41st Ward panel okays Edgebrook liquor store proposal but rejects Norwood Park car wash, while Harlem-Bryn Mawr Starbucks plan revised
by BRIAN NADIG
The 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee at its Nov. 4 meeting approved a proposal for a liquor store in Downtown Edgebrook but rejected a car wash plan for Norwood Park. It also heard a revised plan that called for the elimination of the indoor dining area at a proposed Starbucks Coffee with a drive-through facility and a walk-up window at 5600 N. Harlem Ave.
The proposed Bottles and Cans liquor store would be located inside a vacant storefront in the Edgebrook Plaza at 6401 N. Central Ave. Currently the only business in the immediate area which sells packaged liquor is Happy Foods, 6415 N. Central Ave.
The proposed store would be open from 11 a.m. to to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays, and owners Joe and Carly Katz, who have another store at 4109 N. Lincoln Ave., said that the proposed store could open by May 1 of next year.
Carly Katz said that the wine, craft beer and other products sold at the store would be carefully selected and that “everything we do is to create this ma-and-pa-type business feeling in the city.”
It had been announced that the site would be rezoned from B1-1 to C1-1, but concerns were raised at an earlier meeting that C1 zoning would allow for intensive commercial uses and set a precedent for the area. Instead the proposal now calls for the City Council to approve B3-1 zoning, which allows for a liquor store with the issuance of a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The board acts independently of the council.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said that some residents have expressed concern that if the business were ever sold, an “all-night liquor store” could open there.
The special use would be specific to Bottles and Cans and that a plan of operation, restricting the hours and establishing other requirements, would be attached to the liquor license, Vittorio said. Any buyer of the business if it were ever to be sold would have to adhere to the plan of operation, he said.
An online survey conduced by the alderman’s office received “a couple of hundred” responses, with about 85 percent voicing support for the project, Napolitano said before the meeting.
In an effort to reduce the traffic impact of the proposed Starbucks, the size of the proposed restaurant has been reduced from 2,390 to 1,125 square feet, according to Starbucks manager of store development Tom Hanrahan. The change would make the location less of a destination, reducing the amount of traffic coming in and out of the site, he said.
Hanrahan added that the location would be intended primarily for those traveling south on Harlem to the Kennedy Expressway. (On a side note, it was mentioned that Starbucks is looking to open a new facility in the 38th Ward at Harlem and Waveland avenues, where a closed Bakers Square is located. A car wash had been in the works for the site.)
Several committee members expressed concerns about the lack of a dining room. “I see this as nothing more than as a Fotomat in a parking lot,” member Frank Icuss said, adding that some residents were looking forward to a place to sit indoors and socialize with neighbors.
The site’s existing RS-2 zoning is intended primarily for single-family homes.
Icuss questioned whether there would be a market for homes along a busy thoroughfare. “I wouldn’t live there if you gave me my home for free, but … I may go there to have a cup of coffee,” he said.
Member John Kwasinski said that Starbucks would worsen traffic in the area and that the parcel could be successfully redeveloped under RS-2, but the owner would make several more millions of dollars by selling the land for a Starbucks. “I guarantee you (the homes) would sell,” he said.
An online survey for the Starbucks proposal received 473 responses, with 275 against and 198 in favor, according to Vittorio.
Project officials said that they would consider adding some indoor seating. It would include an outdoor patio with seating.
Committee chairman Mike Emerson said that the parcel, which has been vacant for decades, is at the “gateway” of the community, and the proposal should include proper landscaping and be more pedestrian-friendly. Emerson also suggested that project officials have a town hall virtual meeting with nearby home owners to discuss their concerns.
The committee delayed taking a vote on the Starbucks proposal until December at the earliest.
Across from the proposed Starbucks development site is another longtime vacant lot at 5611-37 N. Harlem Ave., where an automated Eco Brite car wash is proposed. The two parcels have been the subject of controversy for decades, and in the 1990s the owner of the land took the city to court over a proposed multi-family construction project but lost.
The two properties are considered transit-oriented development sites due to their proximity to the Harlem Blue Line CTA Station, 5550 N. Harlem Ave.
Under TOD guidelines, developers can seek reductions in parking requirements and, under certain zoning classifications, additional allowances for more residential units. The proposed car wash site, which currently is zoned RS-1, also is located in a Norwood Park Special Conservation District, which is designed to help protect the area’s single-family home atmosphere.
On social media, some residents have said that they welcome commercial developments on the parcels in part to prevent dense multi-family developments, while others have called for affordable housing.
On the car wash proposal, an online survey generated 419 responses, with 254 against and 165 in support, according to Vittorio. The committee voted against the car wash.
“There’s a lot of noise and car pollution (with a car wash),” Icuss said.
Kwasinski said that a commercial development on the site is not appropriate due to the special conservation district. “This is why people moved to Old Norwood Park,” Kwasinski said of the area’s predominantly large residential lots.
Project attorney Amy Degnan said that she talked to city zoning officials and was told that the conservation designation “does not preclude a commercial development” for the parcel. The designation does not run along the west side of Harlem, where the Starbucks is proposed.
Emerson thanked the car wash owner for his proposal and asked him to look for a more suitable location. “We’d love to have you somewhere in the ward,” he said. “You are a class act.”
Votes taken by the advisory committee serve as a recommendation to Napolitano. “This is why we have a zoning board,” he said. “You don’t want an alderman making the ultimate decision on his own.”