Montrose Green Planner: The Time Is Right for Transit-Oriented Development

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Rendering of Montrose Green, a proposed mixed-use, parking-lite development by the Brown Line.

Montrose Green is a new mixed-use, parking-lite building proposed for a vacant lot at 1819 West Montrose in Ravenswood. The location has all the transit access you could ask for in a development. The parcel sits just west of the Brown Line’s Montrose station, and is served by the #78 Montrose and #50 Damen buses. There’s a Divvy station across the street, and Metra’s Ravenswood stop is three blocks north. The lot sits on a bustling pedestrian-oriented retail strip, full of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Developer Harrington Brown plans to take advantage of the prime location, and Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance, to build a five-story building with 24 rental units and 10 parking spaces. That’s far below the city’s standard requirement of a 1:1 ratio. “People are seeking opportunities to live, work, shop, and dine near transit hubs,” said Harrington Brown owner David Brown. “This approach reflects where we are as a society — not every single renter has a car or needs a car.”

The building would mostly be made up of one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedroom units. The 5,300 square-foot ground floor space would likely be leased to a restaurant. A 3,000 square-foot, penthouse-like structure on the 5th floor is planned as office space for tech startups and other innovative small businesses. The developer hopes to start construction next spring.

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The development would be in a transit- and retail-rich location. Image: Google Streetview

Harrington Brown purchased the land during a CTA auction five years ago, during the depths of the Great Recession, and Brown said it was his intention to hold onto the property until the real estate market improved. In the meantime, the space has housed the Montrose Green community garden, as well as events like an outdoor Irish Christmas market, held last December. “That turned out to be more of a Polar Vortex street party,” he joked.

Brown said he’s not a developer by trade, but comes from a public policy and urban planning background, and that his strategy for the new building reflects his planning philosophy. “What we’re finding in neighborhoods today is that the demand for parking among renters is much lower than what was previously perceived,” he said. “If we’re wrong about that, we won’t be successful in renting the apartments.”

Typically, Chicago parking requirements mandate the construction of at least one parking spot per residence. The city’s TOD ordinance relaxes the rules near transit, requiring developers to provide one parking spot for every two housing units in buildings within one full block of a transit station, or within a two-block radius on designated Pedestrian Streets. Harrington Brown is also taking advantage of a provision that allows developers to apply for a variance to reduce the number of spots by an additional 20 percent. The 10 spaces would be located behind the building.

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Montrose Green would include six outdoor parking spots and four garage spaces.

That’s roughly the same number of spots Brown would have chosen for Montrose Green if there were no zoning requirements for parking. “Having a handful of parking spaces certainly makes sense,” he said. “Some renters will want to have a car, so you need to have the right balance. So not only are we in line with the TOD ordinance, but we think it’s appropriate for the site.”

A few other development proposals in Chicago have faced have faced opposition from residents who fear that more housing without lots of new parking spaces will create a parking crunch. However, Brown says he’s not worried about a NIMBY backlash against his plan, pointing out that the vast majority of comments on Curbed and DNA stories about the development have been supportive.

47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar will be hosting a community meeting on the proposal next month. “We welcome the opportunity to meet with neighbors and community groups,” Brown said. “We’d had a lot of informal dialogues already.”

“It’s an interesting policy debate to have: How should Chicago be promoting walkable and transit-friendly development,” Brown concluded. “I think we’ve come a long way as a city, in terms of embracing the benefits of TOD, so we’re looking forward to being a part of that discussion.”

  • Shlabotnik

    I’m glad to see this development. As an aside, I always thought one way to encourage development immediately next to elevated rail in Chicago would be to dampen the ridiculously loud jet engine like sound that comes every time a train passes. I think this explains why there are many vacant lots adjacent to the elevated structures outside of the CBD.

  • My childhood bedroom, growing up, was less than 20ft from the Brown Line tracks, and even with the trestles (second floor). Yeah, there was noise. No, it wasn’t “jet engine” or unsupportable. I slept through it. Eventually you don’t even notice a train’s going by unless you stop and think about it.

    Standing under the El tracks it’s pretty loud. Inside a building — and my childhood room didn’t even have modern windows, just wooden single-glazed with storms! — it’s no such thing.

  • Jim Angrabright

    I had an apartment on Wilton with my bedroom right under the (then) Ravenswood/Howard tracks and the only time my sleep was disturbed was when the trains stopped running during that brief CTA strike – my sleeping self just kept thinking there was something wrong.

  • Alex_H

    A friend of mine lived next door to the Brown Line and once told me he found the sound of the trains “soothing.” :)

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