Belmont-Clark Tower Still Has Too Much Parking for a Walkable City

The previous design and the current one, with one less floor.

There’s some mildly encouraging news about the mixed-use development proposed for the “Punkin’ Donuts” site at the northwest corner of Belmont and Clark. The latest design calls for fewer car parking spaces and more housing units.

DNAinfo reports that the third revision of the plan for the $50 million tower shortens the structure from 11 stories to ten, but boosts the number of rental apartments from 100 to 110, while reducing the number of offstreet parking spaces from 116 to 74. The original design called for three floors of retail, anchored by a grocery store, on the lower levels; the current design has only two floors or commercial space.

The site is located on a bustling pedestrian retail strip full of boutiques, restaurants and clubs, a stone’s throw from the Belmont ‘L’ stop and several bus lines. The developer, BlitzLake Capital Partners, had touted the original design as a transit-oriented development because it took advantage of Chicago’s 2013 TOD ordinance by only providing 50 residential parking spaces. In a location farther from transit, where the TOD ordinance doesn’t apply, the city’s zoning rules would require a 1:1 ratio of parking spots to housing units, 100 in the case of the original design.

However, as Streetsblog contributor Shaun Jacobsen pointed out back in November on his blog Transitized, it would be absurd to call BlitzLake’s previous design TOD, since it included an additional 66 parking spots for the retail space. Under the TOD ordinance, developers who build on designated pedestrian streets (“P-streets”) can get an “administrative adjustment” exempting them from providing any commercial parking spaces. Reps from BlitzLake told Jacobsen they were including commercial parking because they felt they couldn’t attract retail tenants without it. In effect, the company was choosing to build more than twice as much parking as required.

The removal of 42 car spaces from the current design means that less motorized traffic will be generated to slow down buses and degrade the pedestrian environment of this thriving business district. The developer did not return my call, and 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney’s office is closed for Pulaski Day, but presumably the number of commercial parking spaces was lowered because the amount of retail space was reduced.

Still, when you look at what’s happening elsewhere in Chicago, not to mention our peer cities, 74 car parking spaces is a high number for a 110-unit building at a location with excellent transit access. A new building next to the Blue Line’s Division station features 99 rental units and zero residential parking spaces, and a proposed development by the Brown Line’s Paulina stop would have 31 to 48 apartments with only nine parking spaces.

Meanwhile, New York City, which has parking maximums in the downtown core and minimums elsewhere, has taken some modest steps to reform parking mandates that still go farther than Chicago’s TOD rules. Recently, the city cut parking minimums from a 40-percent ratio to a 20-percent ratio in downtown Brooklyn — significantly lower than the ratios mandated even in some of Chicago’s TOD zones. Even car-centric Los Angeles eliminated parking minimums as part of a new land-use plan along a rail line.

Although it now has fewer parking spaces, the Belmont-Clark tower proposal shows why Chicago’s TOD ordinance needs to go further. Rather than reducing parking mandates at transit-accessible sites, we should do away with the minimums altogether. In some areas, it may make sense to impose maximums, like New York, Boston, and Portland did in order to limit traffic and improve air quality in their downtowns. There’s no reason to devote so much space to car storage near ‘L’ stops.

  • cjlane

    Really? Look at the *4* story building to the right in both images. Which is very close to the same distance from the ‘viewer’ as the rendered building–is it going to be a 9-story building for Hobbits? 5.5′ floor to floor height?

    It *totally* misrepresents the relative mass of the building, compared to the neighbors.

  • cjlane

    “every single car that’s parked on a side street is parked on that side street because no parking lot or garage exists for it”

    Harharhar. Half the cars on my side street are owned by someone who has a garage space (or 2!!) that are used for something other than a car (or are used for cars that belong to someone who doesn’t live in the house). ‘course, there’s also the house that keeps two cars in the garage, and two more on the street, for two people.

  • Peter

    (Disclaimer: I don’t condone the actions of this women.) From todays headlines – Dibs Vandalism Article “After her arrest, Hernandez told police she needed a parking spot close to her home because she has five children, prosecutors said.”

    I guess she should move to the suburbs…. RIGHT?!?! :-) there’s no room for families in the City! GTFO Families… LOL

  • Peter

    Do you live in the suburbs? I’m assuming you don’t care if the suburbs has sidewalks or bike lanes because that’s not where you live. Just as I don’t care if the suburbs have/allow street parking… Just saying

  • duppie

    Your definition of family still seems based on selection bias. My wife and I are DINKs. We don’t have a car either. Yet we pull in a lot more than the average family. As such we have a lot disposable income. According to you I am not important to the chain grocery store?

    Point about selection bias is that it is hard to admit or recognize that you may have it. I am sure that there are areas where I have selection bias.

  • Chrissy Mancini

    It’s too bad, that area could use a grocery store. For seniors or handicapped, 11 – 12 minutes is rather far, with grocery bags. And who wants to walk 12 minutes in this weather!

  • jeff wegerson

    Some things are not possible because of the laws of physics and mathematics. We cannot have a quality pedestrian dense urban environment and at the same time enough streets and parking to eliminate congestion. Enough streets and urban density disappears into suburban sprawl. In order to have a quality urban environment we have to either design cars out or limit their use to the point of congestion at times.

    But car users tend to be myopic. They see only their own wants. “You can’t take that street away from me, it will cause me too much pain. My life will become harder to live if you take it.” They are incapable of seeing that a transit rider must suffer now because of car riders jamming the urban lane.

    So who should suffer? It’s simple. In the city the car rider and in the suburb the transit rider. It’s a simple matter of fairness.

  • jeff wegerson

    You cannot imagine that with quality transit people will choose to not have cars? Parking and driving have been eliminated entirely on the el tracks and the subway tunnels and there are no cars there as a result. Likewise take away the street and the parking lots next to el stations and no one will driver there or park there. Where there are no streets, there are no cars. Do car riders insist that they be allowed to take their cars on the elevator and down the hall to their desk? Duh, no.


  • Pete

    Most streetsbloggers want there to be NO parking at all in any new Chicago building. First step, get minimums removed. Second, pressure developers to not build parking. Third, find a way to take it away from existing buildings. The streetsblog ideal is a car-free city.

  • Pete

    Yes, stop doing it. Who appointed jeff wegerson emperor of housing and transportation choices? America was founded on the concept of freedom, not some socialist state where you only get what the state tells you that you can have. If you think you can tell all car owners to get out of the city, I’m going to tell you to get your freedom hating ass out of this country.

  • oooBooo

    Oh, I understand the agenda all too well. Streetsblogers are following a playbook tinfoil hatters exposed years and years ago.

    But I have a free market perspective on it. I think developers should be free to have zero parking buildings but others should be free to use their land for parking and parking garages. IMO A free market would develop a symbiosis which would probably then evolve into developers just providing some level of parking.

  • jeff wegerson

    No, I’m not arguing who should have the power to set transportation goals, I’m wanting to know the best guidelines to use for setting those goals.

    You can be as snarky as you like, and me back at you, but the serious question is how to approach these urban living issues. I’m sure your political beliefs are important to you, but the goal of a community website like this one is to give those of us that appreciate city living chances to hash out what might be best for the city. Getting bogged down in irrelevant political discussions might be fun for some people but are really not germane to what happens at this website. I really don’t care what your politics are. You can be a flaming fascist or a utopian anarchist, I don’t care about that. But what I do care about are your ideas for creating a better city to live in.

  • jeff wegerson

    Freedom can only exist where there is choice. The choice being denied here is the choice between a quality suburban environment and a quality urban environment.

    You seem to believe that I should be denied the freedom to express my views. I don’t believe the word freedom means what you think it means.


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