Why Is Alderman Solis Removing a P-Street Designation in Pilsen?

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Solis’ current ward office, which will be replaced by a “microbank.” Image: Google Street View

When Steven Vance and I heard that 25th Ward Alderman Daniel Solis had proposed an ordinance to lift the Pedestrian Street designation at a location on Pilsen’s main drag, it raised a red flag:

NO. A.8151 (25th WARD) ORDINANCE REFERRED (7-29-15) DOCUMENT # 02015-5381 Common Address: 1401-11W l8th Street; 1800-06 S Blue lsland Ave; 1800 S Loomis Applicant: Alderman Daniel Solis Change Request: To remove pedestrian street designation

The purpose of the P-Street designation is to preserve walkable business districts by mandating pedestrian-friendly development and prohibiting new auto-centric elements like strip malls, drive-throughs, and driveways. We recalled how, a few years ago, then-35th Ward alderman Rey Colón lifted the P-Street designation on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. This allowed the local McDonald’s to build a double drive-through and relocate its main entrance on a side street, so that the restaurant largely turns its back on the walkable retail strip.

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The new Milwaukee Avenue McDonald’s. Photo: Steven Vance

However, in this case, there’s good news. According to Solis’ chief of staff Vince Sanchez, removing the P-Street designation is a temporary measure that will allow a small bank to move into the existing building at 1401 West 18th. The designation will be reinstated in the near future.

Solis’ office is currently located in the vintage, triangular building, which Sanchez says may be landmarked in the future. The ward office is moving to the northwest corner of the intersection, which is the junction of 18th, Loomis, and Blue Island. Bank One Trust will be opening a small “microbank” at the old location, with only one or two tellers and an ATM, according to Sanchez.

The historic, terra cotta-clad building will remain intact, and the microbank won’t have a drive-through. However, a Chicago ordinance generally requires that new banks have them, Sanchez said. Therefore, as a formality, the P-Street designation needed to be temporarily lifted in order to allow Bank One to get a permit to renovate the space.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said his goal is to make Chicago “the most pedestrian friendly city in the country.” Obviously, it’s counterproductive to have a rule on the books that requires drive-throughs for new banks, which degrade the walking environment.

Sanchez said Solis has a good record on pedestrian issues, and claimed that the ward has installed the most curb cuts for wheelchairs of any South Side district. He said the alderman agrees that the ordinance requiring drive-throughs for banks doesn’t make sense. “We’re trying to figure out how to get that amended.”

  • City ordinance requires a drive through? Wtf! You’d think that would be something from Phoenix, not Chicago.

  • Roland Solinski

    City ordinances don’t require drive thrus for banks. However, there is an interesting provision in the P-Streets ordinance that restricts new banks or financial institutions within 600′ of an existing financial institution (including currency exchanges).

    Not sure why it was written this way, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the onetime political hot potato of branch banking. Most of the P-Street areas were once anchored by neighborhood banks. Today, few of these remain.

  • what_eva

    Can you ask his office to cite the ordinance that requires a drive through? I know for a fact I’ve seen plenty of banks open without them in recent years.

    I can’t find it searching city code (the search engine isn’t bad, you just have to figure out its quirks). In fact, I can find that for most zoned commercial districts (eg B1/B2/B3/C1/C2/C3), banks are permitted by right. Drive throughs, OTOH, require a special use permit in every spot they show up in zoning code and are specifically prohibited on P streets (hence the removal on Milwaukee by Colon for McD’s).

    What I’ve found instead is a completely different reason why Solis would remove the P street designation. In the P street code, 17-3-504-I-2:

    A bank, savings bank, savings and loan association, credit union, currency exchange, or automated teller machine facility is permitted on lots abutting pedestrian retail streets: provided that a proposed bank, savings bank, savings and loan association, credit union, currency exchange, or automated teller machine facility
    that will be located within 600 feet of a bank, savings bank, savings
    and loan association, credit union, currency exchange, or automated teller machine facility that already exists on the pedestrian retail street is allowed only if reviewed and approved in accordance with the special use procedures of Sec. 17-13-0900;

    I snipped exclusions to that section, as none apply here (feel free to look them up to check my work).

    In short, this says that you can put a bank on a P street, *but* if there is an existing bank within 600 feet, a special use permit is required. Checking the map, there’s a BMO Harris across the street from the site (possibly the same building Solis is moving into). By temporarily removing P street, the zoning reverts back to normal commercial, where a bank is permitted by right.

    The cynic in me suspects that the bank decided it was easier to ask Solis drop P street via ordinance (an alderman is rarely contested on these as we saw with Colon) than to deal with Public Hearings and the Zoning Board for a special use permit.

  • what_eva

    Beat me by seconds! I feel better than I’m not the only nerd looking up city code at 10pm :)

    (that is, unless you’re a bigger city code nerd than I and knew that one offhand, in which case I bow down ;) )

  • Roland Solinski

    Yeah, looks like this came down in 2004 after then-Ald. Vi Daley got peeved about too many banks opening around Halsted/Armitage in Lincoln Park, driving out other businesses that pay sales tax.

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:y0IJ3eVySWIJ:www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20040911/NEWS01/200013856/a-check-on-bank-branches+&cd=16&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

  • Thanks for the heads-up; double checking with Sanchez about this. He’s off today, but he should be able to put me in touch with the lawyer who’s handling this transaction next week, so we should be able to provide an update.

  • CARIBTONY

    Well, I see good old Vincent has pulled a random thought out of his derriere as usual in an effort to be relatable. I personally think he’s rabidly allergic to facts and common sense…..

  • Please refrain from personal attacks. These will be deleted. Thanks.

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