Starbucks at Harlem-Bryn-Mawr approved by 41st Ward advisory committee
by BRIAN NADIG
The 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee at its March 3 virtual meeting voted 5-2 in favor of a proposed Starbucks Coffee with a drive-through facility at 5600 N. Harlem Ave despite concerns from residents who live near the longtime vacant parcel.
“I didn’t want to like this proposal, (but) it’s hard to find a better solution,” said committee chairman Mike Emerson, who voted in support of the project. “It’s truly a landmark end cap to that block.” He added, “It’s a beautiful, beautiful design.”
Committee member Frank Icuss, who represents the Edison Park Community Council, said that the council supports the project. He expressed concern that a different developer “with enough connections” in City Hall could purchase the property and build something “distasteful” such as a high-rise building.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said after the meeting that he plans to accept the committee’s recommendation and support the proposal.
Currently the property is zoned RS-2, which is intended primarily for single-family homes.
“It’s been (RS-2) forever, and we’d like to keep it that way,” advisory committee member John Kwasinski said.
Project attorney Paul Kolpak responded that the parcel has been vacant for at least 40 years and that it is doubtful a redevelopment project under RS-2 would be economically feasible, given the 5,000-square-foot lot minimum RS-2 requires for new houses. Under the proposal the property would be rezoned to B3-1.
Kwasinski objected to the committee taking a vote at the March 3 meeting, arguing that a survey “as promised” of neighbors who live with near the site was never conducted.
A ward-wide survey had 500 responses, with 57 percent opposing the project, according to Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio.
Kwasinski said that at least “two to one against” would be the result if the survey was limited to those living close to the site.
The proposal calls for a 2,250-square-foot restaurant with drive-up and walk-up windows, an outdoor patio and 24 parking spaces. A site plan shows that curb cuts on Harlem and Bryn Mawr (a one-way street) would be restricted for right turns into and out of the parking lot.
According to project traffic consultant Javier Millan, the project would have only “a minimal impact” on traffic.
“Not all the trips made to the store would be new to the area,” Millan said. He added that “70 to 80 percent” of those driving to the store would be doing so as part of their regular traffic pattern.
Motorists seeking to head north on Harlem would have no left-turn access to Harlem and would have to drive several blocks out of their way to get to northbound Harlem.
An earlier traffic flow plan for the project called for an exit onto West Olive Avenue, from which motorists could turn left onto northbound Harlem, but that driveway was eliminated from the proposal in order to limit traffic on side streets, according to Napolitano.
Project officials have said that the location would be ideal for customers traveling south on Harlem toward the Kennedy Expressway and that northbound traffic has convenient access to a nearby Starbucks at Harlem and Northwest Highway.
Coffee purchases are often one of convenience, as the customer will stop at the store which offers the easiest access during their commute, Millan said. As a result, having multiple Starbucks on Harlem will help to prevent an overload of traffic at one store, he said.
There is a Starbucks at Harlem and Lawrence avenues, and the company is planning to open shops at Harlem and Montrose avenues and Harlem ad Waveland avenues.
Committee member James Hankin said that he worries some of the motorists exiting onto Bryn Mawr, which runs westbound only (north of the expressway), would be “flying through side streets to get back to Harlem.”
Many of the residents listening to the Zoom meeting spoke against the project or expressed their opposition by writing a comment in the “chat.” Concerns that the project would worsen the existing traffic congestion on Harlem was one of the top issues.
One resident questioned the accuracy of the traffic study. “During the pandemic the traffic study is inaccurate when people are still working from home,” she wrote.
“Why can they not look to a location already with sufficient zoning? Like Higgins just east of Harlem. That Higgins corridor would really benefit from this Starbucks,” a resident said.
Not all opposed. “I … am excited to see something where there has been literally nothing my entire life of living here,” another resident said.
The committee stopped taking public comments after a few speakers and then voted. At the two previous meetings on the proposal, residents were not allowed to speak but their written comments in the chat were read.
Plans call for a 25-foot-tall sign, but developer Jerry Cairo said that it is not clear if the city would allow it and that the sign would not have a lot of “volume” on top, displaying only the Starbucks round logo.
“If (this Starbucks) is for the community, the signage does not need to be visible from Kennedy,” a resident said.
The parcel is one of three longtime vacant lots on Harlem between Bryn Mawr and Talcott Avenue. Napolitano recently said that he does not plan to entertain new zoning proposals for two of the lots, both of which are located on the east side of Harlem. He argued that the lots should be redeveloped under their current RS-1 zoning, which is intended primarily for single-family homes, given the recent community opposition to a proposed car wash for one of the properties.
“The neighborhood has spoken. Build what it’s zoned for,” Napolitano recently said.
A Norwood Park Special Conservation District, which is intended to preserve the area’s oversized residential lots that many area homes are built on, exists along the east side of Harlem. The proposed Starbucks would be located along the west side of Harlem.
The development site is located less than a block from the Harlem CTA Station, 5550 N. Harlem Ave.