(Published Aug. 31, 2019)
By Jesse Wright
Would-be developers of a condo at 227 E. Walton got an earful from angry neighbors at a community meeting in August.
The property is a historically significant 13-story, 25-unit condominium and developers with BRAD Management would like to turn it into an extended-stay corporate suite.
The Streeterville Organization of Active Residents organized the meeting and Alderman Brian Hopkins attended. He said he wanted to hear community feedback from the proposal. The development first came to light in June at a SOAR land use meeting, and since the plan was floated, residents have opposed the possibility of turning a condo into a hotel. Hopkins acknowledged the unpopular proposal early in the evening.
“We’re starting the discussions to see if there’s anything that can be done to make this more palpable to the community,” Hopkins said at the top of the meeting.
Harry Weese designed the building 63 years ago and the city deemed the property a landmark in 2012. Because of that status, the developers cannot alter the outside significantly, and two spokespeople assured the community that wouldn’t happen—but that assurance didn’t go far.
Community members said they were concerned introducing a hotel—even an extended stay hotel—would invite strangers and trouble into the neighborhood.
“We moved in here because it’s a neighborhood and because it has a neighborhood feel,” a man said. “I would hate to think that because it’s a neighborhood building, we can’t live in the neighborhood and can’t have the environment we enjoy. We don’t want to have transients coming in all day long and all week long.”
Michael Monu, one of the spokespeople on behalf of the developers, tried to assure the community the hotel would not attract rowdy crowds. He said the hotel would not allow overnight stays and would average stays of four-to-five nights at least. He added that the lobby would have cameras and noise meters and that individual units would have decibel meters and marijuana and cigarette meters. Finally, he said, guests would be screened through a background check.
Still, residents said a hotel would drive down property values and one woman said she was afraid the development would “ruin this neighborhood.”
However, Graham Grady, a lawyer for the development team, said the building has limited potential as a residence.
“There’s not a great market demand for large, two-bedroom units,” Grady said. “If you lower the rent too much it’s not going to operate in the black for too long.”
By the end of the discussion, few—if any—residents seemed convinced and Hopkins said he, too, would wait and see whether or not the developers would agree to address community concerns before he would sign off on the project.
“They have to convince me as well as everyone else in this room,” he said.
Hopkins did point out that the city could include deed restrictions on the property that would limit not only how the current owners developed the project but how the property could be forever used in the future—meaning even if the property is re-zoned, it would still be held to certain restrictions in line with community support.
The next step in the process will be in mid-September, when the developers are scheduled to file a zoning map amendment application, though city council action on the project is still months away and tentatively scheduled for some time in December. In the meantime, Hopkins’ office is seeking community input, and residents can weight through his website, www.aldermanhopkins.com.