Citations issued regarding lot used for commercial vehicle parking on Lawrence Ave. in Jefferson Park, where empty lots and failed redevelopment opportunities are all too common
by BRIAN NADIG
The city Department of Buildings has issued citations regarding the condition of a longtime gravel lot used for the parking of limousines and buses at 5225-5301 W. Lawrence Ave. in the Jefferson Park business district.
“It’s become an eyesore, and it doesn’t do anything to help the business district,” said resident Frank Suerth, who lives near the site.
The citations call for the stopping of a “nuisance” described as “parking/storing autos, trucks, buses and limousine from vacant, unpaved lot” and the removal of refuse and debris accumulating on the property, the department said.
Additional citations allege a failure to grade and drain the surface to prevent the accumulation of stagnant water and a failure to provide a noncombustible screen fence around the lot.
The citations were issued to the property’s owner on Dec. 7, and an administrative hearing was scheduled for March 3, but it was delayed until Thursday, May 12, at the owner’s request, the department said. The hearing has been rescheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Room 115 at the Central Hearing Facility, 400 W. Superior St.
The owner is listed on county records as a trust, but the Mega Group, a local developer, reportedly controls the land. Mega owns the 10-story Veterans Square building at 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave., and in 2017 received a zoning change for a planned 16-story building with a 114 apartments and a 200-space parking garage at 5306 W. Ainslie St.
The 5200 and 5300 blocks of Lawrence Avenue have had a long history of missed and delayed redevelopment opportunities, and several buildings, including some with decorative terra cotta features, have been demolished and never replaced with a new structure.
The former Jefferson State Bank building at 5301 W. Lawrence Ave. was demolished about 20 years ago, and in 2019 the lot was expanded when the former Sportif Importer bike shop at 5225 W. Lawrence Ave. was demolished. In 2020, the parcel was used as a staging ground for Mega’s construction of a four-story building with 39 apartments and a health care facility at 5201 W. Lawrence Ave., which had been vacant for two decades.
The parcel at 5225-5301 W. Lawrence has been used as a makeshift parking lot for years despite several zoning issues, including a “pedestrian street” designation put in place to stop the creation of new parking lots and curb cuts along Lawrence. The designation calls for parking to be hidden behind buildings or in parking garages located above the ground floor.
In the late 1990s the city Department of Planning encouraged Mega to purchase and demolish buildings along Lawrence to accommodate future retail-residential projects, and in two instances the city condemned properties on Lawrence with the intention of reselling the land to Mega for price the city paid.
However, Mega’s development plans at the time never materialized due to community opposition, and the city ended up paying $1.46 million for two parcels that about 10 years later it sold to Mega for $1.
Over the years some city officials said that it was okay for Mega to use the vacant lots for parking given that the city had reneged on its written agreement to let the developer build a large condominium project on Lawrence. The planning department had expressed concern that Mega could sue the city and win.
Residents have complained about trash on the lot, noise from the vehicles and the deteriorating condition of the foundation of the former bank structure that exists along the rear alley. The makeshift parking lot is located several feet above the alley.