Prospective developer of Miller Lumber and a Milwaukee Ave. site concerns some residents

By: 
Jim Drew
Date: 
04/26/2012
4-storyMillerCrnr

New 4-floor renduring

With Smithfield Properties proposing a development on the former L. Miller Lumber site, 1815 W. Division and another potential project coming up on N. Milwaukee north of Leavitt, some residents who have lived in Wicker Park for years are looking at these projects with pessimism. For those who have lived in the neighborhood for only a few years, such as yours truly, one must look into the past of the developer to see why Smithfield has such a rocky reputation for some in the neighborhood.

Smithfield Properties boasts a wide range of developments across the city including, residential, mixed use, commercial, and even industrial. Several projects such as a strip type one at Halsted and North as well as California and Armitage were properties they obtained from the city. As one resident puts it, "They must have 'serious' ties to have gotten those lucrative sites and then gotten TIF money on top of it."

Though the developer has completed many projects, two high profile controversies have occurred in the past few years. William H. Smith, principal of Smithfield Properties was sued for a bidding process debacle for a site in the Gold Coast with former Alderman William Singer. Additionally, last year, the downtown “MoMo” building faced several building code citations for falling debris that injured a woman.

As far as projects in the Wicker Park community, two major ones have been completed in recent years. Most visible is the “Concord Place” commercial development, where the “Spin Cycle” was at one time. Close to the “L,” the development has faced criticism for being too similar to a suburban strip mall. Smithfield Properties also helped build Willow Court, a 56-unit development that backs up to the Bloomingdale Trail. 

In the 90s and 2000s the relationship between politics and zoning was inseparable. While things are more transparent nowadays, one can still see how real-estate/zoning and politics support each other.  For example, the three primary components for the Miller Lumber project are Smithfield Construction Group, Inc. , Lawrence Gritton (an Attorney for Smithfield Properties) and  Lettuce Entertain You. Each contributed $1,000 to Friends for Proco Joe Moreno, which was focused on Alderman Moreno’s bid for Democratic 1st Ward Committeemen race

Streetscape

From the Division St. side looking west

Currently, the developer is seeking a zoning change to allow for additional units to be built on the lumber site.  While the proposal has gone down from a five-story site with 52 units and 42 parking spots to a four-story structure with 39 units and 35 parking spaces, questions and concerns still remain.  Some ask why this project should receive any increase in units and height. 

The proposal did offer the prospect of one or two Rich Melman Lettuce Entertain You restaurants on the ground floor (a second location for RJ Grunts I hope!) in addition to several units of affordable housing. Now, however, it is announced that the restaurants are not a done deal. In addition there are still concerns that this development could spur faster development than Division Street can handle or other consequences.

The history of Smithfield’s developments in the neighborhood and city does not ease these concerns. A newly developed site for the Miller Lumber building could prove to be a great addition for Division Street.  More units could mean more residents to enjoy the amenities the area has to offer, enhancing and improving local businesses. However, more developments on this scale could spell a crowded and congested street and sidewalk.    

Smithfield Properties developments have not always been what the community has wanted or needed, yet public meetings and changes to the plan have been occurring.  While it seems that the issues of the neighborhood and the goals Smithfield Properties’ propose are close to agreement, only after the project is completed will all parties know if the development has been a success. In the meantime, you can participate in the 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno’s Community Meeting at LaSalle II School Gym, 1148 N. Honore St. at 6 p.m. Thurs. Apr. 26.

 

 

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