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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Analysis of the Developer’s Proposal to the Plan Commission Regarding the Lincoln Park Hospital Site

As you know, on January 12, 2010, the community rejected the plans presented by the developers of Lincoln Park Hospital. The concerns: retail development in the midst of our historic district, too high and too dense buildings.

The hospital site is what is called a “planned development.” It is not governed by the usual zoning of the area, but is a special type of zoning. Currently, the hospital is zoned for medical uses only. This means that the developers have no right to use the site for anything else. Any change from this zoning requires a plan approved by the City of Chicago Planning Department AND an ordinance from City Council that requires a plan approved by the City of Chicago Planning Department AND an ordinance from City Council.

To give you a feel for the size of this development, it is 131,829 square feet – just over 3 acres. That’s 42 city lots – on which, in previous discussions, the developers have indicated they want to put 330 residential units (for perspective, the Belden Stratford has 300 apartments) 40,000 square feet of office space and over 50,000 square feet of retail. Compared to the surrounding neighborhood of historic single family homes, two-flats and townhouses, that’s just too large.

Notwithstanding this opposition, the developers have recently submitted an application to the Chicago Planning Commission seeking approval for even MORE DENSITY and MORE RETAIL than they told us at the community meeting. I’ve analyzed their proposal, and want to give you the facts.

The Retail Component

At our community meeting, the developer told us that they wanted to build a 19,500 square foot grocery and a 13,500 square feet pharmacy while removing parking spaces from the garage. That was bad enough.

The plan submitted to the Planning Commission offers no details on the amount of retail, square footage. But the developer’s proposal does say that:

“The uses of the Property permitted pursuant to this planned development shall include (a) medical and related uses, (b) residential dwelling units including, without limitation,
dwelling units on the ground floor; and (c) all uses permitted in the B3-2 Community
Shopping District, including, without limitation, residential support services.”
What does that mean?

Under the City of Chicago Zoning Code, the purpose of a “Community Shopping District is to accommodate a very broad range of retail and service uses, often in the physical form of shopping centers or larger buildings. . . . Development in B3 districts will generally be destination-oriented, with a large percentage of customers arriving by automobile. Therefore, the supply of off-street parking will tend to be higher in B3 districts than in B1 and B2 districts.”

“The B3 district is intended to be applied to large sites that have primary access to major streets. It may also be used along streets to accommodate retail and service use types that are not allowed in B1 and B2 districts.”
In fact, under the B3 zoning, while almost all shopping center uses are permitted, housing is a “special use” requiring a zoning approval. Here’s what’s allowed:

Colleges and Universities
Banquets and Meeting Hall
Food and Beverage Retails sales, with liquor sales as an accessory use
Hair Salons, Nail Salons
Dry Cleaners
General Retail Sales – groceries, pharmacies, clothing, etc.
Video Arcades
Residential Storage Warehouse
Auto Supply/Accessory Sales
Auto Sales or Rental
Motor Vehicle Repair Shops
Entertainment Venue up to 999 seats

Moreover, there are no size limitations on commercial developments in the B3 district up to 75,000 square feet. So, if the developer’s plans don’t go exactly right – a big box store could be coming to Webster Street! And further, the developers seek the right to this zoning in the entire development – so there could be stores on Webster, Geneva and Grant.

But wait, there’s more. In a B3 District, the following types of signs are allowed: free standing, marquee, projecting and neon signs. And the maximum permitted total sign size is 4 times the frontage, or 1500 ft, whichever is less. Flashing and video signs are generally permitted.
In sum, this is a dramatic overreaching by the developers, and a violation of the previous community agreements which stated that use of the property would be consistent with residential (R-5) zoning.

The Residential Component

The developer had originally told us that the want to make an “adaptive reuse” of the hospital tower with about 120 units, put a senior rental residence on Geneva Terrace with about 170 units, and townhouses on Grant.

The developers, however, they have proposed a 150' tower building (12 stories above grade) which is both taller and broader than the existing building, and an 81 foot building on Grant and Geneva, which would appear to allow seven-story building on Grant. The original planned development and the various lawsuits with the neighborhood allowed only 10 stories above grade in the tower, six stories on Geneva, and five stories on Grant. The plans show a 75 foot, six-story building on Geneva Terrace, and the existing building on Geneva is six stories. The building on Grant is to be torn down and replaced, and an 81 foot building would appear to allow another story. Bear in mind, the surrounding zoning for this area allows a maximum height of 45 feet.

As for the two lots on Webster next to the hospital (one of which is the current driveway and other is vacant), they state that the will build R-5 housing, which violated community agreements that the space be kept open.

They state that the number of units would be based on the minimum lot area per unit in RM-5 zoning, which is 400 square feet per unit. Under these limitations, you divide the total area of the development (131,829), divide by 400 = 330 units. In other words, if this entire site were residential, they would be able to build 330 units. As I’ve already stated, the site (both sides of the street, garage included) could hold 42 single family homes, or 82 townhouses, or 42 three flats, or some combination of homes, townhomes, three-flats and apartment buildings. You get the picture. I doubt the community would oppose such a development.

In an RM-5 area, development is also limited by something called the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which is 2. That means that the total square footage of residential units is twice the lot size. This is to mandate room for yards and front, back and side setbacks. So, as a totally residential development, they would be limited to 263,658 square feet. Again, think of 42 houses of 6000 square feet each (that’s big! – but that’s what is allowed – look at the non-landmarked area); townhouses, and three-flats and four story apartment buildings. As most of the houses in the landmark area are smaller than this, we could argue whether even RM-5 zoning is appropriate for this site.

The next lower classification RM-4.5, has a minimum lot area of 700 square feet per unit, which would allow 188 units and an FAR of 1.7, which would allow a total of 224,209 square feet of housing, or 42 single family homes of 5335 square feet, or townhouses, apartments, etc. You can see how these classifications make a difference.

Here, however, the developer wants to build all of those units on one portion of the site, and put commercial development on both sides of Webster, AND a 300+ space parking garage.
Indeed, The developers also seek “residential support services,” which are “Commercial uses provided primarily to serve the needs of residents in large, multi-unit residential buildings (more than 50 units) or residents within the immediate area,” including restaurants, financial services, food and beverage stores, offices, personal services and general retail sales. But these stores are allowed in R5 residential areas as a matter of right (think of stores on the first floor of high-rises). So the developers are asking for two ways to have commercial space in this development.

Final point – the so-called “adaptive reuse.” As far as we can tell, nothing will be retained from the original structure of the hospital tower except the steel studs. And we now know that they want to add two stories to that structure.

Plus, they want an exemption from the requirements for front and rear setbacks that would otherwise apply to a RM5 district. Thus, the developers want to put all these housing units in our neighborhood with none of the amenities for open space and yards that the rest of the neighborhood enjoys. Instead, the plans show a so-called “green roof” over the garage, which is actually just the backyard space for the units that is built over the underground parking. In some parts of the city, a having a green roof gives the developer permission to build more units, but I do not see a provision in the code for this neighborhood. Perhaps the developers intend to argue for a similar FAR “bonus” for this so-called green roof.

Parking Issues and the Garage on Webster Issues

The drawings of the garage building on Webster are unclear. There appears to be an entrance to a parking garage, a corner large retailer and the rest are either facades, townhouses, or something. There is no description. But as we have already explained, the developers seek authority permission to build large retail with companion shopping. In addition, there will be increased height to the parking garage and parking on the roof, which violates a 1972 and 1986 community agreement, and what they told the community during the community meeting. Parking on the roof will allow parkers to see into the homes surrounding the garage.

The developers state that they will provide only the minimum number of parking spaces required by law. Under the zoning for B3-2 districts, for retail sales, there has to be 2.5 spaces for each 1000 square feet. So for a 20,000 square foot store, they need only provide 50 spaces! Recall that the developers said they wanted to put parking for the senior residences in the garage as well. The code requires .33 spaces per unit. So all they would have to put in is about 40 spaces under their original proposal.

Under the code, the developers would also need 200 spaces for non-elderly housing (one per apartment). While the developers told the community that they would install these spaces underground the development, parking in this area is already limited, and these minimums are no where near adequate. In addition, the garage parking will no longer be available for to the neighborhood and those visiting the local businesses and restaurants.

Further, garage entrances are added and others moved closer to the existing residences, creating new noise problems. The plan adds a truck loading dock on Webster just to the west of the main garage door. Plus, there is an new garage door on the north side at the very east end of the tower building. All of these moves are contrary to the prior agreements with neighbors (the idea previously was ONE garage door as far west as possible to minimize noise and congestion in the neighboring residential area).

Open Space Issues

As proposed, there is essentially no open space in this proposal. The developers seek relief from front, rear and side setbacks for the large residential spaces, and commercial spaces have very limited setbacks.

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