Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston was in attendance, as her concurrence with the proposal is required before it can be brought to the City Council for approval. She said that she wanted to hear what people had to say, before she would say yea or nay.
Under Antheus’ plan, the 450,000 sq. ft. building would have 325 to 350 apartments (primarily one bedroom and two bedroom; with roughly 30 studios; and 30 three-bedrooms). The lobby area and function rooms would be retained, and a restaurant included. Antheus estimated that 450 to 500 people would reside in the building, compared with more than 700 students in the former dormitory.
Meeting attendees were generally favorable toward the building plan, which would include a lot of restoration work. That informal consensus left a vacuum of sorts for 5490’s complaints and worries about parking to take up most of the time and dominate the meeting. The people of 5490 said the development would worsen a tight parking situation in the area.
I state here that I like the proposed project and I believe that, at least in this neighborhood, anti-project parking arguments are mostly used in narrow self-interest, despite claims that they are for the general good.
The 5490 building, with about 20 units, has no on-site parking. The building does have a large area in back that could accommodate perhaps 20 cars. This was noted from the floor, and by Eli Ungar. In addition, Ungar repeated what he has said at every similar meeting – that a specific building project cannot solve the neighborhood’s “parking problem” and that adjacent property owners shouldn’t expect someone else’s project to solve their problems. Alderman Hairston has generally agreed with that position, adding that the parking issue should be addressed community wide, not project-by-project. That’s old news, and the tone of the audience seemed to be that they were weary of people trying to stop beneficial projects by using parking as a wedge.
In refutation of 5490’s prediction that parking gridlock would be caused by the Shoreland development, there were two general arguments: (1) by Antheus citing their recent experience, and (2) by people in the audience who essentially said this project is what the neighborhood needs, and parking is not the pivotal issue.
Antheus and its property management company MAC Properties have experience with rehabbed rental buildings in Hyde Park, such as Windermere House and Algonquin Apartments. They said that about one-third of renters use parking facilities on the properties, and that both properties have unused parking spaces in their lots. Ungar said they expect the Shoreland to follow this pattern. He also said that Antheus has more than 100 vacant parking spaces in its “portfolio.”
Ungar said it’s feasible to get 100 “legal” parking spaces into the building without encroaching upon the residential space. A “legal” parking place is one that meets the City code’s criteria for self-parking, in terms of square area, access and maneuvering room. The City figures a building’s “parking ratio” in terms of “legal” spaces. That in itself would meet anticipated demand for about one-third of the Shoreland apartments. However, a valet operation with staff-operated lifts and stackers would enable the garage to handle about 220 cars. In its PD application, Antheus is seeking a variance that will permit this arrangement, which will be important for accommodating function and restaurant parking, as well as residents’ needs. The condominium proposals had included parking on a one-to-one ratio (which 5490 liked), but it required a multi-story garage that would have consumed residential and public space. Antheus says the rental proposal is not economically viable if that residential space is taken up by parking.
Speakers from 5490 took the position that plentiful parking is necessary for property values and quality of life. Others took the opposite position, stating that walkability, density, ability to live without a car, are what make for a desirable neighborhood, and they said that many vibrant places thrive with an extremely tight parking environment, maybe because of it. Hyde Park’s good public transportation was noted. Strong statements were made about the benefits of this project (which has funding commitments despite the present economy). One speaker went so far as to say that if you see a neighborhood with plenty of parking for everyone, you wouldn’t want to live there. An owner of Open Produce on 55th Street said storefront businesses need foot traffic more than they need customer parking.
My overall take of the meeting is that most people want the Alderman to approve the proposal and move it forward. I believe she received that message. She would also like to hear individually from people.
Ungar closed by asking anybody with an alternate proposal for the Shoreland to come forward with it. Further, he said that he understands that the parking issue will continue to be prominent, and that Antheus would be pleased to commit financial support to city public parking projects in the neighborhood.
I hope very much that this project is approved in its present form. The alternative is probably a vast derelict building. Hyde Park is already saddled with two large vacant buildings—Doctors Hospital and St. Stephen’s Church. Narrowly focused opponents stopped redevelopment of these two sites. Both buildings are hulking corpses. Hyde Park cannot have another.