Group votes to oppose ‘pedestrian street’ plan


The Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association is opposing a proposed "pedestrian street" zoning designation for the Milwaukee-Lawrence commercial district because of concerns that it could lead to denser developments in the area.

Members of the association voted unanimously to oppose the designation, which would affect Lawrence Avenue between Laramie Avenue and Long Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue between Giddings Street and Higgins Avenue, at the group’s Sept. 24 meeting. It also was reported that 1,200 people have signed a petition opposing a proposed five-story apartment complex at Argyle Street and Long Avenue.

Association board member Ron Ernst said that the designation would hurt the quality of life in the neighborhood because it would reduce parking requirements for properties which are within 1,200 feet of the Jefferson Park CTA terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave. Without the pedestrian designation, the less-stringent parking requirements apply only to sites within 600 feet of the terminal.

Several vacant lots in the 5100 to 5300 blocks of Lawrence currently do not qualify for the parking requirement reductions, but that would change if the pedestrian designation were approved. Properties in what the zoning code calls "transit-oriented" areas also are eligible for other types of special zoning relief, but the vacant lots do not qualify because of their existing zoning.

"My concern is moving from the 600 to 1,200 feet for transit-oriented development," Ernst said. "Once you get this locked in, this is going to be used to justify higher density for the area."

In transit-oriented areas, parking requirements can be reduced by up to 50 percent for residential units and eliminated for some businesses. Under the zoning code, parking requirements for businesses are based on the size of a storefront and the type of use.

A four-story building with 39 apartments and about 10,600 feet of retail space reportedly is being considered for several vacant lots in the 5200 block of Lawrence. The development would have 41 parking spaces at the rear of the property, with additional parking on a city-owned parcel at 4759 N. Laramie Ave.

A two-story photography museum also has been proposed for the same site, but that project would require the apartment developer, the Mega Group, to give up its project and sell the land to the museum investors. The City of Chicago also owns some of the affected parcels on Lawrence and is looking to sell those lots.

Ernst also expressed concern that a lack of sufficient parking for any development on Lawrence might be used later to justify the need for a large parking garage in the commercial district. Alderman John Arena (45th) has opposed a 2010 plan which called for a 299-space parking garage at Lipps Avenue and Ainslie Street.

Arena has said that the pedestrian designation would preserve the urban landscape of the area by requiring new buildings to be constructed along the sidewalk, storefronts to have large windows and parking to be located behind buildings. The designation is not intended to reduce parking requirements for any existing development proposal for commercial district, according to Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh.

Brugh said that the designation would prohibit the type of development which occurred 10 years ago at the Milwaukee-Lawrence intersection when storefronts were replaced with a parking lot and a drive-through facility for a new drug store. "It’s a suburban-style CVS in the middle of an urban business district," he said. "It is not in keeping with the character of the community."

Ernst said that aldermen have other tools, including discretion on allowing new curb cuts, that can be used to keep new construction pedestrian friendly.

Also at the meeting, several members expressed opposition to a proposal to build a 48-unit apartment complex at 5342-44 W. Argyle St. which would consist of two five-story buildings with a landscaped courtyard.

Ernst said that the proposed RM-5 zoning for the project would not only be the densest residential zoning in the area but is several classifications higher than the existing RS-3 zoning of the site, which is intended for single-family homes and two-flats. "It is completely inappropriate," he said. "It shouldn’t even be entertained."

The development would be built on the former Cowhey Materials and Fuel Company storage site, which is located across from the Jefferson Park Metra station, at the northeast corner of Argyle and Long Avenue. All parking for the complex would be on the first floor of the buildings.

Some residents have called for the site to be developed under the existing zoning, while other residents have said that construction should be limited to three stories. The association has been helping with a petition drive against the project.

Brugh said that Arena has asked the developer for the project, American Colony Homes, to consider revising it based on the recommendations of residents who delivered the petitions against the project to his office. Some home owners have posted signs opposing "upzoning" in the neighborhood.

Concerns also were expressed at the meeting that some area schools were forced to cut teaching positions after the third of week of classes due to enrollment changes at the schools.

It also was reported that the association will sponsor a community garage sale from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, in the parking lot of the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. The association also is a sponsor of the Jefferson Park "Sunday Market," which is held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of the month at Jefferson Park, 4822 N. Long Ave.

The association also is participating in the first anniversary celebration of the installation of the Portage" statue in the 4000 block of North Cicero Avenue. The Northwest Arts Connection will hold a "parade of neighborhoods" at 1 p.m. at the statue, which depicts a Native American carrying his canoe as a tribute to the canoe portage between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River.