Wicker Park Trader Joe’s: Good Company, Wrong Location

Wicker Park Trader Joe's development meeting
Trader Joe’s real estate vice president Brandt Sharrock discussed store operations at LaSalle II Magnet School.

Neighbors of a Trader Joe’s grocery store, proposed by Smithfield Properties for the corner of Division Street and Honore Street in Wicker Park, fear that the development will harm the work they’ve put into crafting a pedestrian-friendly street lined with locally-owned businesses. The store is welcome in Wicker Park, but neighbors say that the proposed location at Division Street and Honore Street isn’t the right one.

Scott Rappe, partner at Kuklinski + Rappe Architects, spoke up at the first public meeting earlier this month at LaSalle II Magnet School, which stands across Honore from the site. Rappe has worked with the East Village Association for 17 years, and I spoke with him to learn why this might not be the right place for Trader Joe’s.

Rappe recounted how EVA, now 33 years old, was launched to address the area’s caved-in sidewalks. Rappe said, “Most of the sidewalks had vaults [underneath], and they had collapsed in many cases — holes that you could fall into,” referring to an EVA newsletter with photos from the era [PDF]. He listed several policy changes that have enhanced and maintained Division Street’s pedestrian-friendliness:

  • Changing Commercial zoning to Business zoning. “Both allow mixed use, but [commercial] is much more conducive to automobile-oriented businesses.”
  • Liquor moratoria. Rappe said part of this is an economic decision to keep rents reasonable so retail stores stay. “Liquor sales are so lucrative,” he said, and as a result, bars and liquor stores can drive up rents. “When this happens, the only companies that can afford the rents are national chains.”
  • Pedestrian Street designation. This zoning overlay keeps a neighborhood’s sidewalks safe by disallowing drive-throughs, repair shops, and new driveways, and requiring human-scaled storefronts along the sidewalk.
  • The 1611 W. Division apartment building. This tower replaced a former Pizza Hut restaurant surrounded by car parking with 99 rental units and no tenant parking. Rappe said EVA asked Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno to extend the Pedestrian Street designation to Ashland and supported Moreno’s TOD ordinance (since augmented) that allowed the building to forego tenant parking. “This was a very considered [change], to encourage density near transit in the neighborhood.”

“These are strategies that we’ve implemented to protect the character of the neighborhood and encourage development in a positive direction,” says Rappe, and now are “all… things Trader Joe’s is trying to circumvent.” The underlying Business zoning and neighborhood liquor license moratoria, as well as a state law restricting alcohol sales near a school, mean that Trader Joe’s would require a “special use” permit to sell packaged alcohol.

The Wicker Park-Bucktown Master Plan, published in 2009 and created by the WPB Special Service Area, echoes Rappe’s concerns. SSA program manager Jessica Wobbekind wrote in an email that “our Guide Development Committee has discussed this project at length and sent a letter to Alderman Moreno about their concerns.” She said the master plan “advises high density development in specific areas close to transit, to promote not only walkability but also transit use,” and that the “committee is concerned about the traffic and activity that would be generated so close to LaSalle II school by a large retail store like Trader Joe’s.”

Wobbekind pointed out that the master plan also highlights Division Street as “one of the most unique business districts in the City,” and that its “unique atmosphere should be preserved, and national chains should be encouraged to locate in other areas of the SSA where their presence would not be as disruptive as it would be on Division Street.” The master plan lists Trader Joe’s as a grocery store that would fit a specific need within the community, but Wobbekind said the plan recommends Western Avenue as a place for “big box and chain stores.”

Rappe is concerned about the precedent of allowing large retailers onto Division Street: “Once the chains get a foothold, they drive up rents.” Trader Joe’s “business model is based on generating sales from a much larger geographic area than a walkable distance,” which “often means cars” driving to the site.

Sure enough, Smithfield’s proposal includes 77 car parking spaces, which would generate additional traffic along narrow Honore and Division Streets. The current zoning requires a minimum of 23 parking spaces for a store of this size, but since Chicago doesn’t have parking maximums, Trader Joe’s can build as much parking as it wants. Neighbor Alyx Pattison asked Brandt Sharrock, real estate vice president at Trader Joe’s, if the company could build no car parking and instead “be a sustainable neighbor” with a green roof. Sharrock replied, “We’d have to look into that and get back to you.”

Sharrock described the store’s operations at the meeting, saying there would be three semi tractor trailers every day, daily fresh bread and flower deliveries, and about two smaller box truck deliveries each week. In the proposal, most of these trucks would drive north along Honore, through the neighborhood to the south and past the school’s entrance. Parents complained that the noise would disrupt learning, and that children crossing the street may be harmed by additional traffic from deliveries and patrons along a newly two-way Honore Street. Sharrock countered that the trucks would make their deliveries before the school’s drop-off period at 7 a.m.

Rappe suggested at the meeting that Smithfield and Trader Joe’s meet with community members to find a better location. Rappe later told me that local residents “don’t know [Trader Joe’s] criteria” and thus can’t identify more suitable locations. He reiterated his call for a meeting: “We should have a direct conversation with Trader Joe’s, to see if we can help them find a place that meets their needs and keeps the community character.”

I suggested to Rappe that perhaps the current Wendy’s location, adjacent to the 1611 apartment building and near Ashland Avenue, might make a better location for Trader Joe’s. Rappe wasn’t sold, saying that spot should have a taller mixed-use development, and that “because of its proximity to [Blue Line] transit, we don’t want to build anything that’s going to keep residential out, and we don’t want to do anything there that encourages driving.”

Steven is a member of the SSA’s transportation committee. 

  • rohmen

    The semi-trailers would drive north along Honore from where? Augusta?? I lived in that area for years up to this past summer, and that’s a pretty residential area, with several families with young children living on Honore near Augusta. Not to mention that traffic is already a nightmare at the corner of Honore and Division due to the poor layout of the intersection–let alone now throwing in the traffic associated with 70 spots at TJs (which, judging by their other stores, will be filled on an almost constant basis).

    If I lived on Honore, I would be pretty upset at the idea of TJs routing semis down what has traditionally been a very low traffic, one-way street to unload at 3 a.m. on a nightly basis.

  • mhls

    I was part of study in DC for a Harris Teeter. HT agreed to use smaller trucks for their deliveries and schedule deliveries for these truck at certain hours when kids weren’t likely to be present. Don’t have an interest in this project but just something the community could request.

  • neroden

    Bleah. The decline of rail sidings is what leads to all this truck traffic.

  • Not all trucks would have to come from Augusta. They may go south from Division, then east or west on Haddon, and then north on Honore. I think the reason they proposed this was to make it easier to have the trucks back into the off-street dock. After they are done unloading, the trucks would go north on Honore to Division and out of the neighborhood.

    All truck route scenarios were being discussed though: using only Division and the half block of Honore as well as the previously mentioned scenarios.

    They also said they could schedule deliveries for after 5 PM, when most after school programs are complete. However, some parents pointed out that events continue after 5 PM and pointed out that the developers didn’t do their homework on school operations.

    The developers also proposed a “right turn only” sign at the parking garage exit (to turn north onto Honore to reach Division). There was a complaint that such a sign doesn’t work at their other stores. The developers’ response? “That’s a city/alderman question.”

  • Are there rail sidings that reach Wicker Park?

  • Using smaller trucks and distributed warehousing are absolutely a strategy the City of Chicago, and cities with dense, walkable neighborhoods, should pursue.

    Smaller trucks emit less noise and pollution and have fewer visibility problems in traffic.

  • lukeukv

    The fact that EVA has to provide their CV every time they speak says a lot about where they stand and who they (don’t) represent. Perhaps there should be a group to give a voice to those who don’t agree with EVA. I’m pretty tired of hearing about how every single development has to run the EVA gauntlet. Shut up and get out of the way!

  • Joseph Rappold

    I agree Luke! They are against everything. They want to East Village to be Naperville

  • Seth

    TJs is a valuable amenity for the neighborhood. Instead of locating it somewhere else, the focus should be on making the building pedestrian friendly. TJs hasn’t been very good at this – maybe there is an opportunity here to help them change. For example the TJs at Roosevelt & State has its main entrance off to the side via a narrow strip of sidewalk through their surface parking lot. Terrible. But it’s important to separate the value of the store from the suburban style buildings they’ve been putting up. And we have to accommodate parking for a grocery store. Just do it in a way that is fair to pedestrians as well in terms of the entrances, etc. People are driving to other nearby TJs anyway from this neighborhood so opening it may even reduce driving.

  • Kyle Smith

    The advantages of a grocery store in a dense, walkable location outweigh the costs in truck traffic – particularly for a franchise like TJ’s. It is a bit more likely that a shopper will be making short, frequent trips by foot rather than stocking up and needing a car to do it, so the increase in truck trips may be partially offset by a decrease in car trips. The foot traffic to and from the store will significant benefit the entire business district. And there are numerous other TJ’s in walkable neighborhoods, like the one on Diversey near Broadway or the one on Ontario in River North, where the impact of increased delivery traffic could be measured.

  • Fred

    I don’t understand why “TJ’s” and “taller mixed-use development” are mutually exclusive. Why can’t they build a TJ’s with a residential tower on top on the Wendy’s site?

  • rohmen

    I get what your saying, but TJs seems pretty firm that they will have parking at the site, and increased parking and semi-truck access do not seem like a good fit for this site based on the surrounding community.

    The south loop TJs use to be a Sam’s liquor store, so taking over and remodeling a very new and already existing building–even though it has a very suburban feel–made some sense for that neighborhood. Here, TJs is starting from scratch, and choosing a location that in my opinion is going to cause a large amount of problems for a well-established residential neighborhood and magnet school.

    There are open lots just a few blocks east on division (right across from the wicker park athletic club) that seemingly could be developed to fit what TJs needs. I thought I remembered a lot for sale sign on the property I’m talking about just recently, but maybe I’m worng and a development is already in the works there. Those lots (if available) would be out of the heavily residential area around Honore, and would be much closer to the blue line and the proposed Ashland BRT.

    Point being, there seem to be other options within just a few blocks from the current proposed location in that neighborhood that would seem to be a better fit, and TJs appears to not even be considering those other options at this time.

    My assumption is that they like the extra foot traffic the area around Honore generates, and that’s why they’re so focused on that spot, rather than seemingly better options closer to Ashland/Milwaukee.

  • Philippe

    Hey. EVA. Get out of the way.

  • Seth

    All excellent points, but TJs is free to purchase land and build as of right. Also, wouldn’t a grocery store be a good thing to have near a school? When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs I couldn’t easily walk to a grocery store on my own. I think the maximum value add for the community input / aldermanic review process, especially if this is a planned development (PD) is to advocate as much as possible for a topologically urban building for the store.

    Another example of what to avoid is the Whole Foods at Ashland and School in West Lakeview. It crams the store into a small space while using half the property for surface parking. Us pedestrians are forced to use a small narrow utilitarian entrance on the side of the building.

    We need to help these national chains, that provide great selection, prices, etc learn to build urban buildings as they expand into cities.

  • JZ

    Good company? What’s good about the discount economy and non-union jobs in a non-democratic workplace? We should help Dill Pickle and new food coops anchor in our communities. It’s the only road to long-term sustainability.

  • rohmen

    Well, they can certainly buy the property and build within the current zoning for that area, but that’s not exactly what they’re trying to do.

    Instead, they’re trying to purchase the lot and then secure infrastructure changes in order to turn what was once a low-density, one-way street next to a school into what is likely to be a much more heavily traveled two way street. Also, don’t they have to be granted a zoning variance to sell liquor that close to a school? Maybe the law has changed on that, though.

    The local residents/alderman do not need to agree to those changes. And while I agree a TJs would be a great fit for that area, I think there are better spots just a few blocks east on division that would be a much better fit–as myself and others have noted.

  • If you live in the EVA area and don’t agree with what they are proposing, then get involved and propose something else. No one is preventing you from attending the EVA meetings where they discuss and vote on these projects, or from creating your own organization that promotes what you see are the values the area should be espousing. Without neighborhood organizations ‘getting in the way’, developers would never have to be accountable to the community for their projects.

  • Pat

    Living right near the Diversey location, I will admit that deliveries are not an issue.

    However, that location has garage parking on top of it. At peak times you definitely have traffic backing up on Orchard and into the parking ramp. Partially this is caused by a short green at Diversey/Orchard, but a lot of it is caused by people turning right onto a narrow and already congested Diversey.

    While this location does get a ton of foot traffic, the car traffic it generates is significant. And while you may assume that ” It is a bit more likely that a shopper will be making short, frequent
    trips by foot rather than stocking up and needing a car to do it” I see first hand that plenty of people use their cars to stock up… because they have free parking to do so.

  • Kyle Smith

    Sure, people stock up at TJ’s – I do it. But the business model of TJ’s also makes the store convenient to drop by by foot or bike for wine, cheese, a frozen entry, ready made pizza dough, and so on. That style of consumption is more compatible with walkable urbanism than, say, Jewel, which focuses more on sales volume in a larger store footprint.

  • Pat

    I’m sure all grocery stores are concerned about sales volume. I agree with you that TJs is more suited to small trips that than say Jewel. But if the majority shoppers at TJs are walking/biking, I’d like to see them adjust to that.

    Reduce parking and add more express lanes (under a certain amount of
    items) to encourage people to make these small trips.

    The Walmart Neighborhood Market on Broadway was able to flourish without providing free parking. And while there is a parking garage above it (which existed before they moved in), it is not free.

    I’m just proposing
    that TJs adapts to the environment rather than making it adapt to their
    replicated model.

  • Philippe

    What makes “planners” think they know better uses for property than the owners and people that actually risk their own money do?

  • Fred

    Developers only care what is best for their exact parcel of land; planners care about what is best for the community. Just because a developer says a particular parcel is best suited to process toxic waste doesn’t mean its whats best for the community. It is the planner’s job to fight myopia.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    http://www.salon.com/2014/02/23/worse_than_wal_mart_amazons_sick_brutality_and_secret_history_of_ruthlessly_intimidating_workers/

    If you think Trader Joe’s is bad, read this article about Amazon. Worse than Wall Mart.

  • Duane

    Planners gave developers a nice Lincoln Park and Millennium Park to build million dollar projects around – in most cases developers need planners in order to maximize their profits.

  • Anton Cermak

    “Planners” probably have a strong hunch what would be the highest and best use for any given parcel, but that isn’t their job; a planner’s job is to determine what the highest and best use is for the community and City at-large.

    In any case, it seems to me that the neighbors, not planners, are holding this project up. As a planner, I’d say this is a good project in a good location and that the neighborhood and the City would be well served by this project. That said, parking can and should likely be reduced – street parking capacity for this project could be increased by reducing street parking time limits to an hour to generate additional parking churn.

  • Peter

    NIMBY’s… :-)

  • JacobEPeters

    77 parking spots and turning an already confusing 1 way intersection into a 2 way street. That’s not “not in my backyard”, it’s “not destroying a Pedestrian Street designation.”

  • JacobEPeters

    I don’t know if a 30 minute meter limit is allowed, but I would surely support it. The Divvy station across the street is a bonus too in encouraging parking to be eliminated on site, seeing as Trader Joe’s is exactly the type of store you can bike to and pick up 5 things that fit perfectly into the basket.

  • JacobEPeters

    do you ask this of every profession that isn’t your own?

  • JacobEPeters

    Hey. “Philippe.” Have you spent the last decade building a vibrant community?

  • JacobEPeters

    TJ’s is not proposing to build as of right. They are proposing a “special use.”

  • Seth

    Ah ok. Hope it works out well for all involved.

  • JacobEPeters

    Hope so, I know that a lot of people in this area already drive to nearby Trader Joe’s, so getting a walkable TJ would probably reduce some car trips.

  • JacobEPeters

    um, if they wanted East Village to be Naperville, wouldn’t they be in favor of a Trader Joe’s with 70+ parking spaces?

  • Kevin M

    Millennium Pork was publicly subsidized–and well over budget, too.

  • Anton Cermak

    30 minutes seems very thin for grocery.

  • JacobEPeters

    if I was doing a larger trip than 30 min, I would just go to Mariano’s or Jewel since they have a wider selection anyway. Whenever I shop at TJ or Aldi I am rarely in there for more than 15 min.

  • tooter turtle

    I like Trader Joe’s. But every one I’ve seen generated a lot of car traffic. I wouldn’t want to live near the one on Lincoln, which has an unsightly parking lot that creates dangerous conflicts at its entrance. The store on Division is better, with a parking garage that is entered from around the corner on quiet Orchard. It seems like a good arrangement that preserves decent walking and biking while still accommodating drivers.

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