New Law Could Pre-Empt Parking Lots Along Albany Park’s Main Streets

A proposal to build a suburban-style Walgreens at the busy corner of Lawrence and Kimball avenues in Albany Park, across from the Brown Line’s terminus, has sparked a proposal to introduce Pedestrian Street designations to the lively, diverse neighborhood.

The most recent available rendering from Centrum Properties.

33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell has expressed her disapproval of the design, requesting a more walkable store more in keeping with the neighborhood. Mell has stalled construction by asking CDOT not to issue permits for the parking lot’s new curb cuts, and has also requested that Walgreens and the developer meet with her and her staff to come to a better design for the neighborhood. So far, Walgreens has not agreed.

In the meantime, Alderman Mell’s office has asked CDOT to study and provide recommendations for a Pedestrian Street, or P-street, designation along several corridors in the ward. A P-street designation would not only prevent this particular development from building new driveways, but would also require all new buildings along these corridors to have pedestrian-friendly street frontages.

The new designation could encompass Lawrence Avenue from Central Park Avenue to the river, Kedzie Avenue from Lawrence to Montrose Avenue, and Montrose Avenue from Kimball Avenue to the river. The designation on Lawrence could continue west, outside of the 33rd Ward.

The P-street ordinance requires that the entire façade of a building along a P-street be adjacent to the sidewalk. At least 60% of the façade must contain windows that look into the interior, and the main entrance must face the P-street. While parking minimums are not drastically different, any off-street parking must be completely hidden from the P-street, and access to parking must be from an alley.

The new Walgreens at Clark/Broadway/Diversey sits along a P-street. Photo by author.

In effect, the P-street ordinance prohibits exactly the type of development that Centrum wants to build for Walgreens. Additionally, the P-street designation would prohibit other types of non-pedestrian friendly developments: It requires developers to conform to pedestrian-scale designs, and prohibits several uses never conducive to walkability, like strip malls, drive-throughs, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes, and storage facilities.

The P-street ordinance is intended to preserve the existing pedestrian nature of commercial districts. Currently, most development along the proposed P-streets already conforms to the design standards: a front façade completely abutting the sidewalk, large display windows, and parking in the rear (if at all). A P-street designation would ensure that the 3-story mixed-use building currently at Lawrence and Kimball can’t be torn down to make way for a single-story Walgreens with a corner parking lot, and that other similar buildings also cannot be torn down for lower-density, auto-oriented developments uncharacteristic of the neighborhood.

Albany Park Neighbors, a local neighborhood group, has expressed their desire for a more walkable development at Kimball and Lawrence by issuing a set of concerns related to pedestrian and bicycle safety, as well as site-specific recommendations (PDF). Shylo Bisnett, the group’s leader, told me via email that Albany Park Neighbors is “supportive of P-street designations for applicable portions of Albany Park,” and hopes that all three aldermen representing portions of Albany Park – Deb Mell (33rd), Rey Colón (35th), and Margaret Laurino (39th) – can work together and address the entire community’s transportation needs.

CDOT is studying Lawrence, Kimball, and Montrose this week, and should have recommendations for P-street locations shortly. The P-street designations must then be reviewed by the Department of Planning, undergo a public hearing, then be voted upon by City Council. At the earliest, the new designations could become law in two months.