Merchant Group Hopes To Develop New Park Space; Faces Aldermanic Opposition

By Mike Fourcher | Monday, September 19, 2011

A concept rendering of the proposed green space at 3400 N. Lincoln Ave. Courtesy of SSA 27.

Last Thursday morning, the commissioners of Special Service Area 27 voted to pursue acquisition in November of the vacant lot at 3400 N. Lincoln Ave., next to the Paulina Brown Line El Stop. The vote, the group’s first step toward turning the lot into a proposed green space, was either a progressive action to make the area more attractive to business, or a giant step outside of the purview of Special Service Areas‘ (SSA) guidelines in Chicago, depending on your point of view.

However, some members of SSA 27 are not confident the land acquisition is in the group’s best interest, and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) says he plans to oppose the group’s proposal. Making things even more complicated for SSA 27, a local developer has expressed interest in the property and may try to out bid the group.

The property, once a tire repair shop, was purchased for $2.25 million in March 2006 by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) as part of the Brown Line renovation project, according to Cook County property records. The SSA 27 Commissioners are hoping to purchase the lot from CTA for about $1 million.

With an annual budget over $600,000, SSA 27 is a collection of local businesses along the Lincoln, Belmont and Ashland Ave. corridors that have voted to voluntarily increase their property taxes up to two-tenths of a percent to provide enhanced services such as snow removal and flower boxes in the commercial area. Currently SSA 27 is limited to providing services, small scale capital projects such as facade improvement, but is counting on passage of a new city ordinance this fall that would authorize it to purchase undeveloped land.

Because SSA 27 does not have $1 million in cash readily available, it plans a use a complicated process at CTA’s November auction. Openlands, a open space-promotion foundation, has volunteered to make the initial acquisition, which it would then transfer to Friends of Lakeview, a 501(c)3 group created and controlled by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. SSA 27 and the Lakeview Chamber would then attempt to raise private funds to pay back Openlands. If not enough private donors come forward, SSA 27 would pledge to make up the difference with funds collected from its property tax levy.

However, before the land can be purchased, SSA 27 must quell some significant opposition to the plan.

Last year SSA 27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce completed an exhaustive survey of area residents and businesses and produced the Lakeview Area Master Plan (LAMP). That survey, and the resulting plan, called for additional open space in the Lincoln-Belmont-Ashland corridors and specifically targeted the 3400 N. Lincoln Ave. space for a temporary community garden.

However, Ald. Waguespack, the CTA and city planners have been cool to converting the lot into a permanent green space, rather than turning it into a property-tax generating development. Because it is next to an El stop, it is ideal for mixed commercial and residential use, goes the thinking.

“Our thought was the CTA and [the Chicago Department of] Housing and Economic Development, and our office and many other aldermanic offices have been looking at properties like that in terms of transit oriented development,” says Waguespack. “Even though a temporary community garden might be ok, but they’ve since moved onto wanting to purchase the property and creating a permanent gathering space.”

Waguespack also says SSA 27 should not be in the business of purchasing land and that he opposes their new proposed mission.

“I still think SSAs need to be careful about what their purpose is,” says Waguespack. “If you look at the SSA, what is their job?  Not only to create more businesses and but to sustain what’s there.  Should they create a space that’s highly useful for 3-4 months out of the year and then tapers off after that?”
At Thursday’s SSA 27 meeting, commissioner Norm Dinkel initially opposed purchasing the lot because doing so would remove as much as $100,000 a year from city property tax rolls.
“It seems to me like this [purchase] is going to increase our tax rates,” said Dinkel in the meeting. “I’m for open space, but I’m not that smart to say that forever we’re going to take that property off the tax rolls.”
At the last moment of Thursday’s meeting, Dinkel switched to vote in favor of pursuing the acquisition.

Frank Campise, CEO of JAB Real Estate Opportunity Funds, and a potential bidder on the space says it’s an ideal spot for development. ”It’s a stoplight corner. It’s close to the train and we felt that you could put residential there.”

“My thought has always been that corner ties the retail sections of Lincoln and Roscoe together and you’re close to Belmont on the south.”

Even though SSA 27 and the Lakeview Chamber want to build a park space, they won’t try to stop a developer.

“If a real estate developer wins [the auction], we’ll support them,” says Lakeview Chamber Executive Director Heather Way. “I think what everyone agrees on is that we don’t want to look at that vacant piece of land.”

3400 N. Lincoln Ave. Green space rendering

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  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t be so excited about “transit-oriented development” when 1) the CTA is a crumbling waste both in infrastructure and operational structure and 2) developments are empty across the North Side. An innovative approach to this site is a great idea. I’ve seen enough of the standard “ground floor retail, second and third story brick residential” buildings in the past 5 years. Its just getting old.

    • Anonymous

      I wouldn’t be excited about the government unit getting into the land business. Joe Lake, Chicago

  • Steve Jensen

    So I’m to sit in and enjoy this new greenspace, while hearing the rumbling trains and announcements over the platform speakers?? Seems like a waste to me.

  • Pingback: SSA Rules Change Allows Lakeview Chamber to Pursue Park Space Idea | Roscoe View Journal

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