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P-Street on Milwaukee Could Help Empty Lots Develop Into Walkable Places

A public notice stands in front of an affected property

Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno of the 1st Ward has introduced an ordinance that would zone Milwaukee Avenue between Sacramento Avenue and Rockwell Street/Francis Place as a Pedestrian Street, or P-Street, which could help ensure that future development is walkable and pedestrian-friendly.

The P-Street concept was codified in 2004 as an attempt "to preserve and enhance the character of streets and intersections that are widely recognized as Chicago's best examples of pedestrian-oriented shopping districts." New development on a designated P-Street can't include things like drive-throughs or strip malls, and buildings must adhere to certain design standards, like using transparent street-facing windows. Alderman Rey Colón of the 35th Ward infamously removed the P-Street designation on a different stretch of Milwaukee so that a McDonald's franchise could rebuild the restaurant without making it pedestrian-friendly.

Moreno's use of the P-Street ordinance is not intended to preserve existing walkable character so much as to shape the future. The alderman's chief of staff, Raymond Valadez, told Streetsblog that this P-Street is "to ensure that future development is pedestrian-oriented, to prevent strip malls and driveways." He said there are several developable parcels, at least four large empty lots (one of which is used for parking for events at the Congress Theater), but that he knew of no proposed strip malls or other development that wouldn't fit in a P-Street.

Doug Farr, president of design firm Farr Associates, wrote the 2004 P-Street ordinance. Streetsblog asked for his thoughts on Moreno's proposal. "Retrofitting pedestrian friendly development in place of auto dependent is good for the city," he said, but noted that this new ordinance would be somewhat unconventional. "When the P-street ordinance was adopted the political context was one where there was comfort applying it to commercial frontages which were overwhelmingly intact (without gaps)."

By applying a P-Street designation to streets that are currently auto-dependent, some existing buildings would not fit with the P-Street requirements, creating what are known as "non-conformities." "In writing zoning codes we strive to minimize the number of non-conformities," said Farr. One parcel in the proposed stretch that would be "non-conforming" is the Chase Bank drive through – if Chase wanted to demolish and rebuild, they would be unable to keep their drive-through curb cut on Milwaukee Avenue, right next to a driveway for their parking lot.

But P-Street designation won't necessarily discourage redevelopment either. "Applying the P-street ordinance would do a very good thing for a developer in establishing clear expectations for the urban design of their redevelopments," Farr said. He took a look at this map showing the four large empty lots and said, "Based on what you've told me, I think the P-Street ordinance could be applied on these sites at low risk of a non-conformity that resulted in a hardship to the owner."

Blue shapes indicate the four large developable lots that currently have no daily use. The light blue line represents the extent of the proposed P-Street. 

Moreno's proposal covers a good stretch of Logan Square retail. If it was extended past Sacramento to Logan Boulevard (the boundary line between Moreno's and Colón's wards), the P-Street would capture the surface parking lots at Sacramento and Milwaukee and Logan and Milwaukee. However, those lots serve the Mega Mall and the Father & Son restaurant, so a P-Street designation may create a burden on those property owners if they want to make changes to those buildings.

The ordinance will be considered by the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards as early as April 30, which could put it on track for full council approval in May. If it passes, people who live in or visit Logan Square can look forward to a more walkable environment when these large lots are redeveloped. Want to support this proposal? Send Moreno a message.

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