Proposed Belmont-Austin Starbucks raises concerns at meeting hosted by 30th Ward Ald. Ruth Cruz
by BRIAN NADIG and CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Concerns that a proposed Starbucks Coffee at the northwest corner of Belmont and Austin avenues — across from Saint Patrick High School — would displace several small businesses were expressed at a July 25 community meeting hosted by Alderwoman Ruth Cruz (30th).
The proposal includes a drive-through facility and the site would reportedly only allow right-turns onto Belmont. A person at the meeting said that in a city like Chicago many people ignore signs like that.
Several business owners currently operating on the proposed development site, 6000 W. Belmont Ave., said that they only heard about the proposal recently, and one owner said that her family had made an offer to buy the property which was rejected even though it was as much as $100,000 higher than the actual sale price.
A project representative said that the remaining tenants, which include a bakery, a karate dojo, a marketing business and others, are on a month-to-month lease and that he was open to helping the businesses relocate.
Kyokushin Karate Club “Kanku,” owner Shihan Leszek Samitowski said in an interview that the club at 6022 W Belmont Ave. is celebrating 35 years and that he was never notified of any Starbucks plans. He said he has been leasing the space for a long time.
“Last year the owner mumbled something about the possibility of selling but we thought ‘Well right now is not really a buyers market for anything so we thought maybe he didn’t sell,'” Samitowski said. “But regarding this (plan) I don’t know anything. Nobody called me. Nobody gave me a heads up. I didn’t know about the meeting. And all of a sudden all this is going on behind my back. This is very concerning. I have to make a few phone calls.”
The alderwoman’s office said that it had distributed flies around the neighborhood regarding the meeting.
An audience member who supports the project said that there are 11 vacant storefronts within two blocks of the site, allowing for ample relocation possibilities.
“We don’t want to see small businesses displaced from our community,” Cruz said. She added that city grants may be available to help businesses with infrastructure expenses related to moving into a new storefront.
Traffic and pedestrian safety concerns also were expressed about the proposal due to the nearby high school to the east and a church parking lot just to the west of the development site. Some residents also said that they preferred locally small businesses over a large chain business.
“We believe we have (city Department of Transportation) approval,” one project official said regarding the traffic flow on the proposed site plan.
“I’m here to listen,” Cruz said, adding that she has not made a decision whether to support or oppose the proposal. She plans to gather more input and make a decision in early August. Cruz’s director of policy and zoning Jerome Genova said that the alderperson would make a decision soon and that her office is gauging the community’s response.
Genova said the alderwoman’s office is getting calls and e-mails from people either in favor or in opposition to the project.
“We just want to make sure we are representing everyone. There has been a lot of opposition at the meeting, but we are looking at all the responses we are getting to make sure we are representing how the entire ward feels,” Genova said.
The project is contingent on the issuance of a special use for the drive-through facility by the Zoning Board of Appeals, a quasi-judicial panel which acts independently of the City Council. The board considers recommendations from local alderpersons, but it is not unusual for the board to go against the wishes of an alderperson.
Several audience members expressed opposition. “Do we really need another Starbucks?” one man said, with many responding “no.”
Editor’s note: The meeting was held at Saint Ferdinand School and also was available virtually on Zoom. The audio and video quality for those viewing virtually was poor.