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.
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.
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.