.

If Irving Park residents seem overly cautious regarding MK Construction’s plans, it’s because they have a garish castle at 3721 N. Parkview Terrace reminding them of what can go wrong when a neighborhood property is rezoned for development. Politically connected Rudy “King Rudy” Acosta got city permission to build a five-bedroom, five and a half bath, brick and limestone, 7,000-square-foot, 42-foot-high castle back in 2006 amid plenty of controversy. Once valued at $1.9 million, the castle has sat incomplete and vacant for the past eight years.

In 2002, Acosta asked the city to rezone a vacant lot he owned overlooking the Kennedy Expressway from R-3 to R-4, a less restrictive residential category. He hired Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, who was then a state representative, to help navigate the city’s zoning process. Fritchey is a zoning lawyer who is married to Karen Banks, the niece of William Banks, who was then still the chair of the city’s zoning committee. After neighborhood residents protested the construction of the castle, Fritchey stepped down as Acosta’s attorney and was replaced by a zoning lawyer named James Banks, nephew of William Banks.

“It was kind of a fun thing for me tonight because I was looking at some of these beautiful old structures. Just gigantic,” said Banks, about the Irving Park homes he saw on the way to the Aug. 20 meeting. “Now if I was going to do a rehab, that would be a challenge. You would have something when you finished though, but it might take you a while.”

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