Edgebrook Community Association discusses traffic safety, business district
by BRIAN NADIG
Traffic safety on Devon Avenue and business development were among the issues which aldermen Margaret Laurino (39th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) discussed at the April 11 meeting of the Edgebrook Community Association.
Laurino said that she and Napolitano have been working on bringing a traffic signal to the intersection of Devon and Lemai avenues. Boy scout leader Robert Van Pelt was killed during a collision while riding his bicycle near the intersection in 2012.
The traffic signal would help to slow down traffic along that stretch of Devon, Laurino said. “It can be a drag strip,” she said.
An engineering study for the traffic signal has been completed, but funds for the installation will not be available until 2017 at the earliest, Laurino said. She added that pedestrian refuge islands in the middle of Devon could be considered at some locations to help improve the safety of those walking across the street.
In response to questions about economic development, Napolitano said that while the “Norman Rockwell look” of the Edgebrook business district is classic, “we may have to open our minds” to change, including possible new retail-residential buildings in the area. He said that any zoning proposal for the business district would have to be approved by his zoning advisory board, which includes representatives of several community groups.
Napolitano said that he has been promoting the ward’s commercial areas to an organization that represents shopping centers and that as a result, a Starbucks Coffee may be opening on a vacant a parcel at Northwest Highway and Harlem Avenue. “We have a lot of storefronts here (in Edgebrook) that have been vacant for a while,” he said.
Laurino said that she is hopeful that the city may fund a small business improvement program, such as a facade rebate incentive, for stores which are not located in a tax increment financing district, whose tax dollars can be used for capital projects. Edgebrook is not located in a TIF district.
“They should not be penalized because they are not in a TIF district,” Laurino said.
Also discussed at the meeting was the possible creation of a special service area for the Edgebrook business district.
An SSA is funded through an additional tax levy on any property located within the boundaries of the designated service area, and those funds can be used to help promote and beautify the area. Unlike in a TIF district, a local commission of property owners would decide how to spend special service area funds.
Napolitano said that a service area can be a “hard sell” to property owners because it is a tax increase and that while the SSA would be intended to revitalize the business district, some nearby home owners could have to pay the tax. He said that funds would have to be raised privately to pay for a consultant to study the feasibility of a service area.
Also at the meeting, Napolitano announced that in 2017 he will hold a community vote to determine how most of the ward’s annual $1.32 million allocation of discretionary funds, which are intended for capital improvements, should be spent. Traditionally a large portion of discretionary funds goes toward side-street resurfacing.
Under the city’s participatory budget program, workshops are held to solicit input on capital projects, and a vote for ward residents is held in May. Most aldermen do not participate in the program.
Napolitano said that his office receives inquires from residents about when their street is going to be resurfaced, but funds are limited and in some instances streets cannot be resurfaced due to an upcoming sewer project. “If you drive through the whole ward, it’s like a moon landing,” he said of street conditions.
Association members also were given an update on the condition of two homes being built in the 6300 block of North Lenox Avenue. Laurino said that construction started more than 10 years ago and that area residents have been attending court hearings in which the city is trying to force the owner to make improvements.
Residents reported after the meeting that sod recently was installed on the lots.
Laurino also paid tribute to longtime association board member Jody McDowell, who died in February. “I don’t think I was ever at an Edgebrook community event in which Jody was not there,” Laurino said.
Ms. McDowell also was active in the Edgebrook Historical Society and Edgebrook Woman’s Club.