Sears redevelopment nearing finish line

Chicago alderman, Plan Commission sign off

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The redevelopment of the former Sears at Harlem and North Avenues is close to taking flight now that community members have weighed in and Chicago Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) has given the redevelopment proposal his formal blessing. 

During a community meeting held June 19 at Rutherford Sayre Fieldhouse in Chicago, the alderman polled the room of roughly 50 to 60 people on whether they were for or against the redevelopment proposal. Based on raised hands, attendees were roughly split down the middle. 

The vote, along with phone calls and other forms of community input from residents who live in Galewood, Oak Park, River Forest and other Elmwood Park, seemed to be enough for Taliaferro to make up his mind. The alderman ultimately recommended that the proposal receive the necessary zoning changes that the project requires to go forward. 

On June 20, the Chicago Plan Commission voted 8-1 in favor of sending the matter to the Chicago City Council's Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, which is expected to consider the zoning measures at a meeting on June 25. If the committee approves the measures, they'll be sent to the full City Council for a final vote — something that could happen next month at the earliest. 

Taliaferro is scheduled to hold two more meetings on the redevelopment proposal — one on July 3 at Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson Blvd., and one on July 17 at Rutherford Sayre Fieldhouse. 

When Sears spun off its real estate arm into Seritage Growth Properties, the new company inherited the ownership of the North and Harlem building, the surrounding parking lots and the parking lot to the east of it. After the store closed, Seritage started working with Highland Park-based Tucker Development to redevelop the site. 

Under the most recent version of the plan, the original Sears building would have branches of an unnamed "national grocery store" chain and "national health club" chain occupying the first floor, apartments on the existing second and third floors, and two more floors worth of apartments above those. 

Tucker plans to build apartments and townhomes that would wrap around a resident parking lot in the middle of the development. 

On June 19, Taliaferro said that a traffic study recommended making Neva Avenue a two-way street between Wabansia and North Avenues, installing stop signs at the entrances to the east lot, and adding a traffic signal and northbound turn lane at the intersection of Harlem and Wabansia Avenues. 

In addition, the alderman explained, under the Affordable Requirements Ordinance, Tucker Development would need to make 33 units affordable. The developer agreed to build nine affordable units on-site and pay a fee in lieu of building the remaining number of affordable units required by the ordinance.  

During the course of the June 19 meeting, opponents and proponents of the proposal reiterated similar points made during the previous meetings. Proponents argued that it would encourage development, help local businesses and would generally be a better alternative than a vacant store and the parking lot. Opponents had concerns about density, traffic and the fact that all of the units would be rental. Xadrian McCraven, who is African American and said he grew up in a public housing development, put the matter in particularly stark terms.

"My concern is that they would be Section 8 and [housing choice] voucher families," he said. "And I believe that this would create destabilization of the western part of Galewood."

Taliaferro pushed back against that sentiment, urging residents like McCraven to "stop putting that stigma on renters," the alderman said.  "I rent. And there are a lot of folks here who rent."

Some attendees were against the proposal for other reasons. Chris Abbasi, a former Taliaferro staffer, said spoke out about how the development might affect residents who live nearby on Nortica Avenue, where he grew up and where his parents still live. 

"This project is literally in our back yards," Abbasi told the alderman during the June 19 meeting. "There are going to be 33-foot buildings literally in our back yards."

During a meeting on March 25, Taliaferro said that he would meet in private with residents on the block and on June 20, he vowed to continue discussions with the developer about issues that might affect residents who live on Nortica Avenue. 

During the Plan Commission meeting, Commissioner Fran Grossman — the only commissioner to vote against the zoning changes — took issue with Tucker Development paying fees in lieu of providing the number of affordable units required under the city's Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

"It seems to me that this is a perfect location for every unit that can be affordable to be [on site]," she said. "This should support people who live there now, many of whom may not live in big, expensive high-rises."

In a letter he submitted to the commission, Taliaferro wrote that "proposed development will be a truly transformational project within the neighborhood and will create quality commercial and residential uses for the 29th ward. It will also generate permanent jobs."


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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Christopher Abbasi from Chicago  

Posted: July 9th, 2019 10:41 PM

I'm all for affordable housing. Regarding my quotes from the article, I was speaking on behalf of the ten homes on the west side of the block of 1600 North Nordica Avenue, which border the vacant parking lot located across the street from the former Sears building. These ten homes are the only private properties which share property lines with the planned development. We do not stereotype and marginalize people based on their level of income, nor any other factor. We simply oppose the current location of two eight-townhome buildings. The 33-foot-tall structures would be erected a mere 20 feet from our short backyards, significantly reducing sunlight. The two buildings, which would house less than 6% of the development's 311 proposed residential units, would create an unnecessary burden to neighboring property owners and do not directly contribute to the benefits that the development will bring to our community. So, we want them moved over or removed. While you can debate its significance, the concern itself is valid.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 1st, 2019 11:47 AM

Fran Grossman should live in this site if it is done, so she can actually be among the units she wants to "force" the builder to provide. Otherwise she would just be one of those people who thinks it should be forced upon others, not her.

Marie T Perkins from Oak Park   

Posted: June 30th, 2019 12:04 AM

Gee, I wish all of these ideas would magically turn the almost 10 year vacant former Marshall Fields building into something. There is no way that I would recommend tearing that landmark building down but surely SOMEONE can come up with a tenant or an idea on how to transform it into something useful. Does anyone have a suggestion?

Stephen Hartmann  

Posted: June 28th, 2019 3:13 PM

I agree that they should have forced them to have more affordable housing units. I think the bias against renters is way over done. The use of Section 8 as a disparaging reference to bad tenants is unfair and classless. I used to rent to section 8 tenants years ago and they were as likely to be good tenants as non section 8 tenants. I think the proposed plan is as good as they are going to get for that area and could provide an anchor for the planned development in the corridor.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 28th, 2019 8:37 AM

The opponents are going to get screwed, while being told their concerns are invalid, by a guy who rents in some super luxury building, because he is a "renter" and all renters are the same? Wow.

Patricia Littlecreek from Berwyn  

Posted: June 26th, 2019 4:40 PM

You should make the residential units affordable. Downtown Oak Park has all these new bldgs whose prices are out of reach for many people. Having a reasonable alternative, I think, will help the Elmwood Park economy in terms of usage of this bldg.

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