Starbucks considered for Harlem-Northwest Hwy; homes planned for Edison Park Community Church site


The possibility of a Starbucks Coffee with a drive-through facility at 6340 N. Northwest Highway and a proposal to replace the Edison Park Community Church, 6675 N. Oketo Ave., with four homes were discussed at the July 1 meeting of the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Board.

Project developer Lee Wolfson told the board that Starbucks is one of several national companies which are interested in the approximately 27,000-square-foot vacant parcel at the southeast corner of Northwest Highway and Harlem Avenue. The triangular-shaped site, which has been for sale for several years, was once used as a storage lot for the former Norwood Park Dodge dealership.

"It’s really a gateway property for the whole Northwest Highway district,"  board chairman Mike Emerson said.

Wolfson presented a  site plan for an approximately 1,850-square-foot Starbucks but said that the coffee company has not signed a lease for the site and that it may be difficult to attract any national retailer to the site unless a vehicular entrance is added on Harlem. Currently the property is only accessible from Northwest Highway.

Alderman Anthony Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said that the city Department of Transportation and Union Pacific Railroad would need to study the feasibility of a new curb cut given the proximity of a railroad crossing on Harlem and the high volume of traffic at the Harlem-Northwest Highway intersection. The site backs up to railroad tracks.

Board member Marc Pelini said that any access from Harlem would have be to restricted to right-turn only for both entering and exiting vehicles, and board member Liz DeChant said that the lane for the drive-through facility would need to be long enough to help prevent a backup of cars onto Harlem.

Several board members expressed concern that the curb cut could increase the likelihood of northbound vehicles be stopped on the railroad trucks but said that they would support the project if the transportation department gave its approval.

Wolfson said that if he were to acquire the property, he is planning to develop it for a single tenant.

Also at the meeting, plans were presented for the proposed construction of four, two-story homes on a 20,000-square-foot parcel at the southeast corner of Oketo and North Shore avenues. The asking price for the homes would be about $800,000.

The Edison Park Community Church is looking to sell the property due to declining enrollment in its membership, church pastor the Reverend Kathy Karch said. "We hope to stay in the area. It will have to be a smaller facility," said Karch, who has served as the church’s pastor for 11 years and was both confirmed and married there.

Project attorney Paul Kolpak said that the construction would require the site to be rezoned from RS-2 to the less restrictive RS-3. Two of the lots would not meet the minimum lot size requirement of 5,000 square feet under RS-2, and the planned 3-foot side setbacks would not meet RS-2 standards.

Plans call for the homes to be built along North Shore, and due to a rear alley that cuts on an angle, the size of the lots would vary from about 4,400 to 6,200 square feet. Without the zoning change, up to three homes could be built on the property.

A project representative said that three homes would not be economically feasible due to the high cost of the land and the estimated $150,000 cost of the church’s demolition.

In response to a project rendering shown at the meeting, board member John Kwasinski encouraged the development team to vary the facade of the homes to better reflect the community’s architectural diversity.

The meeting marked the first advisory board meeting for Napolitano, who became the ward’s alderman in May. Former alderman Brian Doherty created the board in the early 1990s, and former alderman Mary O’Connor, who lost her re-election bid to Napolitano, kept Doherty’s board after she was elected in 2011.

Napolitano said that he may regionalize the board so that members can concentrate on those zoning proposals in or near the neighborhood which they represent. Board members are asked to bring proposals back to their community group for input and then summarize that feedback at the next advisory board meeting.

The board’s votes serve as a recommendation to the alderman.