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Uptown in the News  

December 16, 2004
Commission Endorses $113M Wilson Yards Project
By Mark Ruda

CHICAGO-A controversial $!13-million mixed-use development proposed for the Chicago Transit Authority's Wilson Yards site leaves even some of its proponents less than satisfied, but it is leaving the station nonetheless. The plan commission Thursday recommended city council approval for developer Peter Holsten's nearly one-million-sf project at 4400 N. Broadway in the Uptown neighborhood, which is slated to receive $26.5 million in tax increment financing.

The plan for the 5.7 acres at the CTA's Wilson Avenue Red Line stop is anchored by a 198,000-sf, two-story Target store along Broadway, which will be topped by a 12-screen Kerasotes theater with 2,000 seats. Also topping the Target store will be a five-story, 426-space parking garage.

However, the economically diverse Uptown neighborhood continues to be divided by the two proposed nine-story towers along Montrose Avenue, which will provide 72 affordable rental units for senior citizens and 70 one-to three-bedroom units for families. The issue of affordable housing polarizes the neighborhood, where incomes range from poverty level to enough to afford $500,000 condominiums and townhouses being built in the area.

Arguments from residents and community leaders Thursday were enough to sway commission member Nancy Pacher to vote against recommending the project to the city council, while at least one more also had second thoughts about concentrating 142 lower-income families in towers. The multifamily buildings will go up over the next three years while the Chicago Housing Authority is redeveloping its high-rise projects into low-rise, mixed-income communities.

The residential component of the project was a compromise, admits 46th Ward Alderman Helen Shiller, between those who believe there is insufficient affordable housing in the gentrified Uptown community and those who believe there already is too much. She claims the units will be marketed largely to families earning $20,000 to $40,000 a year.

"We are not doing CHA replacement housing,"Shiller says. "It is not housing for very poor people. It is housing for people who work for the city. It is housing for first-year teachers. It is housing for police and firefighters."

The fact Holsten, who has developed or rehabbed 5,000 mixed-income housing units in the city since 1975, is using low-income housing tax credits as part of his financing was enough fuel for opponents. However, 42nd Ward Alderman Burton Natarus was among those setting aside opposition to concentrating low-income housing in a small area.

"We need more of this," Natarus says. "The developer has to make it work. Affordable housing is not an easy task. We have to rely on the developer's expertise."

Holsten, whose development career started with a $25,000 rehab project of a 16-unit rental building in the Albany Park neighborhood, has developed North Town Village on seven acres in the former Cabrini-Green housing project, and redeveloped the former 710-unit Hilliard Homes. He has used low-income housing tax credits since 1989, when he built the Sutherland Apartments in the Woodlawn community in partnership with Heartland Alliance.

The 5.7-acre site became available after a fire destroyed the CTA's maintenance facility. The six year process has included numerous community meetings as well as creation of a tax increment financing district, Shiller notes.

In addition to buying property from the CTA, Holsten must buy buildings from Highland Park-based owner Marvin Ganek as well as Aldi, Inc., which will relocate to the north side of Wilson Avenue.

Department of planning and development officials note the project is 20% smaller than what zoning would allow for the site.

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