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Developer finally sells condo plan to city

But neighbors' concerns linger

Oct. 13, 2010

Developer William Ibach will begin selling units for the Townhomes at Hyde Park, a project approved last week after years of plan revisal.

Ibach, who owns the property at 68th and Wells streets, will tear down a former medical clinic to make room for a 20,000-square-foot building housing eight townhome units.

He acknowledged a sense of relief in finally getting Common Council approval Oct. 6 for the plans.

However, there are still financial hurdles to clear before any construction can start. Ibach expects he will have to presell at least four, possibly more, of the units, and could also have to put up more of his own money before a bank will provide assistance.

"If you say 'condo,' the first answer (from lenders) is 'No,' then 'Tell me about your project,' " Ibach said.

Downsized project

The project started as 12 residential units with retail below them. Over time, the retail element was dropped and the number of units was dropped to eight, which included added home-office space aimed to attract professionals, such as an attorney or accountant, who might want to operate a business from their home.

In the time it took to get the project through the approval process, potential tenants started looking elsewhere, said Jack Shepherd, owner of the architectural firm for the project. At least one retired cardiologist has made his home in an Elm Grove condo, he said.

Still, he sees a need for housing for Tosans who want to downsize but not leave the city.

Alderman Dennis McBride, who represents the district, has often advocated for condos and owner-occupied housing for people who don't want a house. Still, he feels that the Townhomes at Hyde Park remain too large and too close to surrounding single-family homes.

"It's still an elephant," he said. "The units are too big."

Addressing concerns

A few neighbors have consistently attended meetings when the plans were being considered. Although they have seen some changes, some voiced frustration that many of their concerns have not been addressed over time.

Shepherd said his firm has changed designs to incorporate a second-level terrace for more open space, design features reflecting the surrounding neighborhoods and different building materials, he said. The project won't work financially with fewer units, he added.

"There comes a point when you have to look at return on investment," he said.

Neighbors also took exception to comments made by city officials that no development would please their standards.

"I want to see something there," Louis Carrao, a neighbor, said. "But why must it be that size? What's the compromise?"

McBride said he has heard members of the development team use the economy as an excuse for a sub-par building, and doesn't buy into the argument that something was better than nothing on the site. He suggested the existing structure could have been redeveloped.

Most of his fellow council members disagreed. He and Alderman Michael Walsh were outvoted in their opposition.

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