Alderman Napolitano opposes ‘Rosemont” development in Niles
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
A new Metra station along Lehigh Avenue near Touhy Avenue in the Village of Niles would be a part of a large retail, residential and entertainment development that’s been in the works for years, but not if it was up to Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), who is concerned about the project.
"Right off the bat, I don’t have any say in this (development), but as an alderman from the City of Chicago, which neighbors Niles, I have some concerns how this will affect us," Napolitano said.
The development, dubbed as the "Touhy Triangle" project roughly bounded by Lehigh, Touhy and Gross Point Road, has been in the works since plans were released in 2016. Last year, consultants for the village conducted a feasibility study to determine if a Metra train station could be added to the development and include more residential units to make it a transit oriented development.
Results from the study were presented at an open house in late November of last year. Preliminary plans for the development with the station component would feature between 1,120 to 1,390 residential units in more than a dozen five-to-seven-story buildings and about 81,500 square feet of retail space, 550 commuter parking spaces and 20 short term spaces. A senior affordable housing component would likely be a part of the development, according to village officials.
The entertainment district surrounding the Leaning Tower of Niles as its focal point would feature shopping, restaurants, live music, green space and spaces for festivals and concerts, according to plans.
Napolitano said that he has concerns about traffic that a large-scale development of this nature can bring. Officials have said that the development is about 5 to 10 years in the making and that station plans are preliminary and would require village board approval, as well as approval from Metra and RTA boards.
"Niles has a business district and there are not really any residential homes there and they really have it made. But that little sliver that juts into Niles is Chicago and that is all residential homes in my ward. Yes, the people have become accustomed to Costco and Target, but the village is growing. Anything by Touhy and Lehigh is brutal over there with all that traffic," Napolitano said.
"People have moved to the northernmost point of the city to kind of get that suburban feel and they don’t want right next to them this big entertainment district that’s akin to Rosemont," he said.
As far as the new Metra station is concerned, the study looked at spacing between two adjacent stations to the proposed Niles station, which are in Morton Grove to the north and in Edgebrook to the south, about 2.7 miles apart on the Milwaukee District North Line. The report said that Metra prefers stations to be spaced 3 miles apart.
"But for the Niles situation, where parking is constrained at nearby stations and the opportunity to serve destinations is present, the consideration for a more closely spaced station appears viable," the study said. The study said that the station would help maximize the use of transit and improve "walkability" to the business district.
The study concluded that "there is no reason that this initiative cannot be considered" without looking at certain factors.
The study said addition of another station would result in increased travel times for some current riders in Edgebrook and Morton Grove because of the required idle time of 2 minutes at each station. "These impacts would need to be carefully evaluated," the study said.
As a side note, Amtrak is considering a long-term plan that would increase services between Milwaukee and Chicago’s Union Station from seven weekday round trips to 10 daily round trips, pending approval by the Federal Railroad Administration of an Amtrak environmental assessment. A draft of the study estimates an increase of 13 percent in daily gate closures times in Cook County, including 6 minutes of additional wait times at intersections from Central and Devon avenues to Chestnut Avenue in Glenview.
Parking is an important component at Metra stations and would need to be included in the Niles station design plans, the study said. Parking would be located along Jarvis Avenue to Menard Avenue. "Further, opportunities to create destinations that would be accessible by commuter rail should be full explored," the study said.
The report found that the average spacing between stations is 2 miles, including 83 stations with one mile of the next inbound station and that there is no correlation that a close spacing results in lowed station rider ship.
Napolitano said that the Edgebrook station is classified as "either number 1 or number 2 as the worst train stations for pedestrians and traffic in the whole state."
"You’re going to add another stop? That won’t help things over here. Our only relief is that the construction is over in Edgebrook," he said.
"It’s not the parking that I’m worried about it’s the trains and longer wait times. Creating a business district on top of a residential neighborhood is not that great for my constituents. But I get it. It’s money. Its great for the village of Niles.
"But it comes down to being friendly to each other. I think that if they are going to go through with this they should sit down with Edgebrook and Sauganash people and say how will this affect both of you when we bring in another Rosemont over here."