MCZ’s Car-Centric West Loop Project Thumbs Its Nose at the TOD Ordinance

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Two whole floors of the 75-unit development will be dedicated to warehousing up to 140 cars. Image: MCZ / HPA

Talk about a missed opportunity.

It’s good news that a parking lot located at the southeast corner of Lake and Aberdeen in the burgeoning Fulton Market District will soon be replaced by a mix of residences, office space and retail. But it’s a crying shame that the developer MCZ Development is also building a glut of off-street car parking on the site, which is located a mere three-minute walk from the CTA’s Morgan ‘L’ station.

It’s especially regrettable because, thanks to the 2015 update of the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance, MCZ is effectively not required to provide any parking at all. The beefed-up ordinance waives the usual parking requirements for new developments within a quarter mile of a rapid transit stop, and within a half mile on designated Pedestrian Streets. Instead of taking advantage of this perk, the developer is choosing to build an excessive number of car spaces, which will encourage residents, workers, and shoppers to drive.

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When a building is a 3-minute walk from the ‘L’, is it really necessary to provide a car spot for every unit? Image: Google Maps

As recently reported on Curbed Chicago, MCZ was recently issued a foundation and crane permit for the 0.66-acre site, referred to as 165 and 175 North Aberdeen. Before it was a parking lot, the location housed the three-story Best Meats building, which was razed in 2014. The building permit for the new 11-story structure was issued last year.

The development will feature 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail, 40,000 square feet of office space, and 75 housing units, ten percent of which will be affordable units. So far, so good.

But not only will every one of those units have a car space earmarked for it, but MCZ is building 65 spots for office workers and shoppers. That’s a whopping 140 spaces for the 75-unit structure. Essentially, the developer is flipping the bird at the opportunity provided by the TOD ordinance.

As Mayor Emanuel is fond of pointing out out, one of the big reasons why the Fulton Market District is booming is because of the Morgan stop, which opened in May 2012, attracting major players like Google to the area. Along with amenities like the Randolph restaurant row, the district’s pedestrian- and transit-friendly nature is a key factor in why it’s a such hot area right now.

But by bringing dozens and dozens more automobiles to the area, which makes the streets less safe and pleasant for walking and biking, new developments like this one squander that competitive edge. And because garage spaces cost tens of thousands of dollars each to build, the cost gets passed on to the residents, which undermines affordability.

Here’s hoping that as density grows in the West Loop, more developers recognize that car-centric projects like this represent a backwards-looking way of doing things. Real TOD is the wave of the future.

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  • planetshwoop

    It seems that the South Loop (Roosevelt & Canal) is going through a similar phase of development. An old parking lot at Polk & Clinton is becoming a Portillos, complete with huge surface parking lot and 2 entrance/exits on each cross-street. We heard there is another mall coming shortly. It’s nice to see the space blossom from sad under-used warehouses and empty lots, but it’s a shame that the building style is more suited to Schaumberg than the city.

  • tooch

    I guess it’s up for interpretation, but i don’t think the developer is flipping the bird to the TOD ordinance. to me it feels like the developer is simply designing a space that they think their future tenants and customers want.

    i moved into SoNo East right when it opened in June 2012 and had a parking space assigned to my apartment (we sub-let our spot to a friend of ours after we sold our car – we were so close to transit, there was no need to own one). only stayed there a year, but by the time i left, tenants were so eager to acquire a parking spot, the monthly fee went up from $150 to $200! there was a lot of complaining by friends of mine that lived there about the lack of parking and what was being charged for those “lucky enough” to get a spot. as you may know, the building is less than a 5 minute walk to the red line North – Clyborn stop along with having plenty of access to the North Ave & Halsted bus lines, but there’s no debating that there was intense demand for tenant parking.

    i think developers realize that despite easy access to transit options, tenants value protected parking. not all residents do, and maybe the number who do are declining, but i think developers are trying to weigh their options as best they can.

  • Chicago IMO has a basic disconnect in that we don’t have practical mid-to-long-term storage parking options for those people who do need a vehicle to visit family or for any other number of reasons, but have no need of one the majority of the time.

    Renting a car or car-sharing is not something that seems to work for people in Chicago who are not from Chicago, and who do in fact go back home to the burbs and surrounding states for holidays, birthdays, etc. A long running joke in my family is how Lake View’s side streets turn into a ghost town around Christmas, if you didn’t know better you’d think the city had been evacuated.

    Rush hour commuting is a major component of our overall travel, but it is also very far from the end-all-be-all, something I think the planner set often forgets, but the developers are just responding to market demand. Constricting supply on a building by building basis is treating the symptom, not the cause. Plus, where do people think all of those Uber cars and pizza delivery vehicles go when not in use?

  • Obesa Adipose

    Developers pay good money for real estate market analysis to determine what potential customers want at any particular location. If the demand for parking isn’t there it’s the developer who takes the hit.

  • Pat

    What do we make then of studies that show garages are roughly 30% empty at any given time? SBChi spotlighted it a few weeks back.

    The issue here is changing the conversation about parking, so to speak. A location like this, with rising rents, both commercial and residential, is put to better use by maximizing those uses. There is only a finite amount of land within attractive distance of transit stations.

  • MTS_Chi

    There is no doubt that parking is scarce in the West Loop right now, and while the Morgan stop helps, the Green line is not the most convenient overall. So, regardless of larger city-wide or societal trends, the developer is probably reacting the the current situation in the neighborhood and filling a need. With construction continuing it probably won’t get better anytime soon. As the sharing economy grows, companies like ParqEx may help us to all utilize existing parking assets more efficiently, which would then require less parking construction in the future…

  • Frank Kotter

    I don’t quite agree with the premise of the article.

    Is it great that this structure was built with multilevel parking spaces without public subsidy or mandate thereby increasing density without paving over a good portion of a city block? Yes.

    Will more people decide to forgo the car if it is actually priced at market value? Probably.

    Will these parking spaces be converted to retail and residential if it is proven the developer can make more money that way? In a heartbeat.

    I understand most of the readers here desire to get more car off the road (this reader included) but experience tells us that allowing the market to price this will give us these results. The combination of allowing developers to either offer spaces or not depending on the market and subsequently reduce that market by ending the subsidy we give the automobile, this will happen in short order without the outward militancy from us which will make those drivers feel like they are under siege – entrenching them against change.

  • Frank Kotter

    Yes, and by freeing developers from the parking mandates, we allow them to become flexible in their decisions.

  • David P.

    …and the rest of the floors are devoted to warehousing humans?

  • Most of these buildigns are built with slanted floors, which makes parking easier but also means they can never be re-converted to retail or residential — they have to stay parking or be torn down.

  • Obesa Adipose

    Parking, like politics, is local: some neighborhood have too much, other have not enough. The study you cite was anecdotal and not very scientific.

    I can’t make it any simpler than this – if the developer makes the wrong call, they he or she will have to eat it. Get it? Make the wrong shot too many times and you’re not a developer any more.

  • Westernfront

    The balance of available auto parking for retail and other uses by non-residents of any community is a difficult one to determine and even harder to achieve given Chicago’s fragmented, aldermanic-centric development process. Leaving the pandering political puds in the City Council in charge of anything but lining their own pockets or the most basic of functions like getting street signs, which most of them fail to do efficiently anyway, is a public hazard, Alder creatures are a huge and very costly problem in Chicago and rarely a solution to anything.

    I’ve never seen any good data or models about what the balance between residential, retail and other density and parking is. If City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development were doing everything they could to attract, retain and expand our tax base, they would have those numbers from various models they tested or researched based upon good academic urban planning work. Otherwise, it means that Department is planning our city without understanding one of the most contentious and crucial parameters for any community’s success which is the amount of parking for lazy Americans who love to drive almost everywhere.

  • Pat

    All well and nice, but once the building is up, its not coming down. We should be favoring people over parking in land close to mass transit stations.

    TOD is a start, but it’s a carrot. I would like to see a stick.

  • Anne A

    That area desperately needs safer, more reliable access for peds and bikes. It’s so badly traffic choked that transit access by bus requires extreme patience and walking or biking there can be hazardous.

  • Westernfront

    Ultimately you’re correct, except leaving the market, what little is left of it, in a city that regulates everything as typified by such gems as the incredibly visionary tampon ordinance Ald. Burke was promoting to the stripper dress code ordinance that the profound statesman Emma Mitts is promoting might not work as well as you think it will. Developers probably feel fortunate to get through the City and community hassles that ignorant, professional panderers in City Council put them through with any semblance of sanity or a profit left.

    On some levels it’s surprising, if not alarming, that people are risking big money on the future of Chicago when there are about 15 billion dollars in tax increases coming down the pike in the next 15 years just for City of Chicago and its agencies bloated public pensions and that’s irrespective of all the State tax increases that are needed for its bloated public pensions. The wrong mayor at the wrong time, like Chuy in three years, will tank this city and turn it into something radically different than it is now. Think lots of vacant residential, retail and commercial space, all of which is possibly quite speculatively over built or headed there shortly anyway.

  • Westernfront

    Did any of your lazy neighbors explore parking options, that god forbid, might have made them ride a bike or take a walk a few blocks from their building?

  • Westernfront

    The City of Chicago a long time ago designated Roosevelt Rd. a large, retail-centric thoroughfare and through its poor planning made that area of Roosevelt Rd. between the rail beds and 90/94 as close to a suburban strip mall haven as possible in an urban center. City of Chicago has done the same thing, with even more disastrous auto grid-lock as a result, with the Halsted, Clybourn and North Ave. area, where the streets are narrower and the residential community more dense than the Roosevelt Rd. suburbanization area. That sterile New City development in the North Ave. suburbanization area is one result of this.

  • tooch

    Not sure why you’d make the assumption they’re lazy. The only assumption you could make is that they were willing to pay a higher price for a more convenient parking option.

  • J. Geoff Rove

    Having the closest bus line on Madison (or sporadic Grand Ave.) doesn’t help the car-less. Also with the Police District station down around 16th St. now also covering the closed 13 District, the lack of police visibility just encourages door to door travel by car.

  • Pat

    Madison is 2 blocks away and I’m not sure why you’d use a bus if you need to travel sizable distances going E-W when the Green Line is so close.

    Regarding your other point, I guess it is now no longer advisable to walk anywhere in Chicago except the Mag Mile and Clark St during Cubs games and TBOX.

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