P-Street Designation for 33rd Ward Business Strips Moves Forward at City Hall

Albany Park, Chicago

Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park. Photo by Aaron via Flickr

A few months ago, a proposed suburban-style Walgreens, across the street from the Kimball Brown Line station in Albany Park, inspired a campaign to ban car-centric development in the neighborhood’s vibrant retail districts. Now, an ordinance to officially classify stretches of Montrose, Lawrence, and Kedzie in the neighborhood as Pedestrians Streets, or P-Streets, is moving forward in City Council.

After residents objected to Walgreens’ plan to build the drugstore with a parking lot occupying the southwest corner of the Lawrence/Kimball intersection, 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell asked the company to go back to the drawing board to create a more walkable design. Walgreens still hasn’t provided an alternative plan. Meanwhile, the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to look at the possibility of creating P-street designations along several business corridors in the ward.

The designation is intended to prevent development that encourages driving and discourages walking, biking, and transit use. It forbids the creation of new driveways, and requires that the whole building façade be adjacent to the sidewalk. The main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and at least 60 percent of the façade between four and ten feet above the sidewalk must be windows.

On P-Streets, any off-street parking must be located behind the building and accessed from the alley. Meanwhile, developers who build on P-Streets near transit stops can get an “administrative adjustment,” exempting them from providing any commercial parking spaces. In effect, the designation ensures that future developments will be pedestrian-friendly, and blocks the creation of drive-throughs, strip malls, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes and other businesses that cater to drivers.

At a June 25 City Council meeting, Mell introduced an ordinance to create P-Streets on Montrose from California to Kimball, Lawrence from Sacramento to Central Park, and Kedzie from Montrose to Lawrence. The legislation will likely go before the city’s zoning committee in early September. If the committee approves it, the ordinance will go before the full City Council for a vote.

Last week, Mell’s newsletter announced that the ordinance is moving ahead. It noted that red-and-white signs have been attached to trees and light poles along the three streets, alerting residents to the proposed changes.

The alderman told me the legislation was inspired by the Walgreens proposal, plus two other strip mall projects – one at Lawrence and Kimball, and the other at Lawrence and Central Park — that originated while her predecessor and father Richard Mell was alderman. She credited her ward’s transportation advisory committee with coming up for the idea for P-Streets in the ward.

Deb Mell said she has a different philosophy towards development than her dad. “We’re moving away from such a dependence on automobiles,” she said. “We have the Brown Line and buses on Montrose, Lawrence, and Kimball, so we’ve got pretty good transit. I get around on my bike, and right now you have to watch out for cars coming out [of driveways] everywhere.”

The alderman noted that she was recently in New York City and experienced the Summer Streets ciclovía, which opens up seven miles of Park Avenue for car-free recreation. “It gets people out, it reduces traffic, and it reduces crime,” she said. Mell hadn’t heard about Chicago’s Open Streets ciclovía, which was canceled this year due to funding issues, but said she’d be interested in seeing the event revived in the future.

In the past, aldermen have lifted P-Street designations on certain stretches in order to accommodate car-oriented development. For example, In 2012, 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón got an ordinance passed nullifying the P-street requirements on Milwaukee between Kedzie and Sawyer, so that a McDonald’s could build a new drive-through.

Mell said she won’t do that. “Once you start opening the door like that, another developer will say, ‘Well, you did it over there – why can’t you do it here.’ My hope is that once they see the P-Street designation, they’ll think outside the box and look into a different design.”

For more info about the proposed P-street designations in Albany Park, contact Mell’s chief of staff Dana Fritz at 773-478-8040.