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.
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.”
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.”