ZONING ISSUES

Nobody wants to think about zoning laws (boring!), but in times of out-of-control growth, they’re crucial. At their most basic level, zoning laws give assurances that homeowners won’t wake up one morning and find, say, a gas station being built next door. On a higher level, zoning laws determine the shape of a neighborhood and how it feels to live in it. It’s the whole idea of a planned community.

Gentrification and “upzoning” (or “downzoning’) areas to levels that allow for more intense development are real threats to Gladstone Park. If the community has any one mantra about its future growth, it would be “Stick to the Zoning.”

And why shouldn’t it? In designating every square foot of its 234 square miles of city lands for development many decades ago, Chicago deliberately zoned for different sorts of living conditions south, east, north, and west in order to create the diverse communities of which the city is so proud today. Neighborhoods mean something in Chicago. They give all the peoples who move to the Windy City, whether they’re Poles, filmmakers, Muslims, gays, Ukrainians, or techies a place to live in that feels like home.

Residents who come to Gladstone Park, a community long set up for low-rise, spread-out development, sign up for a lifestyle that’s easy-going and family-friendly even if it isn’t as exciting or culturally rich as other far-away, more built-up areas of the city. They don’t want unwanted growth to force them out of their beloved homes and into the suburbs for the community atmosphere they so dearly now treasure.

Of Chicago’s nine major zoning categories, Gladstone Park is set up with designations for the least intensive uses. For example its N. Milwaukee Avenue Business Corridor is nearly all earmarked B3-1 requiring storefronts along it to have the biggest lots (2,500 square feet per dwelling unit, if any) as compared to four other B3 zones that reduce required lot area per unit all the way down to 200 square feet that allow for 18 times the number of households. While increased density may be desirable in some Chicago neighborhoods such as the Loop with its spectacular skyscrapers, it is perceived as overcrowding in communities such as Gladstone Park with most of its residential zoning RS-2 or RS-3 for single-family districts. The community’s Industrial Corridor, too, is a mix of M1-1 and M1-2 for business parks allowing only limited manufacturing and light industry, keeping pollutants and noise to a minimum. See zoning designations for every lot in Gladstone Park (and the whole city) on its interactive Chicago Zoning and Land Use Map.

As was discussed in Development Threats, Gladstone Park has had a much more difficult time recently managing its growth. One might conclude from the battles it has faced that the city has developed new goals for the community that differ from how it originally set the neighborhood up. It’s challenging when developers seem to get more consideration for going against existing rules than they ever did before. While growth is generally good, all growth isn’t good growth. When it becomes too difficult for the community to protect its residential character, revitalizing its business and industrial districts becomes ever more insurmountable.

Regarding housing, it often feels as if the City of Chicago doesn’t respect Gladstone Park’s little enclave for what it is as it tries to force taller, denser buildings that don’t fit down its throat. On the business district front, residents see the city installing fancy brick sidewalks and grassy curb extensions for their crosswalks in neighborhoods closer to downtown while its streets get stuck with unmaintained, dangerous planting beds loaded with weeds and litter.

Stu's Views Law Cartoons

Many decades ago, Chicago planners zoned Gladstone Park as a low-rise, low-density, spread-out community as part of a design to develop many diverse neighborhoods for which the city is rightfully proud. Residents who move to the community know they are giving up the built-up, fast pace of downtown culture in order to live in a safe, easy-going, family-friendly enclave still within the city limits. In recent times, however, they feel like the city is not listening to their voices when they object to developers coming in with plans to upzone with taller and more dense structures than are allowed by their long-standing zoning laws. They also can’t seem to get the same amount of attention when it comes to infrastructure improvements or beautifying its sidewalks and crosswalks on its N. Milwaukee Business Corridor. Cartoon by Stu’s Views [https://stus.com/Environmental-Impact-of-Zoning-Amendments-cartoon-cuu0020].

For those reasons and more, residents in the one-square mile community of Gladstone Park that makes up the northern part of the Jefferson Park neighborhood often feel forgotten, misunderstood, and spited. Living in one of 226 smaller recognized communities within 77 “official” neighborhoods, Gladstone Parkers know they are merely one little cog in the huge wheel that is Chicago. At 10 to 11 miles from the Loop, their community sometimes appears to fall off the city’s radar. That is, until City Hall wants something out of them.

So how can Gladstone Park go about reversing this dynamic? Governmentally and politically, it has no legal or financial power to plan its own future. It doesn’t have its own town planning board to forge its future growth. There’s no dedicated zoning board within its borders to adjudicate building proposals. Plus it has no budget of its own to fund beautification or infrastructure improvements. Every request must be funneled through city channels through their alderman with all the associated red tape. Much is buried in oblivion.

They can anticipate it being even harder to have their voices heard now that the backs of the aldermen, those City Council members who represent each of Chicago’s 50 wards, have been broken. When the century-old unwritten tradition of aldermanic prerogative was mowed down in December, 2021 over the battle for affordable housing in the nearby O’Hare neighborhood, Gladstone Parkers and other smaller communities felt cast adrift in a sea of helplessness.

If Gladstonians can no longer depend on their alderman to take a stand against rich developers who want to walk all over their communities with too tall, too dense apartment complexes, what can they do? How can Gladstone Park approach any kind of self-determination for its future if the city keeps casting its zoning rules aside to approve the construction of nonconforming projects?

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. This section explores the specific zoning problems Far Northwest Side communities face so that communities such as Gladstone Park can continue to develop positive strategies to regulate their growth appropriately. With the right public relations campaign, it can dispel the stereotypical, disparaging narratives that are bandied about by people who don’t know the community. It can develop a better image by inviting the city and its fellow Chicagoans into their territory to see what they’re all about. When Gladstone Park is able to develop better relationships with the peoples and the City of Chicago, it will have a more formidable chance to keep going in the direction the city planned for the community when it was originally set up.

BUSINESS DISTRICT UPZONING

Many neighborhoods in Chicago have been gentrifying over the past ten years with wealthier people moving farther out of downtown into less-well-off areas. While their money improves down-on-their-luck neighborhoods, boosting property values and attracting new business investment, it also has the negative result of raising real estate costs and forcing out smaller local businesses and long-standing residents.

With gentrification occurring just south and east of the Far Northwest Side, land values have been skyrocketing. Spurred on by the real estate crashes of the Great Recession of 2008 (and to some extent, the pandemic), investors have set their eyes upon Gladstone Park. Many little-used commercial properties and vacant lots on the Business Corridor are now in the hands of speculators who are only biding their time until the price is right.

With the winds that have been blowing in Chicago, these speculators bet that they can sit on their properties and wait for the biggest return on their investment. The most profit comes from selling their properties as teardowns to big developers, who have the pull to win zoning variances from the city to get the properties “upzoned” in order to build tall, dense apartment complexes that otherwise would not have been allowed.

Making matters worse in the interim are the many investors whose intent is only to get in and get out. These are the ones who have no interest in the small potatoes of renting or leasing their properties. Thus, there is no need to put money into improving or even maintaining their storefronts or office buildings (or second floor apartments if applicable) beyond the bare minimum to avoid getting out of compliance. Instead the properties are left sitting vacant without the owners investing a cent in the community. Predictably, buildings deteriorate and start to look derelict.

N. Milwaukee Business Corridor building for sale

Section of a large one-story brick building for sale at 5398 N. Milwaukee on Gladstone Park’s Business Corridor. Vacant for some time, the mid-century structure has been allowed to fall into derelict-looking condition, dragging down the appearance of nearby properties and the whole community. Photo by author.

The beauty of the investors’ strategy is that residents get worn down seeing dilapidated storefronts on their streets, making them more amenable to approving plans for buildings they otherwise would not have wanted. It can be tempting to conclude, “Well, anything would be better than what’s there now.”

But if Gladstone Park gives way to big housing projects replacing their commercial buildings, they face a double whammy. Not only do they get more people and cars with needs for services packed into a small area, but also they lose the small, low-rise business buildings that provided them with stores, offices and restaurants…essentially their “downtown” conveniences and pleasures. Put together, such development would change the entire fabric of the community from a working village to a soulless bedroom community populated with high rise apartment buildings and all the stresses of traffic congestion and parking woes that go with it.

Speculators banking on gentrification put Gladstone Parkers in between a rock and a hard place because their ultimate aims are so far apart. Are there any ways such commercial building owners can instead be encouraged to invest in the community by upgrading and leasing their existing structures to increase the vibrancy of the Business Corridor? Can Gladstone Park establish some sort of special shopping zone to give the area cachet and raise rents that would make more business owners want to gravitate to and operate in the community? Knowing that speculators’ objectives are all about money, are there any incentive programs that can be tapped into to make it worth their while to help revitalize the commercial district? Could private capital through the federal Community Reinvestment Act, for example, be used to start businesses and support entrepreneurship in building a more economically vibrant community while maintaining the working and middle class populations of Gladstone Park?

While perhaps controversial in some areas, Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) has so far been very helpful in keeping the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association informed about all building projects and requests for zoning variances that have come across his desk. Unlike the ward’s former alderman, John Arena, who went behind the community’s back in foisting a too-tall building onto it that didn’t belong, Gardiner behaves differently. He described his zoning review process in the November, 2019 Nadig Newspapers as initially seeking GPNA input before holding community meetings to hash through building proposal details. “I was voted in to represent the interests of the community,” he was quoted as saying the night after the Chase Bank redevelopment meeting, “and if the community doesn’t want it, I’m against it.”

As for businesses often considered undesirable, Gladstone Park has a few in the category of pawn and payday loan shops, tattoo parlors, and vaping and tobacco stores. It also has a number of car lots on its main drag that some residents find might be better placed elsewhere. But it is apparently about to say goodbye to the pot shop just across its border, approved by the city in 2016 over strenuous objections of the local community. On May 23, 2022 The Chicago Tribune reported that while cannabis dispensaries had at first opened in unobtrusive, out-of-the-way sites [like in Norwood/Gladstone Park], they were increasing seeking to relocate to vibrant, upscale areas [like River North].

While it’d be tempting for Gladstone Parkers to take umbrage over remarks that the “flourishing” cannabis industry was expanding to “pricier, high-profile sites,” it might be beneficial to look at the situation with a different perspective. Maybe it isn’t so bad a big corporation wants to leave because it doesn’t want to continue selling pot in the community’s low-rise, spread-out, family-friendly community.

As of June 15, 2022, Propertyshark was advertising only three Gladstone Park commercial properties as available. A .18 acre piece of vacant land at 5360 N. Milwaukee was for sale at $499,000. Two other retail properties were available for lease: a 12,900 square foot space in the Associated Bank Building on .31 acre at 5200 N. Central and a 1200 square foot retail opportunity on .07 acre at 5717 N. Elston. This belies all the other commercial properties that are currently sitting vacant in Gladstone Park’s Business District, some with signs in their windows for sale through exclusive listings and some without any signs whatsoever.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING UPZONING

So, if it’s all about sticking to the designated zoning in Gladstone Park, how did the upzoned 5150 project and the GlenStar complex turn it into an affordable housing issue?

The situation is manifold.

Part of the problem is in confusion about the terminology and methods Chicago employs to address its low-income housing programs which now fall under the newer term “affordable” as opposed to the “fair” housing lingo of past times. The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) first defined affordable housing in 2006 as that in which the occupant pays no more than 30 percent of gross income for, including utilities. Although HUD created the benchmark, every city factors in specifics to its own formula, tinkering with earning equations and different forms of implementation.

Chicago has an unusually complicated system set up to provide rental housing to low-income households at rates they can afford. On its online platform Medium, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability describes the city’s setup as divided into two main vehicles Of the 89,000 rental households in the Windy City that participated in affordable housing programs in 2018, some are managed and regulated by the 85-year-old Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) while others arise through the city government’s Department of Housing (DOH). Both entities use different means to create and manage rental housing opportunities with some overlaps.

It is instructive to note that CHA was founded upon the passage of the Federal Housing Act of 1937, and began its mission owning and managing the city’s first public housing projects (Jane Addams, Julia C. Lathrop, and Trumbull Park Homes built by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration) in the late 1930s. CHA is the agency at the source of the Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly known as Section 8, the federal law that authorizes rental housing assistance for low-income households by paying subsidizes to private landlords to make up the difference between what clients can pay and market rates.

Meanwhile, City Hall relies on governmental laws geared towards a carrot/stick approach to bring more affordable housing units into Chicago. It incentivizes private developers building housing complexes to set aside affordable units by giving them valuable commodities such as zoning relief and tax exemptions. If they keep all their rentals at market rate, they are penalized with large buyout fees for each unit of affordable housing they eschew.

The problem is that both organizations together cannot supply the amount of affordable housing needed, with waiting lists extending for years if not decades…particularly if the applicant is disabled. Although Chicago Housing Authority spokesperson Matthew Aguilar counted 170,000 families on waitlists for all types of public housing assistance at the end of 2021, the number is not definitive because some people are on multiple lists. (There is no central list.) CHA currently grants all 47,000 Housing Choice Vouchers it receives from the federal government to low-income households, but the 32,000 families waiting for them can only get into the program if other families stop using them.

Meanwhile, Gladstone Parkers know there’s a critical difference in the few who are against the idea of fair and equitable housing as a right and the many who are against affordable housing as it is now implemented by the city and its agencies within small neighborhoods like its own. Most of them would like concerns such as these to be addressed:

  • Does all housing for low-income households in Chicago have to fit City Hall’s one-size-fits-all plan of high-rise, densely-filled privately-built apartment developments despite whether it’s in a dense urban neighborhood or a sparsely-developed city community? For while outsourcing the building of huge housing complexes to private developers who agree to add affordable units may be the path of least resistance, it’s not an appropriate path for a community like Gladstone Park.
  • Since homeownership is in the DNA of Gladstone Parkers, wouldn’t it be ideal to instead establish, say, an innovative program to ease disadvantaged earners into affordable home ownership with dedicated loans set up for them to purchase from Gladstone Park’s abundant stock of two/three flats? Helping people from low-income households buy existing multifamily housing would give them the opportunity to escape the cycles of poverty living in one unit and paying the mortgage with rentals from the others, all while building generational wealth. And it would put them and their children on the path to settle successfully into the culture of the community.

It turns out there’s a crucial balance between numbers of rentals and home ownership that contributes to the stability of a community. Gladstone Park champions home ownership in its low-rise, spread-out community for the common sense reason that when people have money invested in their own properties, they develop the pride to care for them. On the other hand, rental housing of any kind – market rate or not – brings with it the reality of tenants who are not for the most part putting down permanent roots. Which is why it’s easier for Gladstone Park to encourage homeownership while weaving its renters into the community interspersed in two/three flats here and there or in small apartment buildings anchoring corners of blocks of single-family homes.

With the right balance of permanent versus temporary residents, there are still enough people on every street motivated to go on litter patrol, watch packages on front porches, keep gardens blooming and lawns neatly trimmed, take care of neighbor’s children in a pinch. One simply can’t maintain that same level of community cohesiveness and involvement if there are too many people concentrated in any one location. Dispersing renting housing between single family homes throughout the community is what has always allowed residents to more easily absorb and inculcate even the transitory residents into becoming true Gladstone Parkers. They just can’t do it when 100, 200 or more people are all slapped down together in one great building.

As it is, about one-third (34 percent) of the neighborhood’s residential stock is now in rentals, close to the national rate of 36 percent, according to Pew Research. And anybody who actually lives in Jefferson Park/Gladstone Park is aware that the community already has perhaps more reasonably-priced quality rental housing than just about anywhere in the city.

It may surprise people from outside the Far Northwest Side to find out that Gladstone Park has always had its own brand of low-income housing. They have to. Recent figures from the neighborhood rating site niche.com tell us 15.6 percent of those with annual earnings under $25,000 live in all of Jefferson Park (including Gladstone Park), along with another 16.9 percent with incomes between $25,000 and $49,999, as detailed on Better yet, Gladstone Park’s two/three flats, two-family houses, and small apartment buildings are immersed within bucolic areas of single family homes and can be had for an average market rate of $1233 monthly. Which of course means that some half of them rent for less.

In addition, the community, classified as “dense suburban,” has steadily been diversifying. With little fanfare, the “official” Jefferson Park neighborhood in which Gladstone Park is situated saw a doubling of its Hispanic population to 25 percent of the total in the last 20 years, according to August, 2021 data issued by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Community Surveys (CMAP). Outsiders also probably don’t know that in the last five years the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association has welcomed in congregations of Moroccan Muslims and Ethiopian Christians to local religious centers.

And Gladstone Park continues to serve as the present-day epicenter of the Polish diaspora with large numbers of immigrants from that country migrating north into the community from their original location in Avondale. The Polish population in Chicago and in Gladstone Park in particular is so significant that The Illinois House just recently designated Milwaukee Avenue from Sangamon Street in Chicago to Greenwood Road in the suburbs of Niles as “The Milwaukee Avenue Polish Heritage Corridor.” The idea is to recognize the undeniable impact of Polish culture on Chicago and, in doing so, promote existing businesses and attract new ones to fill empty storefronts on the map of Chicago’s tourist attractions that includes all of Jefferson Park.

Gladstone Park is also one of the most affordable of the city communities in which to buy a single-family home. Even at the height of the pandemic’s real estate frenzy in May, 2022, the median price of a home in the community was $355,000 as compared to $594,000 in Lincoln Park, according to realtor.com. But if you’re comparing apples to apples, you’ll find most prospective homebuyers are aware that brick bungalows five miles out of downtown that go for $800,000 can cost just half that when you get five miles further out to the Far Northwest Side. Which, of course, is the reason why so many city employees, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters live in Gladstone Park and its surrounding communities.

So it seems like Gladstone Park does its fair share when it comes to housing people of all income levels and many ethnicities. Maybe moreso when you compare it to the Chicago community of Sauganash/Forest Glen just north and east of Jefferson Park/Gladstone Park. Categorized as “sparse suburban,” its dwellings are even more spread out with only 9 percent of their housing stock in rentals, as detailed in niche.com. In other words, there is a home ownership rate of 91 percent and the few rentals there are have an average monthly cost of $1638.

Further, if one were to explore Sauganash/Forest Glen’s affordable housing options in LowIncomeHousing.us, which bills itself the country’s “premiere online resource of affordable housing options,” one would see only four choices. Funny thing, all of those are outside their community’s borders, located in Mayfair, North Park, Portage Park, and Jefferson Park. Where is that community’s responsibility for supporting Chicago’s affordable housing?

The question is, how does the City of Chicago not know about Gladstone Park’s demographics and not Sauganash/Forest Glen’s when it claims it has to impose more housing for low-income earners in one place and not the other? Must Gladstone Park engage the services of the well-respected DePaul Institute for Housing Studies to compile statistics and present evidence to City Hall that it are being unfairly singled out with policies that do not benefit either affordable housing candidates or the residents of the local community?

And why is City Hall blind to the fact that residents of the community aren’t, for the most part, against fair and equitable housing so much as they are against Chicago ignoring its zoning regulations in the quest to upzone their properties for rich developers? Why do they only have a one-size-fits-all approach to impose affordable housing as high-rise, high-density buildings when there might be far better ways to do it in different types of communities?

EQUITABLE TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT (eTOD) UPZONING

But affordable housing upzoning alone isn’t the only kind of building growth Gladstone Park has to worry about. Transit Oriented Development (TOD), one of the most significant development trends nationwide, was embraced in Chicago during the last decade before being revised in 2021 as Equitable Transit Oriented Development (eTOD).

While the city’s new version of the initiative added actions to “advance racial equity, wealth building, public health and climate resilience goals,” the gist remains the same as its earlier ordinance. The idea is that people renting apartments near transit centers or major streets with bus and train hubs will walk, bike, and use public transportation, not add cars to the neighborhood. Thus, developers of TOD housing projects are permitted to build larger, denser complexes while reducing or eliminating requirements to provide tenant parking. The “equitable” part of the ordinance, amongst other efforts, encourages the inclusion of numbers of affordable housing units, particularly in Black and brown communities.

Right from the beginning the city targeted the Jefferson Park Transit Center, a multimodal facility serving Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses and Blue Line “L” trains, the Metra train and Pace buses at 4917 N. Milwaukee, as an ideal site for a comprehensive mixed-use TOD development. As early as 2016 the city’s Planning and Development Department commissioned a study of the location under former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Located 0.2 mile from the southern border of Gladstone Park and the 5150 N. Northwest Highway housing project, Jeff Park Transit is only a five minute walk.

By the time there was a concrete Transit Oriented Development proposal on the table, the COVID pandemic was in full force with community input difficult. A November 5, 2020 online Zoom meeting on a plan for a four-story 36-unit TOD building at 5071 N. Northwest Highway near the Jefferson Park Transit Center malfunctioned with unmuted participants asking questions and making comments over the presentation project officials were trying to make, according to Nadig Newspapers. The meeting had to be postponed.

At the rescheduled meeting December 3, 2020, more details emerged. As an economic disincentive to owning cars, tenants of the 3 studio, 21 one-bedroom, and 15 two-bedroom apartments would have to pay $150-300 a month more to rent one of the 15 parking spaces the developer was putting in, reported Nadig Newspapers. When one resident complained that homeowners living near the proposed complex were already playing musical chairs parking their cars even though street parking was permit only, the promise was made that tenants would not be eligible for parking permits.

Ironically, the 11,749 square foot parcel had already been rezoned to RM-4.5 in 2007 for a 14-unit building with 14 underground parking spaces that had never come to fruition, according to the November 6, 2020 Nadig Newspapers article. The new project developer was asking for a different zoning change to B2-3 that normally permitted a maximum of 29 units with 29 parking spaces, one per unit. But under TOD, the density of apartments could be increased to 39 units with no parking provisions (although 15 were proposed). Project attorney Paul Kolpak maintained the market rate development was geared to the higher density levels the city wanted near transit hubs and would cater to young professionals who could be relied upon to take public transportation and not own cars.

By zoning regulation, four affordable housing units would be required in the project, but the developer was considering a buyout of two of the units to keep them market rate, according to his attorney.

5071 N Northwest Highway

Developer’s rendering of proposed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) at 5071 N. Northwest Highway near the Jefferson Park Transit Center, a hub for Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses and Blue Line ‘L,’ the Metra train, and Pace buses. The B2-3 zoning change the developer applied for would normally allow for a 29-unit complex with 29 parking spaces, but with TOD the project could be upzoned for 39 units with no required parking provisions. Despite the assumption tenants would walk, bike and take public transporation, the developer planned to provide 15 parking spaces that would be rented out for $150 to $300 a month as a further economic disincentive for tenants not to own cars.

In mid-2020 another proposal came in for a seven-story, 88-feet tall, 192-unit development on the TCF National Bank property at 4930 N. Milwaukee. On the corner of Gale Street in the heart of the community, the mixed-unit complex, directly across the street from the Jefferson Park Transit Center, would also include 5800 square feet of commercial space.

If built as proposed, “Gale Street Lofts” would be downtown Jefferson Park’s third tallest building, according to Nadig Newspapers. It would feature many amenities, including a landscaped rooftop with pool. Five of the 192 one- and two-bedroom apartments were to be designated affordable.

By virtue of it being a TOD project, only 86 of the 139 parking spaces the developer planned to put in would be available to tenants instead of the normal 192, or one per unit. Of the remaining parking spaces, 46 would be set aside for retail tenants with seven for the bank, which planned to relocate into a smaller facility at the south end of the property.

Gale Street Lofts

Developer’s rendering of the proposed Gale Street Lofts, a seven-story, 192-unit mixed use development with 5,800 square feet of commercial space at 4930 N. Milwaukee on the TFC National Bank property. At 88 feet high, it would be the third tallest building in Jefferson Park, after only the 10-story Veterans building and its proposed 16-story addition that would make it into one planned development. Directly across the street from the Jefferson Park Transit Center, the project would qualify as one of Chicago’s TODs, allowing it to reduce parking from the 192 spaces (one per unit) that would normally be required. Still, the building planned to offer 86 spaces for tenants, 46 for its retail tenants and seven for the bank, which would be relocated to the south end of the property. Out of the 192 apartments, five would be designated as affordable for low-income households.

There are at least two other approved, proposed, or potential TOD developments in Jefferson Park:

  1. Carmen Corners, a vacant lot zoned RM-5 at 5342 W. Argyle, claims approval for two four-story 24-unit buildings with first floor parking. The land, within walking distance of the Jefferson Park Transit Center, is currently for sale.
  2. An unnamed project at 5306 W. Ainslie has a building permit for a 200-foot, 16-story, 114-unit apartment building to be combined with the existing 10-story Veterans building on Veterans Square on N. Milwaukee, according to Nadig Newspaper’s Facebook Page. A lawsuit alleging the building is too large for the planned development has stalled the project, which includes a 200-space parking garage.

While eliminating parking provisions at a Transit Oriented Development housing complex may work in the center city, doubts have been raised whether it could work as well the further you get out into Chicago neighborhoods that are more suburban in character. Maybe it could fly near transit centers in the more built-up commercial sections closer to downtown, but it would be much less amenable in the more suburban-like community of Gladstone Park and others to its north and west. That’s because the whole concept of TOD depends on the huge assumption that people will not have or want cars…or would be willing to find and pay for parking in independent lots or garages if they do have vehicles.

The unfortunate truth is that, because of the Far Northwest Side’s low density, spread-out nature, and proximity to the suburbs, it has always supported a strong driving culture. There are no private parking lots or garages to take up the slack. For this reason, there are many who believe that putting upzoned dense TOD buildings with inadequate parking in or near Gladstone Park would destroy the community’s easy-going nature defined by its lack of traffic and parking woes. Next up is one of the residents’ biggest fears: forcing the community’s hand with Chicago’s dreaded parking meters, one-way streets and permit-only street parking.

Further, despite all its good intentions to combine Transit Oriented Development with affordable housing in Chicago’s Black and brown communities, the reality is that 90 percent of TOD projects by June 18, 2021 had either been built downtown or in wealthy or gentrifying neighborhoods on the North and Northwest sides, according to statistics available from the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, as posted on the real estate news site Urbanize Chicago.

There is middle ground. How about the city and Gladstone Park coming to a better understanding of each other so they can explore different, more mutually-acceptable solutions? As just one example, can City Hall and/or its agencies aid the community in maintaining its presently endangered stock of two/three flats? These not only constitute some of the most decent, affordable housing in Chicago (backyards!), but also make it possible for low-income households to become homeowners in the easiest possible way, living in one unit and paying the mortgage by renting the other(s)…all while building generational wealth. Perhaps the Chicago Flats Initiative or other interested organizations can also help in this regard?

And how about engaging some of the other organizations that support fair housing with new ideas? Housing Action Illinois, a conglomerate of some 160 nonprofit organizations, government agencies and corporations in the state, lists 64 with Chicago addresses. Their expertise and different ideas would be worth their weight in gold.