Plan For Third Tallest Tower in Wicker Park Draws Mixed Reaction From Neighbors

Rendering of the tower (at far right), by architect Joanna Ruiz with Wallin/Gomez Architects

WICKER PARK — A proposal for a new apartment tower just west of Ashland Avenue and Division Street got an equal mix of support and blowback from Wicker Park neighbors Tuesday.

Robert Mosky’s firm RDM Development aims to build a 16-story, 121-unit apartment tower at 1628 W. Division St., on a site behind a CVS and near the CTA Blue Line Division “L” station. Mosky also owns the historic bank-turned-CVS building.

If approved, the 16-story tower would be the third tallest building in Wicker Park.

The tower would replace this parking lot, highlighted in red. [Courtesy of RDM Homes]

In a vote to gauge community support for the project Tuesday at The Bedford, eight residents voted in support of the proposal, and nine residents voted against it.

The tower plan — which would require a zoning change — was approved on Thursday by members of the city’s Plan Commission.

Next, the project will be considered by the city’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building standards and the full City Council.

View renderings and the site plan by Joanna Ruiz with Wallin/Gomez Architects here.

Listen to the full audio of the 90-minute meeting.

If approved, work on the $27 million tower, which would feature two rooftop decks and a pool, would start in summer 2019 and wrap up by summer of 2020, said Jim Panella, vice president of RDM Development.

“It will be the first building to bring the River North/West Loop style of amenities to Wicker Park,” Panella said in an email after the gathering.

The apartments would replace a parking lot next to a 33-unit mixed-use retail and apartment building at 1624 W. Division St. that RDM Development completed in 2010.

About 18 of the tower’s 121 apartments, or approximately 15 percent of the building’s units, would be affordable housing units, in accordance with the city’s affordable housing ordinance and a Milwaukee Corridor pilot program that aims to increase density near public transit. Panella said the affordable units would be a mix of studios, one, two and three bedrooms.

First presented in 2015 as a 12-story tower, the project has been revised several times. Back in September 2016, the plan was presented as a 16-story, 135-unit building. Members of the Wicker Park Committee’s preservation and development subcommittee objected to previous plans because of traffic and density concerns.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but his chief of staff Raymond Valadez was present. Valadez said Moreno had two other engagements on Tuesday night, and he pledged to bring feedback from the meeting to Moreno.

Moreno did not respond to a request for comment on whether he supports the tower proposal. Valadez said “in general Moreno has been a big supporter of transit-oriented developments” and that “[Moreno] has not historically been intimidated by height [of buildings along commercial transit corridors].”

l-r: Sara Barnes, Robert Mosky and forefront, Raymond Valadez. [Pipeline/Alisa Hauser]

Wicker Park resident Grant Drutchas said he was concerned that an influx of new residents from the tower would make the already packed Blue Line even more crowded.

Noah Szafraniec, the supervising zoning plan examiner for the city’s Plan Commission, told Drutchas that his question about packed trains and capacity is one for the CTA and not for the Plan Commission.

A woman who declined to be named said she supported the tower project. She said she likes the fact the building will offer some affordable housing. But the woman also told Szafraniec that a representative from the CTA should have been at the meeting and at future meetings, since already overcrowded trains is such a big concern with transit-oriented developments.

Szafraniec replied, “I am a guest here speaking on behalf of the city at the request of the alderman’s office…. if you have other people you’d like to come speak, make a request into the alderman’s office. I’m only giving you the feedback from a planning point of view.”

Mosky’s zoning attorney Sara Barnes told the crowd of about 30 (several who spoke in support turned out to not be 1st Ward residents and were disqualified from the hand vote solicited by Valadez) that the proposal has been “fully vetted” by the CTA over multiple internal meetings, with no comments or issues in advance of going before the city’s Plan Commission on Thursday. Barnes said she would make a traffic study that was conducted by consultants KOA available.

The proposed new apartments would be next to another tower, a 15-story, 140-unit apartment tower currently under construction at 1640 W. Division St. that’s part of a development called the Wicker Park Connection from Centrum Partners.

Panella said that the new tower would be roughly 10 to 12 feet lower than the neighboring 15-story Wicker Park Connection building.

The tallest building in Wicker Park is the 28-story Noble Square Co-Op tower and the second tallest will be the forthcoming Wicker Park Connection high rise.

The developer on Tuesday night faced questions from the audience about campaign contributions made to Moreno.

Online campaign records show that Mosky donated $1,000 to Friends of Proco Joe Moreno on March 1.

Mosky said he’s donated to the alderman’s campaign fund in the past.

“I have gone to fundraisers over the years…. I go to fundraisers and I write a check to the fundraiser,” Mosky told the audience. “I’ve been here since 2004 and I have had a couple of restaurants, we have donated money to [Moreno] regularly.”

Moreno did not respond to a request for comment about the March 1 donation from Mosky.

View of the tower from Milwaukee/Ashland. [Courtesy of Wallin/Gomez Architects]
All March 1st donations to Friends for Proco Joe Moreno [Screenshot from Illinois Sunshine]
Residents raise hands in opposition to the tower. The Pipeline did take a photo of those raising their hands in favor but a woman and a man objected to being photographed, so it will not be shared here.