The Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday approved a $150 million plan to renovate a landmark Uptown school building into hundreds of lakefront apartments, while adding a residential tower for seniors to the site. Commissioners and the local councilman praised the developer for bringing much-needed senior housing, including a sizable lot of affordable units, to a neighborhood with few options.
Chicago developer K Giles is proposing to transform Immaculata High School, a former Catholic girls’ school that opened in the 1920s at the corner of Irving Park Road and Marine Drive in Uptown’s Buena Park neighborhood, into 245 apartments and replace a parking lot. of floor space behind the school with a 250-foot building with another 100 senior apartments, as well as 60 assisted living and 32 memory care units. All commission members present supported the plan, which still needs full City Council approval.
The development team surveyed the area and found only four comparable buildings within a two-mile radius, and three of them are more than 30 years old, according to K Giles’ attorney, Rolando Acosta. The Admiral at the Lake, one of four, is the only one in Uptown, according to K Giles.
“There really isn’t anything in downtown Uptown to serve the senior population,” Acosta said during the virtual meeting.
Converting the school into apartments is also the best way to preserve Immaculata High School, which was declared a city landmark in 1983 and added to the National Register of Historic Places, Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Planning and Development told the commission. Chicago, Cindy Chan Roubik. It served about 1,200 students at its peak, closed in 1981, and is currently occupied by American Islamic College, which plans to sell the property to the developer and move to a smaller facility.
“They’ve only used about a tenth of the space,” Roubik said.
Acosta told commission members that the developer will set aside 20 units in the tower for seniors and 49 in the old school as affordable. That satisfies the city’s requirement that such projects set aside 20% of units as affordable, according to Marisa Novara, a member of the Plan Commission and commissioner of the Department of Housing.
“That’s (more) than many low-income housing tax credit developments that we finance,” he said. “I want to thank the developer for making that happen and providing that amount of affordable housing in the community.”
K Giles’s proposal did not escape controversy. The developers spent several years meeting with community groups like Buena Park Neighbors and Uptown United, responding to complaints that too many new apartments could cause traffic jams, overcrowd neighboring buildings or ruin the ambiance of historic school grounds.
Plans changed several times in response. K Giles shortened the proposed height of the new building and chose an L-shaped layout that will increase the amount of open space between it and a condominium building to the west.
“When I first reviewed this, I felt like the (senior) building was tight on the site,” said Plan Commissioner Andre Brumfield, leader of the urban design practice at architecture firm Gensler. But recent design changes will ensure the neighborhood gets a new building “located” on school property and preserve its pedestrian-friendly streetscape, he said.
Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, also a CPC member, questioned Acosta about whether the developer would include enough parking for the hundreds of new units.
“This is a very different use for what has been a relatively dormant site,” he said.
Acosta said the 118 proposed parking spaces exceed zoning requirements, and with curbside service from several CTA bus lines, residents are unlikely to fill the neighborhood with cars. K Giles also consulted with senior housing operators and found that the parking needs of seniors would be modest. And with nearly half of Uptown’s new units reserved for assisted living and memory care residents, who don’t drive at all, there should be more than enough parking, even on Mother’s Day when families will come to visit, according to K Giles.
The two years of community meetings culminated earlier this year with a 21-7 vote to support the K Giles plan by the District 46 Zoning and Development Committee, a group of neighborhood residents brought together by Ald. James Cappleman. He told the Plan Commission that he, too, supported the developer, especially its goal of expanding senior housing.
“As someone who is going to be 70 years old in a couple of months, I see how important it is,” he said.