Dispatch from 2nd Community Meeting Pertaining to Miller Lumber Apartments

By at April 29, 2012 | 11:20 am | Print

(note: first two photos by Philin Phlash)

As previously reported, Smithfield Properties, a downtown developer, purchased the Miller Lumber Building at 1815 W. Division this past September for $3.2 million.  Plans are underway to redevelop the property, tentatively slated to include four retail spaces (including two Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants) on the Street Level, as well as rental apartments above it.

In a public community meeting hosted by 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno at LaSalle School this past Thursday, Rolando Acosta, Smithfield’s attorney, pictured at top, presented the revised proposal, which served as a follow-up to a March 6th meeting where the original proposal was discussed.

The new plan for the property, pictured, would now be four stories (instead of the original five) and contain three residential stories and 39 apartment units.  The originally proposed five stories housed four residential levels containing 52 units. In the initial proposal, 10 of the 52 rental units were to be allocated for affordable housing. In the new proposal there are four affordable housing units. Size of the units are expected to begin at 800 sq. ft for a one bedroom and $1200 sq. ft. for a two bedroom. Balconies will not project beyond the facade of the building and will be ‘inset.’

Color caulk banners between units will not house advertising. “Signage is not part of zoning,” the alderman said. He clarified, that if there are any signs in the public way they’d need approval from him.

Currently the property has a B-2-2 status, enabling it to have 20 rental units above street level. Acosta’s client is seeking a B-3-3 zoning status, which would permit the 39 rental units and create higher density. Thirty-five parking spaces would be allotted for residents of the property’s 39 proposed units. Acosta told the approx. 30 meeting attendees that he filed a voluntary Type 1 zoning, meaning that “We can’t build anything other than what’s proposed.” Pictured: March 6th , 2012 Community Meeting.

One attendee, who is not a neighbor, remarked, “Adding more viable retail can’t be a bad thing.”

Philin Phlash suggested an underground parking garage to alleviate parking concerns.

Sitting next to this writer was a local bar owner who would not comment, as he would share concerns over parking and alley access with the proposed new neighbors.

Bridget Montgomery, who lives in Logan Square and has a child enrolled at LaSalle II School, expressed that she felt 39 rental units “is too many. Hopefully someone else feels the same way.”

No one added to Montgomery’s comment.

As for the two additional storefront rentals, Peter Locke of the East Village Association cited concerns about chain retailers, to which Moreno replied that he would like to keep the integrity of Division street’s strong independent business community intact and would encourage the developer to rent to independently owned businesses.

This writer expressed support of the development and 39 rental units, though brought up concerns over a $1000 contribution to Friends for Proco Joe Moreno from Lettuce Entertain You on March 3rd, 2012, just three days before the first community meeting, and asked if there was any relation between that and the current proceedings. Alderman Moreno deemed it “an irresponsible question.”

Teddy Varndell, a longtime community resident, pictured at the WPC Scarecrow Extravaganza in 2010, then added that, via his research, Lawrence Gritton, an attorney for Smithfield Properties, and Smithfield Construction Group, had also each contributed $1,000 on that same day, totaling $3,000 in contributions to Friends for Proco Joe Moreno just a few days before the March 6 meeting. This news was also mentioned in Jim Drew’s coverage on Our Urban Times.

Moreno replied that as an alderman he is always fundraising and that the donations were made as a result of a fundraiser on that day.  In a conversation after the meeting, Varndell remarked that in the same period Moreno raised $75,000 in contributions, Ald. Waguespack raised $250. In a Facebook conversation thread post-meeting, political activist Joe Lake noted that Ald. Waguespack does not accept contributions from developers in the 32nd Ward. Varndell shared this link to a Chicago Tribune piece from January 2008 about Ald. Moreno’s predecessor, Manny Flores, who also accepted contributions from real estate developers and, like Ald. Moreno, was responsible for ‘upzoning.’

In unrelated news, also on March 3, 2012, and in information provided by Varndell, Friends for Proco Joe Moreno received a $1500 donation from Monterrey Security Consultants. In a March 16th, 2012 conversation with Ronda Locke, Alderman Moreno’s Director of Community Outreach, pertaining to the Congress Theater, Locke expressed to The Pipeline that Congress should hire a security firm and used Monterrey Security as an example of who they should hire.

Given this fact (the Logan Square 1st Ward venue was placed into the deleterious impact process by Moreno on Feb. 28th, 2012) and Locke’s referencing of Monterrey Security, less than two weeks after a substantial donation from the firm, the timing just seemed (like the contributions from entities seeking an upzoning on Division Street) interesting.

Addendum: We would like to clarify that at this time there has been absolutely no connection between the donations made to Alderman Moreno and his stance on the proposed zoning changes for the Division property.  We would also like to add that this issue relates in no way to the ongoing events at The Congress Theater.


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  1. Marmite, 3 years ago Reply

    Your question about the coincidence of timing for contributions to Proco from people who have something to gain from him were not irresponsible, as he reprimanded. I’m glad that you’re doing investigative journalism and that other people at the meeting backed you up. The defensiveness of his answer indicates that you’ve touched a nerve. Keep up the good work!

    By the way, I’m an advocate of higher density (within reason) because it is a way to create more affordable housing and diversity in our neighborhoods, but I would like to see it occur fair and square with no funny business between the alderman and developers.

  2. Teddy Varndell, 3 years ago Reply

    Mr. Gritton is the attorney for Smithfield, not the lawyer for Lettuce Entertain You.

  3. Alisa, 3 years ago Reply

    Thanks, Teddy. I thought Acosta was the attorney for Smithfield? Does he have two laywers? Or is Acosta the attorney for Lettuce? I will correct. Thank you.

    • Teddy Varndell, 3 years ago Reply

      According to the March 6th A-1, “an attorney for Smithfield Properties”, woukld be accurate.

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