Should Vacant Lots in an Up-and-Coming Neighborhood Worry a Buyer?

A reader wonders if she should make an offer on a place in the sparse stretch of Clybourn near the site of Cabrini-Green.

Photo: Courtesy of Redfin

Q: Dennis, what are your thoughts on the southern end of the Clybourn Corridor? And by southern, I mean very southern, the area between Division and North. We’re talking one block from the new Division/Larrabee Target and a few blocks from where the New City development will allegedly go up (their website projects completion date of Fall 2014).

I’m wondering how much a liability you would consider nearby empty lots. I wouldn’t be thrilled if a bar or auto shop or nuclear waste dump went in across the street or any other number of potentially loud or undesirable entities.

Area is not currently a walker’s paradise, but if the New City development goes through, there will be a new Mariano’s Fresh Market, Arclight Cinemas, and other restaurants within walking distance.

Property is a 3/2 for price of a 2/2 in other parts of Old Town/Old Town-ish.

But neighborhood simply isn’t that gentrifed yet. Nearest retail is the Starbucks & Dominick’s and now the new Target, both 0.2 miles away. But there isn’t a lot at street level for that block or two radius aside from a cleaners and a restaurant where all the cabbies stop by. Proximity to low-income housing is also a concern: Evergreen housing and the modern space-age looking building across from the Dominick’s. As a single woman living alone, I wonder if this area is still unsafe.

—Elizabeth
 

A: I certainly understand your concern as a single woman, Elizabeth. You should definitely check the crime statistics in the neighborhood. This Tribune tool is a good place to start.

And I agree that the condo is in something of a frontier stretch—there’s been re-development to the south and north, but this is still a middle space that hasn’t picked up yet.

It’s true that you don’t know precisely what will be built on the vacant land, but what are you worried about? With the new Target, the Dominick’s/Starbucks center, the park and all the housing that has been built south of Division, it’s not as if a junkyard is going to be built there, right?

It’s hard to imagine the area going backward. Too much money and energy has been invested in the surrounding blocks, not only on the developments you mentioned, but on the British School of Chicago and on the SoNo residential towers. The pressure of a growing affluent North Side population should inevitably reach the few remaining blocks, as it seeps down from the fancier blocks to the north.

If I were you, I’d be looking ahead at the new amenities that those lots can bring to a neighborhood that is already improving. I don’t see an auto shop coming in there (or a nuclear waste dump!), but I can imagine a bar or restaurant being part of the mix of whatever retail is built. The Chicago Housing Authority owns one parcel on the block but has said that when it builds there, the development will be mixed-income housing.

Are you aware of the history in that neighborhood? From Chicago Avenue north to Clybourn and Halsted—all around this address—was Cabrini-Green, a vast public housing tract where violence was epidemic. There was one incident there in particular, the 1992 shooting of seven-year-old Dantrell Davis, that helped focus the city’s attention on how horrible life was in CHA developments.

In other words, the neighborhood may not seem entirely re-developed, but it’s a long way from what it was. In fact, there are townhomes planned now for the site of the school Dantrell Davis was walking to when he was killed.

Give it time. Don’t forget that a lot of what was built in that neighborhood happened just ahead of the bust years. Everything got frozen in place after that. It’s just now starting to loosen up. I’d expect to see more development around that address very soon.

(While Elizabeth and I were corresponding about this last week, she found on the crime site linked above that there had been four property crime months in the last month immediately outside the property. “Not good,” she wrote. That and the fact that CHA owns one of the vacant lots turned her off making an offer on the condo.)

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