Jefferson Park mixed-income apartments pass key city hurdle

The controversial proposal for 5150 North Northwest Highway would include 60 affordable units

Full Circle Communities president Joshua Wilmoth
Full Circle Communities president Joshua Wilmoth

A controversial plan to build a 75-unit mixed-income apartment complex near the Jefferson Park Transit Center took a major step toward city approval Thursday, despite developer Full Circle Communities’ incomplete campaign to raise the $27 million it would take to build.

The Chicago Plan Commission voted to advance the plan for a seven-story building at 5150 North Northwest Highway, which would sit the apartments on top of a 5,500-square-foot retail space set to be leased to the nonprofit Friendship Community Place.

The plan also call for “communication and media rooms,” a library, recreation center, picnic areas and a “resident garden,” Full Circle Communities president Joshua Wilmoth

said during an August teleconference presentation.

Full Circle had been waiting to submit its Planned Development for the site until its leaders finished fundraising, but after the developer was passed over a second time for tax credits by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the developer switched its approach.

Members of the authority suggested it would have a better shot at state tax credits if it were “a little further along in the zoning process,” according to a staffer for Alderman John Arena (45th), a chief backer of the proposal.

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The 75 units would include 15 market-rate apartments, with the rest aimed at residents making between 30 and 60 percent of the area’s median income. Up to 30 units would be available to people with Chicago Housing Authority vouchers. All of the units would be wheelchair-accessible, and 15 would be reserved for military veterans.

The original proposal, whose 100 units were targeted to tenants across the income spectrum, kicked up a swarm of resistance among residents of the middle-class neighborhood when it was unveiled in early 2017.

Detractors during an introductory meeting said they believed the affordable homes would invite crime and drive down property values. The opposition gave rise to a neighborhood group called Northwest Side Unite, which later focused its ire on the development’s potential to exacerbate school overcrowding.

Another new neighborhood group, called Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park, emerged to support the proposal. The split represented a growing divide between older Jefferson Park residents who have traditionally resisted development, and younger families who have supported it.

The plan commission last year approved the construction of a five-story storage warehouse next to the Full Circle site. That project received its building permit, and construction is expected to get underway later this year.

In February, Full Circle announced it had reduced the number of apartments in its proposal by 25 percent but the building would remain 76 feet tall. The new plan includes five studio apartments, 16 one-bedroom apartments, 16 two-bedrooms and 38 three-bedrooms, down from 51 three-bedrooms in the original proposal.

The proposal still needs approval from the City Council’s zoning committee, as well as a final vote from the full council.