Albany Park to Walgreens: Make a Walkable Store, Not Curb Cuts and Parking

Walgreens wants to demolish this multi-story office building and replace it with a parking lot and single level store. Image: Google Street View.
Walgreens wants to demolish this multi-story office building and replace it with a parking lot and single level store. Photo: Google Street View

Members of Albany Park Neighbors, a grassroots group of local residents, are gearing up to convince Walgreens to change the company’s proposed suburban store design for Kimball and Lawrence to one that will work better for a walkable city neighborhood.

Walgreens is proposing to demolish an office building with a Payless Shoe Source on the ground floor and replace it with a single-story store with 17 parking spaces in front and two 30-feet wide driveways. It’s a typical design for Walgreens, but the company has also shown it can be flexible, and the neighborhood group is doing the groundwork to show that Albany Park needs a walkable store in this location.

Albany Park Neighbors, which formed in 2012, is pushing for the company to prioritize pedestrian access and reuse the existing building, a practice that Walgreens has followed in other locations like Lakeview and Wicker Park.

Shylo Bisnett, a member of Albany Park Neighbors, said the group will be at a public meeting Wednesday to request that Walgreens partner with them to create a pedestrian-friendly design, easily found elsewhere in Walgreens’s huge inventory of Chicago stores.

Walgreens seems resistant, though. This past weekend Bisnett said she encountered people at the Kimball Brown Line stations distributing petitions asking passengers to support the Walgreens because seniors need access to medicine. What the petitions didn’t show, she said, was the actual store Walgreens is proposing, with its driveways and parking lot.

Albany Park Neighbors wants to improve safety at Kimball and Lawrence, first and foremost, which from 2005 to 2012 saw 28 pedestrians get injured in traffic crashes. The two, wide driveways will create conflicts between pedestrians and moving traffic. A store set back from the sidewalk, meanwhile, will diminish street life, replacing what should be interesting storefront windows with four-foot tall fences.

Walgreens wants to build this single-level store and corner parking lot in place of a multi-story office building. Image: Walgreens.
Walgreens wants to build this single-level store and corner parking lot in place of a multi-story office building. Image courtesy of 33rd Ward.

The Wednesday meeting was organized, Bisnett believes, because the developers are surprised by the pushback from the community and recently appointed alderman Deb Mell. When developer Centrum Partners approached Mell seeking approval for curb cuts she asked them to put the building on the corner, instead of the parking lot, and then asked CDOT to not issue permits for the curb cuts.

Mell made the right call. The busy intersection already has one strip mall with setback retail and two large driveways. It doesn’t need a twin. There’s also an existing parking lot on Lawrence next to the building that Walgreens could potentially use.

Kimball Station
The Kimball Brown Line station sees over 4,000 people walking in and out each weekday. Photo: The West End.

Pedestrian traffic is heavy here: along with the shopping activity, over 4,000 passengers board the Brown Line here each weekday, while 1,400 people take the Lawrence bus and 1,900 people hop on the Kimball/Homan bus.

Bisnett says the area already has a lot of car congestion. “It’s really hard to drive here, drivers get frustrated.” She said that if people are going to drive to Walgreens now, they’re likely to head to one of the three in the community with parking lots.

Bisnett noted that the developer has offered some concessions, including a driveway island that permits only right-turns in and out on Lawrence, and eliminating the Kimball driveway in exchange for alley access (which may require city approval). The driveway island is a bad proposal, however, that will encourage drivers to take turns at higher speeds.

Albany Park Neighbors has also gained support from Active Transportation Alliance. Active Trans agrees with Mell that the building and parking lot locations should be swapped, and that the driveway should be as narrow as possible to reduce the distance pedestrians are exposed to car traffic.

Albany Park Neighbors wants a developer and “good corporate citizen” in the neighborhood that values safe travel by people walking, biking, or driving “the way we do,” Bisnett said. She also mentioned that Walgreens’ slogan is “at the corner of happy and healthy.” Albany Park Neighbors wants that, too, but “seniors and children having to dodge traffic isn’t happy and healthy.”

The public meeting will take place Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Roosevelt High School, 3436 W Wilson Ave.

  • Cars crossing the sidewalk is an inherent safety issue. Doing it close to an intersection, where things are already dicey, makes it extra stressful and dangerous to everyone going through the intersection, whether by car, bike, or foot, and even dangerous to people trying to proceed forward in a car. This has long been known.

    If you’re not doing it at rush hour there’s almost always legal street parking available fairly close to that site.

  • Steve

    I am located just up Kimball from this location (in North Park) near Kimball and Balmoral. The new location is too far for me to walk and there is no other Walgreens up here (north of Lawrence) for 1.5 miles at the Peterson and Lincoln intersection. Would definitely like the parking. I too don’t see how so many tightwads can get so bent out of shape about where the parking will be located. Either way you have cars entering a lot on a busy street (the current building even does). Would really like this location to open, Walgreens would make a killing.

  • kastigar

    A disappointing meeting, I don’t think it was intended to hear from the neighborhood or to take any suggestions from the neighborhood. To me, it clearly demonstrated Walgreen’s attitude: “My way or the highway”. Walgreens wanted something and they wanted it done their way. If it couldn’t be done Walgreens way they intended to pick up their marbles and walk away.

    The meeting was held for Walgreen’s planner to send a couple of “suits” to the neighborhood to give the appearance of taking into consideration the wants and needs of the existing neighborhood. They put on a great dog-and-pony publicity stunt.

    They were willing to accept a selection of the color of the bricks used for construction but they were unwilling to accept any change in the design or location. Evidently the bank, Albank, who owns the building, is desperate to sell the property and to get it out of their hands.

    It almost looked to me like the original plan included curb-cuts on Kimball so that Walgreens could later on move this to the alley, giving the impression that there were doing something “for the community.” The entrances on Kimball were intended to be a giveaway, a bargaining chip.

    The argument for safety by locating the parking lot in front, making it into a suburban-like mall, was weak. Try driving down Lawrence going east. Turning right onto Kimball southbound doesn’t present a visual problem. Pedestrian crossing is very visible. If Kimball were a small side-street without a traffic control stop light there might be some reason for this, but located at a major intersection like Lawrence and Kimball it isn’t really a safety problem.

    I rode by the corner, going along Kimball and crossing Lawrence. There is already ground level retail shopping, and the building has offices and tenants on the 2nd and 3rd floor above Payless shoes. There is a restaurant adjacent to the building that would also be torn down. Yet all of this has been there WITHOUT any parking (except for a small lot west) at all available! Tearing down the building seems like it would demand less parking, not more parking that Walgreen’s want to add. Adding the entrances and curb cuts to this unneeded parking lot for Walgreens is only going to make pedestrian and other traffic more unsafe, not better. I’ve shopped at Payless for shoes, I can’t see why this couldn’t be turned into a Walgreens; it certainly would be a lot cheaper.

    If parking is so important there are two other Walgreen’s stores close by that those who drive cars and need parking could go to. If Walgreens wants to add stores among adjacent stores they really should consider the advantages of building them without parking.

    The argument of additional jobs was also weak. Jobs at Walgreens will be added but how many existing jobs in the establishment already located there will be taken away?

    To me, it’s very obvious that the planners and designers of this knew that there were a lot of defects. Why else would they try and get petitions signed in favor of it?

  • kastigar

    A NEW proposal for consideration: eliminate the left-turn arrow at Kimball and Lawrence (and Kedzie too). When the left turn arrow is on pedestrian traffic is halted IN ALL FOUR DIRECTIONS giving priority to car traffic.

    When it’s raining and drivers are sitting in an enclosed protected car. Are pedestrians, children and seniors supposed to wait in the rain just for the convenience of drivers inside dry cars?

    When it’s snowing and cold and drivers are sitting in an enclosed heated protected car. Are pedestrians, children and seniors supposed to wait outside in the cold just for the convenience of heated cars?

    When it’s hot and drivers are sitting in an enclosed protected air-conditioned car. Are pedestrians, children and seniors supposed to wait in the heat and sun just for the convenience of air-conditioned cars?

    Why give car traffic more time than pedestrians traffic? At this corner there are far more people crossing on foot than people in cars turning left.

    Left turn arrows discriminate against pedestrians.

  • LouAnne

    So…you think everybody should stop driving cars because you prefer taking transit and, therefore, want everybody to cater to you? That makes sense. By the way, I drive to the gym at least 5 days a week so I don’t think my car is slowly killing me by causing heart disease. Did you drive to the hearing the other night…because the parking lot was pretty full!

    I have a thought…why don’t you take your shiny new Ventra card and use it to get wherever you have to go and I’ll make my own transit decisions. That’s the great thing about freedom – you get to make your own choices. You don’t have to push your obnoxious agenda on everyone else.

    Remember when there was that wave of people throwing socks full of poop on people??? Yeah, that’s a worry I won’t have any time soon…can you say the same?

  • Joe Ferguson

    I would like to know what is the long range plan for the development of Albany Park. It seems there ought to be more serious consideration of the consequences. By all apparent accounts, Walgreens and the developers did nothing wrong. The shared the plan with Alderman Dick Mell and were given the go ahead to proceed. They followed the protocol and invested $250K into the project. They presented at the meeting alternatives and compromises in the design. Under a lot of criticism they stayed a long time and were respectful throughout the meeting.
    In my conversations with local business people it is very difficult for them to get things done as well, it is just not big business that gets singled out. Talk with the owner of the Q Stop about the hassles he has had with the city with his parking lot and the expense of various repainting of parking spaces, the installation of a wrought iron fence. Speak with the owner of Vanessa and Wendy’s and the hassle of getting the city to approve expansion of the shop and approval for city water work. Speak to the long time owner of the dollar store adjacent to The Clothes Pin about crime and how much some large chain investments would help improve the neighborhood.
    Where is the neighborhood plan? How can businesses feel comfortable in making an investment if they cannot feel the playing field is level? People in the meeting were talking about community but the representation at the meeting did not represent the community ethnicity not by a long shot. That meeting was filled with the minority of Albany park representing as the “decision” makers.
    What is the plan? How are decisions made? How can there be a more fair representation in the decision making process?

  • That’s a good set of questions. I would think that the new alderman is still pulling that together — she hasn’t been in office long, and recently had a bout of cancer that probably pulled focus.

    As an activist remarked in conversation after the meeting, “It’s really not the developer’s fault that Dick Mell screwed them,” but when the regime changed it would have behooved them to at least touch base with the new alderman as a courtesy-call level thing. Because they didn’t, she felt blindsided, and now things are more adversarial (and also later in the process).

  • kastigar

    “By the way, I drive to the gym at least 5 days a week…”

    That’s the funniest line I’ve seen in a while! It’s a classic – driving the car to a gym.

  • kastigar

    You idea suggests doing away with urban planning altogether.

  • Pete

    Put the parking lot behind the building or underground. This will keep from ruining the streetscape. Requiring Walgreens to build the store with no parking at all is a non-starter. They just wouldn’t build at all in that case.