The redevelopment of the Heartland Café site is a singular opportunity to get community benefits and community-centered development right. The current proposal by the developer, AGE LLC (AGE) falls short by a wide margin.
The purpose of zoning laws is to regulate land uses to ensure those uses serve and protect the public interest. When a change in zoning is contemplated, the first question should be: what is the compelling public interest to change the zoning?
Over 125 residents attended a June 5 meeting to hear from AGE about their plans to build a 60-unit apartment building on the former Heartland Café site, for which they need zoning relief. The zoning relief requested by AGE represents a significant benefit to their project, with far less community benefit in return. In fact, the “benefits” identified are largely what is required by law if the zoning relief they request is granted. The triggering event for their request is not a compelling public interest, but AGE’s private interest in maximizing the site’s profitability.
Alderwoman Hadden was elected on the premise that she would put community benefits at the center when making a decision on these sorts of projects. We believe she is 100% justified to decline to support – if not oppose outright – the zoning relief requested. That is what we encourage her to do. Whatever commitments her predecessor might have made to AGE or whatever calculated risk AGE made when purchasing the property and demolishing the Heartland – those are not her commitments or her calculated risks. It’s a new day.
Alderwoman Hadden should continue to solicit community feedback as to what would be the highest and best use for the property and invite AGE to come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to pursue the necessary community support and subsidy to execute a plan that the community can be proud of for years to come.
We understand that AGE could decline and pursue a strictly by-right development plan.So be it.
We do not expect Alderwoman Hadden to set a precedent for her aldermanic administration that replicates the same minimal commitment to community benefit that we experienced under her predecessor, nor do we want any future developer to come to the community seeking similar zoning relief in exchange for simply doing what is required by law.
Our analysis and general recommendations can be found here.