Details of Jefferson Park’s master plan unveiled





by KEVIN GROSS and BRIAN NADIG

Plans to redevelop parts of Jefferson Park were shown to residents at the final community open house on the Jefferson Park Station Area Master Plan held Monday, Jan. 22, at the Copernicus Center Annex, 5214 W. Lawrence Ave.

The meeting featured stations with renderings where residents discussed with various development and government representatives aspects of the plan such as economic development or streetscapes. Residents also provided feedback on the most recent master plan draft.

Teska Associates has been facilitating the plan, which is 80 percent funded by a Regional Transportation Authority grant. Additional resident input will be incorporated into the final draft, which will be sent to the community for public input before its submittal to the Chicago Plan Commission later this year, with a final public hearing to be held by the commission.

"I’m really optimistic about the plan passing (the Plan Commission)," Alderman John Arena (45th) said. "I think it follows a lot of the planning doctrine, that the plan department sees a lot of potential for a transit center like this."

The plan examines redevelopment opportunities if the U.S. Postal Service Carrier Annex at 4810 N. Milwaukee Ave. were to close. The annex opened about 20 years ago under a cloud of criticism because it brought a mail sorting center instead of a traditional retail use to one of the business district’s prime corners, the southwest corner of Milwaukee and Higgins avenues. The plan also examines the expansion of the Ed Paschke Art Center, 5415 W. Higgins Ave., and the creation of an abutting educational space between the Paschke Center and the Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The plan looks at ways to bring more retail use to the corner, more residential uses to the south along the 5300 block of West Lawrence Avenue and a possible new walkway from Milwaukee Avenue to the nearby Jefferson Memorial Park, 4822 N. Long Ave.

Also being considered is a reconfiguration of Higgins, which currently dead ends at Milwaukee and at the entrance to the Veterans Square shopping center, 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave. Higgins would curve north through what is now green space in front of Parkway Bank, 4854 N. Milwaukee Ave., and would be realigned with Veterans Place, an east-west street that runs along the south end of the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The reconfiguration is intended to add more separation between traffic signals at the Higgins-Milwaukee intersection and the nearby Ainslie-Milwaukee intersection to the south and to make way for a new plaza. The reconfiguration could include the relocation of a war memorial at the intersection, although some veterans have opposed such an idea in the past because the location is where many residents took their oath into the military during World War II.

Also being examined is the creation of a winter garden in the square block bordered by Lipps Avenue on the east, Ainslie Street on the north, Lawrence on the south and Milwaukee on the west. The garden would include an atrium-style structure on Lipps in which restaurants on the other streets could have rear-dining patios.

"I’ve heard a lot of commentary about the walking pedestrian space," said Nicole Ponath, associate landscape architect for Teska Associates. "All the green pedestrian space (as well as) the realignment of Higgins and Milwaukee avenues seem pretty popular."

Most of the properties in that square block are owned by two entities, allowing for the possible coordination of the area’s redevelopment, according to master plan consultants.

The plan also is expected to recommend a designated drop-off area for commuters, for example on Lipps south east of the station.

Another possible recommendation in the final plan is the reconfiguration of Foster Avenue, where a traffic signal would be installed at the Foster spur near the 16th (Jefferson Park) District police station, 5151 N. Milwaukee Ave., and traffic would be rerouted onto Northwest Highway.

The plan also looks at housing options. At a previous meeting, consultants said that some residents have called for more townhouse construction in the area.

Project consultants caution that the design concepts in the plan are intended as recommendations to developers and property owners and that in some instances it could take decades for some ideas to come to fruition.

Unlike the Six Corners Master Plan, the Jefferson Park plan will not include density and height recommendations. In recent years, area zoning proposals have led to intense debates on social media, and lawsuits have been filed to stop two existing development projects.

Chicago Transit Authority director of strategic planning and policy Leah Mooney said that plans to construct improvements at the Jefferson Park Transit Center would be separate and likely faster than implementation of the master plan.

"This is more a recommendation on how to use the space, and less about how an actual building might look because it’s way too early in the process," Francesca Sallinger, associate planner for Teska said.

Public funding of developments within the plan remain a possibility, however, such determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis when the plan is approved and developers start showing interest.

"We’re always open to having a conversation about how we can spur development. But first and foremost we want it to come from private sources," Arena said. "If there’s something that we want as a community over and above what fits the private financing model, then its worth having the conversation about buying into a project so we can get that winter garden, so we can open up some green space for people to come."

One resident wrote that they would like to see a garage parking space on Avondale Avenue to leave the streetscape along Ainslie and Lipps more open to the public, while another recommended using Avondale as a main CTA bus throughway to leave Lipps less congested.

Another resident highlighted the importance of "destination attractions" within Jefferson Park. "A reason to come here would be small, mini museums, jazz venues, places of the sort. You could get people from Rosemont, from Downtown here, and people just hop on the train over," said Karel Munao, who proposed the idea of a police museum in Jefferson Park. "I had a restaurant over in Lincoln Square. The reason we headed there was because of the bustle by the Old Town School of Folk Music.

"I also worry about overdevelopment and crowding at the same time. Who wants to be butted between the expressway and 16-story transit rental housing?" Munao said, referring to a development proposal at 4849 N. Lipps Ave.