Zoning advisory board hears proposals


The possibility that a Starbucks coffee shop with a drive-through facility may open at 6340 N. Northwest Hwy. and a proposal to replace 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.

Developer Lee Wolfson told the board members 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 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 shop, but he 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 driveway 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 the Union Pacific Railroad would have to study the feasibility of a new curb cut due to the proximity of a railroad crossing on Harlem and the high volume of traffic at the Harlem-Northwest Highway intersection. The site is adjacent to Metra 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 have to be long enough to prevent cars from backing up onto Harlem.

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

Wolfson said that if he acquires the property he would develop it for a single tenant.

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

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

Project attorney Paul Kolpak said that the project 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 square feet to 6,200 square feet. Without the zoning change, 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 demolition of the church.

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 architectural diversity in the neighborhood.

The meeting was the first advisory board meeting for Napolitano, who was elected the 41st Ward alderman in April. Former alderman Brian Doherty created the advisory board in the early 1990s, and Mary O’Connor, who lost her re-election bid to Napolitano, retained the board after she was elected in 2011.

The members of the board represent community groups in the ward. They are asked to present proposals to the group they represent and to summarize the comments that residents make at the next advisory board meeting.

The board makes recommendations on zoning issues to the alderman. Napolitano said that he may regionalize the board so that members can concentrate on zoning proposals in or near the neighborhood that they represent.