Uptown Residents Brainstorm Ideas for Redeveloping Vacant Land

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Thursday’s brainstorming session. Photo: Shaun Jacobsen

It’s an exciting time to be in Uptown. The Broadway streetscape and road diet, which will hopefully be completed within a few months, as well as the reconstruction of the Wilson ‘L’ station have the potential to transform the center of the neighborhood. This potential has not gone unnoticed by the Metropolitan Planning Council. On Thursday evening in the Clarendon Park Community Center, MPC hosted the first of three community workshops to gather input on how residents would like to see their community develop.

The focus of the three workshops is on two currently vacant buildings: Stewart school, a 107-year-old building on Broadway that has sat empty since Chicago Public Schools closed it last year, and a lot next to the Wilson ‘L’ stop. The station rehab will shift the southbound express track eastward to join the other three tracks, opening up a new location for development.

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Caption: Two sites adjacent to the Wilson station’s new entrance would make excellent candidates for a transit-oriented development. Image: MPC.

46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman opened the meeting by stating his desire to see the Stewart reopened as a magnet school. MPC program director Marisa Novara then outlined the purpose of the workshops and discussed her organization’s desire to see Chicago’s transit-oriented development ordinance used more extensively. She said the Chicago region doesn’t always effectively take advantage of public transportation and develop properly around transit stations.

The goal of the Uptown workshops is to plan proactively in the context of the neighborhood and market reality, and ensure that development takes full advantage of existing transit assets. Cappleman will use the workshop results in talks with the CTA and CPS over the future of the two sites.

Uptown is well-suited to pedestrian- and transit-oriented development. As many as 45 percent of residents, depending on the census tract, do not own cars, and 97 percent of housing is contained in multi-unit buildings. The $203 million Wilson rehab, which will transform the station into a transfer station for the Red and Purple lines, represents a major public investment in transit.

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CTA rendering of the reconstructed Wilson station.

Following a question and answer segment, residents were divided into groups to discuss questions about Uptown’s strengths, how the buildings in question should be used, and what amenities would further strengthen the neighborhood. After these brainstorming sessions, a representative from each group had shared the comments with the rest of the attendees.

Several groups supported maintaining the Stewart building as a public facility as opposed to selling it to a developer. CPS plans to sell the building in a competitive bidding process starting next month, and community feedback from the workshop will influence the bid requirements.

What’s notable about the former school site is its parking lot, located north of the building. The current zoning, RT-4, permits townhomes or two-flats on the site, but the zoning could be changed to permit other uses.

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The Stewart school building and parking lot could be redeveloped. Image: MPC

Several groups supported development that would bring a more diverse mix of uses to the area, such as a shared workspace or small business incubator. One group argued there should be more public spaces in the neighborhood, citing European town squares as a best practice, an idea that fits well with requests for a better and larger farmers market in the area.

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MPC handouts cited markets under Parisian metro tracks as one way to utilize space under rail lines. Image: Wikipedia.

However the spaces are used, it’s important that developers take advantage of the TOD ordinance, which reduces the parking minimums for buildings located new transit stations. Doing so will promote public transportation use, while building excessive amounts of parking spaces would induce more car trips.

The next workshop takes place Monday, May 12, at 6 p.m. at the community center, 4501 North Clarendon. At that meeting, attendees will have the chance to further develop the ideas from Thursday’s event. The series will culminate on May 29, when three development experts will respond to the community’s ideas.

  • Cash Rules Everything

    Wow, $203 million for a train station? a new station costs $50 million, but a rehab costs 4 times as much?!?!?

    also if Stewart remains a school, a parking lot is needed for teachers to park there, so don’t go auctioning it off just yet. telling them to take the train is not only preachy, it is unrealistic and not practical.

  • I was also surprised at the high amount for a new station. Note, however, that they are also reconstructing a large segment of track and shifting entire tracks around, as well as adding in a transfer to the Purple line.

    Regarding parking: Many solutions here; were it to remain a school, the parking lot could remain, or the teachers could use an existing parking asset – Truman College’s massive, underused parking structure – which would be in line with the Ward’s goal of “utilizing existing parking assets.” Just a thought.

  • JacobEPeters

    & restoring the facade of two historic buildings…& demolishing a large amount of concrete support structure, some of which are located in the middle of major commercial streets…& including both ADA accessible ramp and elevator vertical circulation options for 2 platforms. Comparing the scope of Morgan vs. Wilson is like comparing clementines and watermelons.

    A zoning change permitting multi-unit residential with parking on the ground floor for teachers, seeing as their parking needs are not in competition with the few spots that would still be required within the TOD ordinance.

  • The real big ticket item for the Wilson Station is the over 70′ span across Broadway. It is a big gap to do without obstructions in the street, there are over 30 right now.

  • Adam Herstein

    Why not just rename your blog to “why Paris is better than Chicago”?

  • BlueFairlane

    Because …

  • MDFROMUP

    NO!!!! Can we explore options for a gym or big box store??

  • I think there is near zero support for that.

  • MDFROMUP

    Don’t be so sure….

  • There were well over a hundred people there, they had time about 35 minutes in small groups not one mentioned big box store and health clubs.
    Not one. So even if you are right and there is this groundswell of support for what you speak of they stayed home. Just as well.

  • Adam, there were at least two other examples with photos under that section in the handout. If you care to see the other examples you can attend the meeting tonight.

  • HJ

    “She said the Chicago region doesn’t always effectively take advantage of public transportation and develop properly around transit stations.”

    Case in point: http://www.uptownupdate.com/2014/05/sonic-is-open.html

    This neighborhood is so hopeless it is pathetic.

  • Nathanael

    Actually, it usually costs more to rebuild a station while trains are running than it costs to just build an entirely new station.

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