The Two Towers: The battle for Logan Square’s skyline

Renderings from Wheeler Kearns Architect of the towers. Photo courtesy of Wheeler Kearns Architect

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]esidents came out in force last Thursday against a proposed pair of towers Henry Street Partners wants to build in Logan Square.

“This will provide something we do not currently have,” said 1st Ward Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno. The development would concentrate upscale housing near the newly renovated California Blue Line stop in an effort to attract young, affluent professionals who don’t drive. The idea is being referred to as transit-oriented development (TOD). Moreno’s comments echo remarks made by Ald. John Arena back in August regarding another TOD off the Blue Line in the Irving Park neighborhood.

The Logan Square proposal would be located at 2255-93 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2208-26 N. Washtenaw Ave. and 2715-35 W. Belden Ave., currently all vacant lots. One would be 11 stories tall and the other 15 stories, and would feature 253 apartment units, 6,600 square feet of retail space and 71 parking spaces.

Studio and two-bedroom apartments, between 550 and 1,100 square feet, would rent from approximately $1,250 to $2,500 per month.

“The assumption seems to be that folks will be willing to give up the car culture they’ve been socialized into most of their lives to be able to live here,” said Steven Ligeza. He was one of about 150 people who attended a standing room only, two-plus hour public meeting on the proposed development on Oct. 30 at Candela Restaurant, 2451 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Ligeza lives on Belden Avenue, across the street from the vacant lots, and worries the “vertical small town” would overburden his street’s already overtaxed parking and sewer infrastructure.

“That entire block and the area around it already have a bad flooding problem,” he said.

Both longtime residents and recent transplants to Logan Square agreed that their main issues with the towers are their height, which would dominate the neighborhood’s skyline, its glass and steel appearance, and the construction time, which could last up to 20 months.

“This kind of proposal in this kind of location is something we need to be supportive of if we want to keep a lot of the things we value about this neighborhood,” said Daniel Hertz, a graduate student from the University of Chicago-Harris School of Public Policy, who Moreno invited to speak at the meeting. He’s lived in Logan Square for three years and said the neighborhood lost about 9,090 people between 2000 and 2010, according to census data he researched.

“That’s not because people don’t want to live here,” said Hertz. “But as people move in who have more money they convert two-flats into single family homes. Or one or two people live in an apartment that used to have a whole family in it and the population goes down.”

According to census data from 2007 to 2011, over 23 percent of renters in Logan Square were then paying 50 percent or more of their income on housing. Additionally, rents are expected to keep rising as the $95 million Bloomingdale Trail nears completion.

Hertz said the decrease in the population means there is a third fewer people living in Logan Square supporting neighborhood businesses and paying taxes for things like schools and parks. The towers’ vertical density would try to reverse this trend by increasing Logan Square’s population to offset the exodus of residents leaving due to high rents. Regarding rising rents, Moreno says the towers would need to meet his ward’s requirement of 10 percent affordable housing for major developments.

Rob Buono, left, and Ald. Joe Moreno at the meeting last Thursday. Photo Alex. V. Hernandez

Rob Buono, president of Henry Street Partners, said the towers would feature between 25 and 26 affordable housing units spread across the two towers and would be priced from $680 to about $830 per month. He’s not getting any subsidies for these affordable units and said they were being privately financed.

“We’re asking for no support from the city other than the zoning change,” said Buono. When asked by a resident why he couldn’t make the entire development affordable housing, Buono said it wasn’t financially possible because each affordable unit equates to a $100,000 loss for him.

“There’s not a lender on the face of the Earth that would loan me money to build the project,” he said.

He added that to offset the cost of his project’s affordable housing, he’ll increase the cost of his regular units to between $70 and $95 per month. In total, Buono expects to spend about $70 million building the towers if he gets the OK from city officials.

“Technically, legally, the aldermen can just make zoning changes on their own,” said Moreno. “My policy is to have a community process for any zoning change—small, medium or large.”

The developers still need to go before the city’s planning department for approval. If granted, Moreno will then have to submit a zoning change, which will eventually go before the City Council. At press time, details regarding a second community meeting regarding the development had yet to be announced.

“You can’t stop the market from coming in,” said Jacob Peters, an architect who lives in the neighborhood.

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