Plan to make shopping area pedestrian friendly
by BRIAN NADIG
The parking lot and drive-up window that were built 10 years ago for a CVS Pharmacy at Milwaukee and Lawrence avenues would not have been allowed under an ordinance recently filed by Alderman John Arena (45th) in an effort to encourage pedestrian-friendly development in Jefferson Park.
"If the CVS at Lawrence and Milwaukee were to be built under a ‘pedestrian street’ designation, the building would not have a driveway, it would need more windows, parking would be in the rear, and the building would need to be close to the sidewalk," Arena wrote in his weekly newsletter.
A group of residents were upset that the storefronts at the southeast corner of the Milwaukee-Lawrence intersection were being replaced with a parking lot and drive-through lane for the pharmacy, and they unsuccessfully tried to stop the project by filing a lawsuit. The lawsuit forced the original developer to abandon the project, but the owner of the site eventually built the pharmacy.
Arena’s wants to implement a "pedestrian street" zoning designation on Milwaukee between Giddings Street and Higgins Avenue and on Lawrence between Long Avenue and Laramie Avenue.
The designation, which is in place at the Six Corners shopping district, Milwaukee and Cicero avenues and Irving Park Road, would prohibit new drive-through facilities and curb cuts and reduce parking requirements for stores and some residential developments.
Under the zoning code, a property owner can seek an administrative adjustment from the zoning administrator to allow a new driveway that would be accessible from a curb cut. The designation also prohibits new car washes and gas stations.
"The designation seeks to protect the existing urban shopping district and prevent developments such as strip malls," Arena wrote. "The designation would require that any new building be built within 5 feet of the sidewalk, that the facade facing the street be at least 60 percent transparent glass, that buildings have a primary entrance facing the street and that all parking be located in the rear and not be visible from the street."
The designation would not affect existing buildings, and additional blocks were not included in the proposed ordinance because extending the designation would create too many nonconforming properties under the zoning code, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said. South of Giddings are a strip mall and a bank parking lot, and north of Higgins are three drive-through facilities and the Jefferson Park CTA terminal.
The pedestrian street designation would apply to several vacant parcels in the 5100 to the 5300 blocks of Lawrence. The City of Chicago acquired two of the parcels through eminent domain in 2006 for a planned retail-residential development which was never built.
Under the pedestrian designation, no parking is required for stores and restaurants that are 10,000 square feet or smaller.
In addition, for properties that are within 1,200 feet of the CTA terminal, the required parking for residential units may be reduced from one parking space per unit to one space for every two units, and in some circumstances no parking may be required for nonresidential uses. Under the zoning code, additional bike racks would be required at locations where vehicle parking requirements are reduced.
It is not clear if any of the vacant lots on Lawrence are within 1,200 feet of the transit center. "If it is within 1,200 feet, it is extremely close," Brugh said.
Area resident Frank Suerth, who lives near the vacant lots, said that he likes the restrictions on new curb cuts and drive-through facilities but that he is concerned that any parking requirement reductions for future developments could increase parking congestion on side streets in the area.
Arena has said that residential developments often attract tenants based on the amenities provided. He has said that developments with less parking tend to attract occupants who rely on public transportation, while developments with a high parking ratio attract multi-car families.
"You would be hard-pressed to find better public transit options here than outside of the Loop," Brugh said. "People who live near public transportation generally don’t have as many cars."
Brugh said that the pedestrian designation is not being proposed because of any specific development project. In recent months two developers have expressed interest in buying the city lots, but details have not been announced.
The City Council Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standard Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Arena’s ordinance at its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 4, but the hearing likely will be delayed until after the alderman holds a community meeting on the ordinance, Brugh said.