Neighbors and downtown business owners packed the back room at Prairie Moon Tuesday evening to hear about plans to replace the restaurant with a 16-story residential tower.
Andrew Yule and other members of the Albion Residental development team fielded questions about the project, which focused on the usual concerns about parking, traffic, the building's height and design, and whether there was sufficient market demand to fill the planned apartments and storefronts.
One woman said she worried about the safety of children who walk to school along Lake Street past the alley abutting the CTA viaduct that now provides an exit for Prairie Moon patrons.
Yule said because of those concerns -- and the fact that an easement would permit the CTA to close the alley to conduct track repairs -- his plans call for only having the building's loading docks accessed from the alley.
Cars going into the building's garage instead would use an existing curb cut off Sherman Avenue now used by Prairie Moon patrons.
The two large pillars proposed to support the cantilevered south end of the tower above a corner pocket park came in for criticism from some residents, as did the wavey design of the tower itself.
But in contrast to neighborhood meetings for some other development projects, there also were signs of at least qualified support for the project -- from merchants who hoped the building's tenants would increase retail traffic at the south end of downtown and from some neighbors as well.
Prairie Moon owner Robert Strom said he favored the project and hoped to open a new restaurant in the new building, as did one of the owners of Tommy Nevins, the other long-time restaurant on the block that would be replaced by the new tower.
Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the property, said getting more information about occupancy levels in recently built rental developments will be one of many questions city officials will need to answer as the project goes through the city's approval process.
The developers said 78 percent of the 298 unit project will be studio or one bedroom apartments with relatively small unit sizes designed to make them at least relatively affordable to young professionals, and that the development would be unlikely to increase demand on local schools.
The project calls for 192 parking spaces.
Approval as designed would require a variety of planned development zoning allowances -- which are permitted, with City Council approval, under the city's inclusionary housing and transit-oriented development policies.
The developers plan to contribute $3 million to the city's affordable housing fund.
Formal review of the project would start with a Design and Project Review committee meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, followed by a Plan Commission hearing, before the project could reach the City Council. That process typically takes a minimum of three to six months.