Osterman Doesn’t Want Another Strip Mall, Says He Can’t Do Much to Stop It

Midcentury funeral home
The former Piser Weinstein funeral home. Photo: Robert Powers

48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman isn’t happy about the prospect of yet another strip mall on Broadway in his ward, but he feels there’s not much he can do about it, according to his assistant Sara Dinges.

The former Piser Weinstein Funeral Home, 5206 North Broadway in Edgewater, located around the corner from the Red Line’s Berwyn station, is slated for demolition. The property’s current owner, Chody Real Estate Corporation, which also owns the strip mall across the street on Broadway, plans to build a 20,000-square-foot “multi-tenant retail complex.”

Osterman has said he told Chody that neighbors want a single-story development with no alley access. In 2005, under previous alderman Mary Ann Smith, there was a proposal for a multistory development of the Piser Weinstein site that was shot down by opposition from nearby residents.

The upshot is that a site that is ripe for transit-oriented development will likely instead be getting a strip mall with parking in front. Local residents have pointed out that Osterman expressed interest in making Broadway a more walkable street at a recent meeting on the North Broadway Plan, but building retail that’s easy to park at and hard to access on foot would have the opposite effect.

The alderman has had numerous meetings with Chody in which he’s expressed his desire for walkable development at the location, with building faces that front the sidewalk, Dinges said. “He wants to make Broadway a destination for businesses and also make it more pedestrian-friendly and more welcoming, less like the Edens and more of a walkable urban environment,” she said. It’s still uncertain exactly what the developer is going to propose. “We haven’t seen any renderings or drawings.”

Unfortunately, no zoning change is required for a strip mall, Dinges said. “Chody would probably be within their rights [to build one]. They own the property now and what they want to do is permitted. So we want to work with them to make it as good as it can be for the community.”

I asked Dinges whether the alderman thinks it makes sense to put in another strip mall so close to an ‘L’ stop. “Of course the alderman’s preference is not for a strip mall to be developed,” she said. “He wants to see zero setbacks and pedestrian-friendly streetwalls.” However, Chody has argued that it won’t be able to attract tenants to a site with parking in the rear, let alone no off-street parking at all.

Even though Osterman isn’t pleased with the prospect of more car-oriented development, Dinges said he doesn’t have much power to force Chody to build something more pedestrian friendly. There are existing curb cuts for the funeral home’s large parking lot, and Dinges said it’s unlikely that blocking a future application by the developer for curb cuts would be an option. However, aldermen do have the ability to deny permits for signs, she said. “That’s the main way he can have influence.”

LA_Fitness
Rendering of the L.A. Fitness at 6101 Broadway and its previous incarnation as Hancock Fabrics.

Although it looks like there is going to be a negative outcome at this site, Dinges said the alderman’s record on walkable development speaks for itself. “Look up and down Broadway since he took office [in 2011].” She cited a new LA Fitness at 6101 North Broadway in the former Hancock Fabrics space. “A historic building was preserved and updated in a beautiful way, which has really activated that corner,” she said.

The Zengler Laundry Building at 5427 North Broadway, a five-minute walk from the Bryn Mawr and Berwyn Red Line stations, is being converted to 42 market-rate rental units plus 15,000 square feet of first-floor retail. Designed before Chicago’s TOD ordinance was passed last year, it will include the previously required 42 parking spaces, but these will at least be located behind the building.

At Broadway and Hood, near the Granville station, a muffler shop is being replaced by a new building housing an immediate care center, with no setback and many windows. The project eliminated two curb cuts. “So the proof is in the pudding, in terms of the projects that have moved forward since the alderman took over,” Dinges said.

While it’s good to hear Osterman has supported pedestrian-friendly development in the past, it would be a shame if more pedestrian-hostile retail was built on his watch. Dinges said the alderman has recently started receiving emails from constituents opposing the Chody project. Residents can contact his office at 773-784-5277 or Harry[at]48thWard.org to voice opposition to the strip mall and to encourage him to push Chody harder to build walkable retail on the Piser Weinstein site.

  • duppie

    Thanks for keeping up the reporting. I have sent the Alderman an email, but have not heard back.

    How about a below level parking deck? I do realize that raises the cost ignificantly, but it would allow for property walls to line up to the sidewalk.

  • Daniel Burnham

    Get your wallet out.

  • Strip malls make money….sigh.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    High water table.

  • I don’t really know the site or anything but could the parking go in the back? Wouldn’t increase the cost as much as above/below ground parking would.

  • jeff wegerson

    Not mentioned was the new Edgewater Library. While we did lose an historic building for parking Osterman was able to get the entrance to the parking off the alley rather than the Broadway curb cut proposed by the city. Pic Below is the lost building.

  • jeff wegerson

    While I applaud the developer/owner for restoring the original brick and limestone facade elements, and I applaud Alderman Osterman for pressuring the owner away from bringing in a bank as a tenant, on the whole it is a loss as far as urbanism goes. The two previous tenants, a Tae Kwan Do studio and a Hancock Fabric outlet, catered to a more diverse clientele. Also lost, and indeed this might have been an adlermanic mistake, was the antique 1950’s signage. I guess it’s a bit ironic that I should be nostalgic for the signage as it was a classic car culture kind of thing.

    Also again that development removed two of three existing curb cuts on that stretch of Broadway. Alderman Osterman definitely gets urbanism. At a recent public meeting on the future of Broadway, where there was some anxiety potential effects of any driving habit changes on businesses, the Alderman simply reminded people about the many many folks getting off of the el at the various Edgewater stops.

  • The nearby residents are opposed to alley access, and the developer thinks it wouldn’t be able to attract tenants with parking in the back instead of in front.

  • reba

    Where will people going to the immediate care center park? Ill or injured folks needing such services will likely need transportation to the center.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Couple of notes:

    Your photos of the renderings of LA fitness… Incorrect. Rendering on the left was for the proposed bank with drive thru at rear of property. This building was never built.

    Regarding the Hancock Fabric building, that weird brown mansard type facade was removed. Curiously enough the building was built as a Studebaker show room/dealership and the emblem at the top of the building is still there.

    The Hancock Fabric store owner tried to sell out for many years, but never got a buyer and retired. Seems less people make their own clothes or do crafting.

    Like I said before if you don’t go out and build community support for density and you don’t have developers and banks willing to build and finance density, you are just going to get more of the same.

    I wish Osterman luck, but he too is a political animal and will look to what the voters want in his ward before outsiders.

  • The image of LA Fitness is taken from the 48th Ward website: http://48thward.org/approved-developments

  • Andy

    I like the “strip mall” at 1845 n clybourn as an example of what should be required for retail development in the city. It’s a decent compromise for areas where multi use is for whatever reason not supported.

    Any developer that tells you such a model is cost prohibitive is frankly full of crap. Putting parking on the roof is not that expensive, and furthermore, the costs are offset by more rentable area. Osterman should push for a design like that. The city should make such a design a requirement in general as a worst case retail scenario.

  • Brian Morrissey

    That’s pretty much exactly what the renovated building now occupied by LA Fitness looks like.

  • ConcernedNeighbor

    I don’t believe alley access is necessary for parking in the rear. Look at the parking behind the Cheetah Gym in Andersonville. There is a small curb cut and you drive behind the building (yoga tree and svea) to a parking lot. This does not disrupt Andersonville’s walkable community but allows for parking. Why can’t this be the model?

  • meghan

    Sounds like the residents opposed alley access in 2005. Wonder what opinion would be now. And the developer is full of s*** that tenants wouldn’t come if parking is in the back. What difference does that make? (John, I am not arguing with you- you are just stating facts. I’m just annoyed that opinions almost a decade old are governing this decision.)

    Shaun, yes, parking could easily go in the back. It’s a nice deep lot.

  • One issue may be that the Piser Weinstein site is a long, narrow lot. Also, the neighbors aren’t just opposed to alley access, but any access that’s not from Broadway, Dinges said.

  • Andy

    And discovered behind that 1950s signage? A vintage terra cota terra cota Studebaker logo!

  • jeff wegerson

    Keep em both I would have said. Actually not terracotta but limestone as I recall.

  • Wewilliewinkleman
  • Alex Oconnor

    Far less on a per acre basis than a mixed use less auto-centric design…..sigh

    And this does not even account for the negative traffic externalities associated with strip-style design; let alone the forgoing of leveraging a site with some the best transit access in North America.

  • FG

    I suspect it was easier to do that here since the existing library already had parking in back and it abuts an east-west block rather than a north-south block (i.e. two properties immediately backing onto rather than dozens).

  • FG

    Two issues, as I see it, for alley access are:

    1. With alley access for customers, in particular, but also residential usage, is the question of who is going to plow the alley if you have a big increase in traffic (in addition to dodging trash bins and dumpsters) that can cause problems, such as damaging garages, etc, which one wouldn’t get with street access. The city doesn’t plow alleys and if a developer agreed to it, would the eventual condo association or investor who purchases the project continue to pay for that?

    2. More a general development issue with alleys, but a concrete example is: the new Jewel on Southport has their loading docks along the alley (originally the building was at the south end of the site and the parking at the north) and has paved a large swath of land which wasn’t paved before. The problem? It wasn’t graded properly and the excess water now flows into backyards and basements on the other side of the alley.

    They aren’t unsolvable, but I think neighbors are right to be concerned, particularly with developers track record on these kinds of issues in Chicago.

  • Thanks for pointing out this example. I wouldn’t consider this a strip mall because its form comes to the property line on the sidewalk and the parking is not visible from the street. I don’t like the treatment of the roadway at the driveway, though. The driveway is inconspicuous and road markings don’t communicate that it exists.

    The city striped a buffered bike lane across it, but didn’t provide much visual clearance. The city could also have used the green paint to indicate to motorists and bicyclists that there’s a small intersection there.

    The other issue is that the sidewalks along Clybourn are quite narrow (about 8 feet) and a car whose driver is waiting to turn onto Clybourn is blocking the sidewalk completely. You can see this in the Google Street View taken in June 2014.

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