The Northwest Side seems to be going through some serious growing pains. The recent spurt of news about and backlash against new development proposals and streetscaping projects is evidence that this more or less residential swath of the city, dominated by its single-family homes and above ground pools is not emotionally prepared for the slow advancement of more dense features likelier found in Lakeview or Andersonville. Yet such projects also have the potential to transform the area with less impact that expected. The most recent frustration comes from the proposal for a dense five-floor apartment development in Jefferson Park adjacent to CTA, Pace, and Metra transit center.
The site’s location adjacent to the numerous bus routes, the CTA Blue Line, and the Metra Union Pacific NW line is ideal, because it increases the chances residents will commute to work by public transit instead of a car. It puts more people within walking and biking distance of the Lawrence/Milwaukee and Milwaukee/Central business districts, which both sorely need vitalization and investment. The opponents argue that the project is just too large and out of scale with the area, it would put undo burden on the nearby Beaubien Elementary School, and that this project would set a negative precedent for the entire area.
The petition against this development totally overlooks the value such changes can bring to an area. This is particularly true for Jefferson Park and many other neighborhoods on the Northwest Side, which have a very limited scope of housing options and development types. Dominated almost entirely by single-family homes, the Northwest Side is essentially out of the question for young couples looking to start a family in a smaller place, small families who don’t need or want a larger house, and empty nesters wishing to stay where they raised their families and have friends. Introducing some housing options like this is a potentially vital move in this part of the city as a means to attract new families and retain residents, because housing options specific to their needs become available.
And it is true that this type of development will likely set a precedent, but one that is actually good for the area, not bad! Jefferson Park needs a boost to its economic vitality and economic investment. The area has definitely stagnated and isn’t moving anywhere fast. While attempts to improve the situation are in the works (the improvements to the far northern end of Milwaukee Avenue, potential expansion of Divvy into the area, and Blue Line investment) a major boost would likely come from building more higher-density condo and apartment buildings within the immediate vicinity of the Jefferson Park Transportation Center and the intersection of Milwaukee and Lawrence. This area has the space available and the connectivity to support such developments and it would be a huge lose to the neighborhood to work against positive development proposals.
The precedent being set shouldn’t be feared either, because it is one that seeks to fill in long vacant lots, which in theory should be something neighbors welcome. The lot at Argyle and Long was in fact and old industrial storage yard.
The only legitimate problem may be requiring the local elementary school to take on more students, but considering the proposal only calls for 48 units, which families with children may not even rent, it is hard to imagine a huge influx of students suddenly.
Killing this project on unfounded fears and speculation would be a small blow for the neighborhood that is representative of a larger movements to halt projects that have a collective potential to hugely benefit the area. One way or another, it is important that this project or at least a revision of the same project go through, so it can become an example for Northwest Side residents that such development projects are both possible and beneficial. That is necessary if needed development elsewhere in the neighborhood is to go through. Indeed, there is a small number of three to six floor buildings in the neighborhood that exist side-by-side blocks of single-family homes; buildings old enough that the residents likely voluntarily chose to live near them.
Options exists to soften the potential impact of the Long-Argyle project: make the building closest to homes on Argyle three or four floors instead of five for example. Whatever happens, a proposed solution would be much better than an outright rejection of the project. Living in a city means providing and living in an environment of mixed-use and mixed-design buildings. This is a benefit of city living, because it affords options and diversity that positively impact neighborhoods. It is diversity of people, diversity of economy, and social diversity. This quality of city life shouldn’t be lost in Jefferson Park.