Thursday, September 3, 2015

An Unpleasant but Necessary Conversation: High Rise Apartment Buildings in Chatham

Photo from Worlee Glover
When you speak of high rise apartment buildings in Chatham the conversation ends abruptly. Many will tell you that there are zoning laws that do not permit high rises. Some base there answer on past events as when CHA wanted to build high rises on land that includes the 87th Cottage mall and Chatham Co-ops in the 50's and were denied. Others base their answer that past residential zoning ordinances had restrictions on height. The fact is that many of these restrictions have been relaxed over the years to allow projects in the best interest of the community to move forward(i.e. Senior building next to Pirie).

While there are still some zoning restrictions for some areas, the restrictions do not include the entire community. The conversation is not new as developers have made proposals in the past but none were warmly received and did not move forward.

The conversation is necessary because current trends indicate that young professionals are not as interested in single family homes as they were in the 70-90s. Today young professionals 21-40 place a higher value on "walkable communities" with amenties such as parks, shopping, restaurants, etc. They are less likely to own vehicles but rather use ride sharing, car sharing, taxi and public transportation. They also are attracted to "on demand" services such as food delivery, dry cleaning/laundry, maid service, etc.

While we do not have the desired amenities at this point but we can make the community more attractive to some of these businesses by increasing the target demographic and if you want to take it there YES , gentrifying the community. A recent review of high rise buildings revealed that businesses are aggressively marketing to these buildings and residents by offering onsite free classes, cocktail parties, BBQ's, etc.

While there are many positives there are some negatives. Primarily they are developers and density. In the past there were questions concerning the developers and in other cases the project would have been too dense for the area in which it was proposed. Finding the right developer who is interested in developing a MARKET RATE project that will fit the landscape of the community will be a challenge but not an impossibility.

Overall, not having the conversation limits the community's ability to grow and prosper. It is everyone's desire to see a new mix of businesses along our business strips and frankly move out some undesirable events that are happening (loitering, criminality, etc).

So let's start the conversation.

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