Community Benefits Hard to See in 1531 W Estes Proposal

Network 49 members joined ~80 of their neighbors at a community meeting to learn more about a proposed development at 1531 W Estes. The developer wants to tear down a 2-story brick building and build 5 town homes, which will sell for ~$450,000 each. The developer needs significant relief from current zoning regulations on density and property set-backs. He also needs to cut into the curb to add a driveway for onsite parking. Such relief is a private benefit granted at public expense; if not for the relief, the project does not happen.

1531 W Estes Mtg
Residents, mostly opposed to a proposed project for 1531 W Estes, crowded a meeting on February 28 (photo credit: Gabe Gonzalez).

Residents had 6 days’ notice of the meeting. Approximately 50 residents turned out. The meeting lasted at least 3 hours and residents left with as many questions as when the meeting started. And while no vote of residents was taken, residents’ questions suggest the development team was the only one really in favor of the project.

During the meeting, the property owner said a fire made the property uninhabitable. Because of a health issue in his family, the owner failed to file a fire damage claim and stated he now is unable to cover the cost of rehabbing the property. Instead, he wants to tear it down and build the townhomes, including one that he will live in himself. There are 2 brick 2-flats on the market for $565-575,000. The first question is can the owner restore the property and sell it as a 2-flat? We think the answer is yes.

Be that as it may be, 5 townhomes sold in Rogers Park with prices of $200-255,000 in the last 3 months. The developer would not share what he estimates it will cost to build, nor the size of his development fee or profit he stands to make. We also do not know if the property owner will pay for the townhome he intends to live in or is he getting that new unit in consideration for contributing his property to the project.

The project sets a clear precedent for future teardowns. To wit, if the owner of 1531 is able to tear down his home and built 5 expensive new ones, what prevents a future request from another owner who is not happy with the profit he might get from selling his single-family home? Network 49 co-chair Katy Hogan spoke to the real risk that we open the floodgates to more teardowns, spot zoning decisions and gentrification, something residents have fought against for years. “It’s not just this project we are concerned about; it’s the ones that will surely come after it, if this gets approved.”

Network 49 shared its Community Benefits Scorecard. Briefly: no affordable housing, no accessible housing, no commitment to green design, no commitment to local hiring or M/WBE participation. To summarize, the developer wants permission to build an oversized new development that will bring him significant new income and offers nothing to the community in return. The developer also made clear; he’s not doing any community benefits agreements.

Sounds like an easy one to turn down.