Residents’ concerns about proposed Starbucks at Harlem-Bryn Mawr take center stage at Napolitano’s state-of-ward address
by BRIAN NADIG
In his state-of-the-ward address on April 21, Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) discussed street resurfacing and other infrastructure improvements, but most of the two-hour meeting centered around a proposed Starbucks Coffee with a drive-through facility at Harlem and Bryn Mawr avenues.
The meeting, with in-person and virtual audiences, was held at the Norwood Park Historical Society’s Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, 5624 N. Newark Ave.
Several residents criticized a recent vote by the ward’s zoning advisory committee in favor of a zoning change to accommodate the project, which would be built on a longtime vacant parcel at 5600 N. Harlem Ave.
Napolitano said that he plans to accept the committee’s recommendation and support the rezoning request. The project reportedly is facing some delays as the city Department of Planning and Development has been seeking revisions to the site plan.
A resident who lives next to the parcel said, “The traffic here is so bad. … The vote was done without thinking.” The woman added that the development team was supposed to reach out to neighboring property owners but that “to this day, no one has knocked on my door.”
Another resident said that the committee “cut off”public comments at its third meeting on the proposal before everyone had a chance to make a comment prior to the vote. “You permitted it,” she said to Napolitano.
At the first two meetings written comments posted by residents in the “chat room” were read aloud , but residents were not allowed to speak directly to the committee. The meetings were veld via Zoom.
Other residents said that the property should be redeveloped under its longtime RS-2 zoning, which is intended primarily for single-family homes.
Napolitano defended the committee, which consists of about 10 volunteers who live in the ward and represent a community organization. “You guys do take a beating at those meetings, and you try to do your best,” he said. “I support their tough decisions, other than (one time).”
In 2018 he stopped a proposed 299-unit complex near Higgins and Cumberland avenues despite the committee approving the project, citing community concerns about “massive development.”
The committee was formed in the early 1990s by then-alderman Brian Doherty, and former alderman Mary O’Connor and Napolitano kept it in place, occasionally appointing new members.
Napolitano said that five committee members live in the Norwood Park area and that three of them voted in favor of the proposal and one against. The fifth recused himself because his business is doing work on a different Starbucks project, he said.
Napolitano said that the Starbucks proposal is typical of most zoning projects in the ward. “I get calls in my office from people adamantly for it and adamantly against it,” he said.
Also on the topic of zoning, Napolitano said that he opposes a new city ordinance which increases the affordable housing requirements for zoning developments, increasing the number of affordable units from 10 to 20 percent. The requirements kick in for development proposals which require a zoning change and would have 10 or more residential units.
Napolitano announced at the meeting that a new “41st Ward Business Boost” in which the Norwood Park, Edison Park and Edgebrook-Sauganash chambers of commerce will each get to spend $30,000 of the ward’s discretionary funds for infrastructure improvements in the business districts. The funds can be used for a variety of items, including lamppost banners and decorative signage, benches and garbage cans.
He said that the idea for the program stemmed from some of the 39th Ward’s discretionary funds being used for the south side of Devon in Edgebrook. The 41st Ward runs along the streets north side.
The boost is intended to help attract more people to the ward’s commercial districts after a year in which many stores and restaurants were closed months at a time due to the pandemic, Napolitano said.
The city is planning to increase the annual allocation in discretionary for each ward from $1.32 million to $1.5 million. Most of these funds are used for side-street resurfacing, and a block of repaving costs about 74,000, Napolitano said.
A paved street starts going “downhill” after five to seven years due to the asphalt absorbing moisture, and some aldermen have been pushing the city to use a new process that lasts longer, Napolitano said.
Typically 16 to 18 blocks a year are repaved in the ward, but 20 to 21 could be feasible this year due to the budget increase, Napolitano said.
In many cases a street cannot be repaved because of a pending utility project which requires the street to be dug up. “A lot of the ward falls under a moratorium (due to a utility project),” he said.
Also, new windows will be installed at Norwood Park fieldhouse, 5801 N. Natoma Ave. “I’ve been pushing this for six years,” Napolitano said after the meeting.