Jul 28, 2014

Aldermen Want Zoning Commissioners to Take Another Look at Six Stories Downtown

Former alderman to City Council: "Don't be afraid of six stories. It's a number."

Aldermen Want Zoning Commissioners to Take Another Look at Six Stories Downtown

Elmhurst aldermen are sending a proposal for a six-story structure at 135-149 Addison Avenue back to Elmhurst's Planning and Zoning Commission for consideration.

Current zoning downtown allows four stories. In June, the Zoning Commission rejected a proposal from Addison Corridor LLC for a six-story structure on the property that would have included parking, office space and retail; the new plan omits the office space. Addison LLC still is the developer under contract, but this time it is letting the city take the lead on what the structure will be.

By show of hands, Aldermen Diane Gutenkauf, Marti Deuter, Michael Bram and Chris Healy did not favor advancing the issue to the Zoning Commission. Healy said he still was undecided on six stories, the other three were unequivocally opposed.

Debate between residents and city officials on the height of this property has been contentious for years. The project has been in the planning stages since 2009, when the original agreement for a four-story parking garage was signed with Addison LLC.

Of the residents who spoke Monday, most were opposed to six stories. Steve de la Rosa, representing Citizens Advocacy Center, urged the council to "heed the advice of the Zoning Commission, which was to do some planning for the area prior to moving forward."

Tamara Brenner outlined the genesis of the six-story proposal: It first appeared publicly in December 2010, she said. In 2011 aldermen unsuccessfully attempted to change the zoning code by text amendment. In June, the plan didn't pass muster with the Zoning Commission, and "two weeks ago, lo and behold, we're looking at six stories again," Brenner said.

"There is private information that is informing council (members') thoughts," she said, adding the public should know what that information is.

John Dulles accused aldermen of doing the bidding of wealthy businessmen in town who want to develop additional six-story properties for profit "on the backs of taxpayers."

"This is corruption on a major level," said Dulles, whose dry cleaning business is across the street from the proposed development. "We're turning into another Chicago here."

Katie Muno, who lives near the proposed project, said the city doesn't need six floors of parking.

"It's not part of the comprehensive plan, our own codes don't support it, the Zoning Commission rejected it, and people want to see proof that even a four-story garage (is needed)," Muno said.

Aldermen in Favor …

But Michael Regan, who served as Elmhurst 1st Ward alderman from 2001 to 2009, told the council, "Don't be afraid of six stories. It's a number."

"If you build it, they will come," he said. "If you want to attract quantity and quality, build it the right size the first time. Don't short-change the citizens. Get it right."

Alderman Norman Leader said some people regard change "as a disease to be avoided at all costs."

"It's … about the viability of the downtown, the value of our homes and the continued existence of our city as a viable place to live," he said. "When we reach the point that no additional parking is needed, or we need less for our core downtown, then that is the day that grass will grow in the streets, and the value of your homes will die with the downtown."

Mayor Steve Morley said the city agreed five years ago more parking is needed, and any new development on the west side of Addison will further increase the need.

Alderman Mark Mulliner said the need may even be "significantly" greater than what's proposed, and Alderman Scott Levin said Addison is "desolate."

"We have not heard from many residents outside the 1st Ward," Levin said. "I appreciate what they are saying, but it's not just a 1st Ward garage."

Aldermen also cited cost as a reason to build six stories.

A four-story structure is estimated to cost $10.5 million to $11.5 million, Assistant City Manager Mike Kopp said. Two additional levels will add about $2.7 million, about a 20 percent increase. The Adelaide parking deck was built with 211 parking spaces in 1992 for $1.92 million. The city added 98 spaces in 2001 at a cost of $1.91 million, or almost 100 percent of the original cost. The Schiller deck, built in 1991, also was added onto in 2003.

"Adelaide cost us 100 percent more to get more parking," Alderman Pat Wagner said. "Six stories is getting it right (from the beginning)."

Aldermen Opposed …

But Alderman Marti Deuter pointed out that the Schiller and Adelaide decks were added onto nine and 12 years after they were built.

"I don't think it's good practice to ask today's taxpayers to foot the bill for something that may or may not happen in the future," she said. "We don't have the resources to meet non-priority needs."

Deuter said data has not been presented to justify six stories. She said hundreds of residents signed petitions against it, the structure is inconsistent with the vision for the downtown established in the 2009 comprehensive plan, and the city is setting itself up "for contentious public hearings with an unknown outcome."

Alderman Diane Gutenkauf quoted from Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning's " Parking Strategies to Support Livable Communities." She said a lot of research is available on how communities use parking to enhance their downtown, but aldermen haven't read it.

"We really are lacking a lot of solid information that would help us make a solid, researched-backed decision," she said.

Third Ward Alderman Michael Bram said four levels of parking was sufficient when Addison LLC was planning its six-story office and retail mix. He also pointed out that none of the proposals for the development of the other big project downtown, Hahn Street, meet city code.

"Are supporters saying their vision is for every parcel to be above four stories? What is our vision here? The comprehensive plan … doesn't state that our vision is six stories," he said.

Next Steps

City staff will recommend a public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission, Morley said. That doesn't mean the city has committed to six stories yet, but it keeps the process moving forward, he said.

Aldermen also are requesting a waiver of a loading dock requirement. Bram and Gutenkauf want a loading dock to keep delivery trucks from backing up traffic on Addison. Gutenkauf said she was "stunned" 12 of her colleagues didn't agree with her.

"I'm flabbergasted," she said. "The main street you all want to develop, Addison, that's where you (want loading)? That would be a substantial fail. You don't want to do it because the back of the building is more important than the front? This is nuts."

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