City Seeks Transit-Friendly Development Near Howard Station

Howard Street parcel
The site is less than 600 feet from the CTA Howard station.

The Chicago Department of Planning and Development is looking for the right developer for vacant city-owned property near the Howard CTA station. Last week, the city released a request for proposals for the 1.05 acre parcel at 7519-33 N Ashland Avenue, between Howard and Rogers Avenue, and asked specifically for transit-friendly and walkable development proposals. The site is zoned for up to 229,310 square feet of business and residential development, enough to fit about 200 apartments and a small supermarket-sized store.

DPD says they will grade the proposals on whether they have an “active street presence with engaging ground-level retail that enlivens pedestrian experience.” This is especially important along Howard Street, which has seen new businesses, a redesigned streetscape, and renovated train station in the past eight years.

DPD also says they want to see “creative proposals” that have “one or more uses that takes advantage of the proximity to the Howard” station. A proposal that includes apartments or condos at this site could take advantage of the Transit Oriented Development ordinance from 2013, which would allow the developer to build either more or smaller residential units. DPD also asks for “an appropriately designed parking component to serve on-site uses,” although again the TOD ordinance sets a different baseline: an automatic 50 percent cut in car parking requirements for residences and, 50-100 percent cut for commercial uses. Structured parking on a site this close to the ‘L’ would be very expensive to build, with a nearby garage costing $36,000 per parking space. Future residents at this site might opt out of paying that much for car parking, since residents who live near transit tend to spend less on transportation.

The proposed development would also need to comply with the city’s Sustainable Development Policy [PDF]. That policy requires buildings on city-owned land to meet environmental standards set by either LEED, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, or Chicago Green Homes [PDF]. All of those certifications reward developments that provide active transportation amenities, like indoor bike storage, and for choosing walkable, transit-accessible sites like this one.

  • Gene

    One unfortunate fact to be considered is that all of the Gateway Shopping Center space has not been leased after all this time. I don’t think that bodes well for the retail component.

  • Alex Oconnor

    While at it the should bull doze the entire failed Gateway Center. It is blight plain and simple. It ridiculously large surface parking lot immediately next to the intersection of 3 rail lines is absurd.

    Reconnect the street grid as much as possible given the constraints of the L embankment. Build a series of set off mid-rise 4-6 stories level projects with little to no accessory parking with connected streets through them. I have in mind building maybe 50% taller than the typical 3-4 story Rogers Park courtyard buildings.

    That would help the near Howard area on its trajectory.

  • Sgutst2

    Is this where the very well used community garden is? It would be a shame to lose that oasis.

  • Anne A

    I lived in Rogers Park during the construction and first several years of the Gateway Center. I talked to small business owners who would have liked to rent a space and take advantage of all the potential traffic such a location could bring them.

    I’ve seen 2 big problems with how Gateway was developed and has been run.

    1. Rents are too high for most start-up businesses, or even many existing small businesses in the neighborhood. It’s been mostly franchises, because of the financial structure of those businesses compared to an independent start-up. From what I’ve heard, this is the biggest reason for long-term vacancies and failure of businesses to thrive there.

    2. When the revamped station was opened, no direct connection was made to the parking garage and its bridge across to the main section of Gateway Center. This forces potential customers to go all the way down to street level, cross multiple lanes of bus and car traffic (albeit with stop signs – not always obeyed), and go up a stairway or elevator to reach stores on the west side of Gateway. This could still be corrected by creating a door opening between the CTA structure and the garage, but no one has done it – HUGE missed opportunity.

    Having the self storage place occupy so much of the street level space around the station certainly provides a useful service, but it does nothing to add to the vitality of the area.

    In contrast, the Howard/Ashland has a lot of foot traffic at all hours of the day. There are existing businesses nearby that could complement whatever might open in the new development. The long-term downside – thugs intimidating potential business tenants and scaring them away. This has been a problem along Howard for years and has been a deterrent to the revival of the street. It could take a determined neighbor-police effort to overcome this. Having the community garden on the Howard/Ashland site now helps to build commitment by neighbors to improving the site and making it a positive place. That’s a good start.

  • Anne A

    The Howard/Ashland has a brand new community garden, just opened. There is another long-established one behind the CTA yard off Jonquil Terrace, and a smaller, somewhat newer one in Dubkin Park (Ashland/Fargo).

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if these examples were what prompted city planners to include such language in the RFP summary that the proposed development would need to add to the vitality of the street life.

    I don’t like visiting the Howard Station because I always get confused on where I can and cannot enter with my bicycle. I think the area dedicated to buses is confusing and too large.

  • inktobpen

    Hopefully this new project will improve the area. There already is an “active street presence with engaging ground level retail”–namely a vibrant drug trade. I often change trains at Howard and when I am on the east platform I routinely see drug deals happening right on the sidewalk.

  • DK

    The process to exit from the CTA to get to the core of the shopping center should be in a textbook on failed transit-oriented developments. They could improve it with airport-style signage a lot, though, too. But as-is, it’s impossible to imagine how it was so poorly planned.

  • Anne A

    That “active street presence” is the source of my comment below about thugs intimidating potential commercial tenants.

  • Anne A

    The bus area IS confusing, but it functions much better than the previous version. It would serve potential riders better if there were a few well placed signs showing the bus stop layout to eliminate guesswork and wasted time.

  • 2Fast2Furious

    That’s private property. Government meddles in business enough, and it never turns out well.

  • Alex Oconnor

    You mean like the homestead act, the rail roads, or the interstate highway system that cut through urban neighborhoods……

    Oh but the helped & subsidized the appropriate personal property owned by the appropriate type of people. So never mind.

  • Anne A

    Part of the problem is that the construction happened in multiple phases over a course of several years. The park & ride garage happened first, then the main Gateway complex to the west, then the makeover of the CTA station. I don’t recall exactly when the east portion of Gateway happened relative to the other phases. The Gateway construction was interrupted for a while due to financing issues – yet another hiccup in a long process.

  • Shortly after I published this article I saw this about a parcel for sale nearby where the owner has posted a sign that says, “Prime Drive-Through Development Lot.”

    I would disagree. Rogers Park has a fair number of drive-through restaurants already and this location, at what I think is the intersection of Howard/Rogers/Greenview, is still close to the Howard CTA station.

    http://chevanstonrogerspark.blogspot.com/2014/06/drive-thru-on-howard-street.html

  • Anne A

    A drive-through in that location, conflicting with frequent 147 and 151 bus traffic, could be a real nightmare.

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