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.