Uh oh

My heart dropped last night when I saw this sign:

The Association House settlement house — kind of a one-stop social service shop — just outside my window, has gone up for sale. Most importantly for me, the sign advertises “11 city lots” — including the lovely playground which gives my first-floor apartment unobstructed sunlight from the west and a view of trees.

The actual Association House, at the western end of the site (but apparently not at the west edge — it appears there’s a vacant lot to its west) cannot be torn down, since it is in the Wicker Park Historic District. However, the playground can (and, almost certainly, will) be replaced with new buildings. The site is zoned B4-2, which is the same zoning as all the new construction to the west of us along North — retail on the ground floor, residential above.

Ideally, any new development there would retain and perhaps loft-convert the old school, while building a single structure on the remainder of the site. The new building should fit its historic architectural context and provide some breathing room for both my building and the Association House. (Indeed, the existing pedestrian walkway alongside the existing building would make a nice residential entry.) The parking should not come at the expense of the big old trees at the rear lot line.

I don’t think that’s a terribly tall order, but given the likely $4 million asking price, the pressure to just cut the losses and run by throwing up some crackerbox flats will likely be tremendous. Under the new zoning, they’re not even obligated to give any side setback, unless my building gets rezoned R (which it should be), in which case they’re obligated a mere 2.5′ of setback — whereas in the case of a larger building with residential units oriented sideways (parallel to the street), the zoning would require a 12′ setback. However, any larger building would be a much bigger construction job: Type A construction, elevators, and accessible units. Maybe they’ll use up a good deal of their FAR on the labyrinthe existing building and have less to spare on this side.

In any case, 11 lots = 34,375 sq ft; at 2.2 FAR and 43 dua, that’s 75,625 allowable built sq ft (huge!) and 34 units — the same as my building, incidentally, which is on six lots. However, we don’t have a rear setback; the new zoning requires stepped rear setbacks, from 0′ at ground to 30′ for any residential floors.

I obviously feel conflicted. On the one hand, in the abstract I’m all for density in transit accessible locations like mine; I’ve regularly trumpeted the fact that I live at a perfectly livable 60 units per net acre. However, that quality of life depends on the open spaces around: the courtyard in front and the playground out back. Without the wide playground, in particular, I can expect much less light and possibly less privacy. I also feel as if I should have known: there’s been remarkably little activity over there this year — no ballgames, no after-school programs — while Association House’s building on Kedzie is hopping with stuff. Then the voter registration card came and listed the polling place as “TBD,” not as Association House as it’s always been. However, the sign only went up very recently. And it makes sense for them: the population they’re serving has long since been pushed out of this neighborhood, and the land they’re not using could net them millions of dollars for their programming.

While I was poking around for the listing, I came across the listing for the Cook Brothers building. $6.5M for 88,300 square feet in a ca. 1920 three-story loft with huge but bricked-in windows; on Ashland next to the Green Line, a block from Union Park, in the still growing West Loop. Plus, it has a really cool clock tower that terminates Fulton Market St. Too bad it’s in a Manufacturing district — although it would certainly make cool offices.

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  1. Pingback: Behold: a historic parking lot? | west north

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