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Now the Jeff Park NIMBYs Are Fighting Arena’s P-Street Proposal

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Surburban-style development next to the Jeff Park Transit center degrades the pedestrian environment. Image: Google Maps

The Jefferson Park NIMBYs are at it again. First they went nuclear over the city’s proposal for a road diet with protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue, which would have reduced speeding and crashes, and created more people-friendly retail strips. Now they’re freaking out about 45th Ward Alderman John Arena’s proposed ordinance to designate a few blocks of Milwaukee and Lawrence as Pedestrian Streets.

At a recent meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, members voted unanimously to oppose the ordinance, according to a DNAinfo report. They argued that, by encouraging dense, pedestrian-friendly, car-lite development, the P-Street designation would make it harder to park cars in the neighborhood.

Arena has proposed creating P-Streets on Milwaukee from Giddings to Higgins, and on Lawrence from Laramie to Long. Located just south of the Jefferson Park Transit Center, served by CTA buses and trains, and Metra commuter rail, this X-shaped district is the heart of the local business district.

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The proposed Jefferson Park P-Streets.

The P- Street designation is intended to preserve the existing walkability of business districts, by banning future car-centric development. It blocks the creation of big box stores, gas stations, drive-throughs and other businesses that cater to motorists, by forbidding the creation of new driveways.

The designation requires that the whole façade of new buildings be adjacent to the sidewalk. The main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and at least 60 percent of the façade between four and ten feet above the sidewalk must be windows. Any off-street parking must be located behind the building, and accessed from the alley or a side street.

Since it’s easier to get around without a car in areas where walking is safe and pleasant, the city does not require new developments on P-Streets near transit stops to provide the usual number of parking spaces. Under the 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance, new residential buildings within 600 feet of a transit stop only have to provide one spot for every two housing units, instead of the typical 1:1 ratio. If the building is also on a P-Street, it can be up to 1,200 feet from the station and still get the parking discount. New stores with less than 10,000 square feet of floor space also get a break on parking.

The lower parking requirements are the main sticking point for the neighborhood association, according to Judy Skotzko, the association’s president. She argued that they would create a parking crunch, which would make it harder for local merchants to attract customers.

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An empty storefront on Milwaukee in Jeff Park. Image: Google Maps

In fact, the opposite is true. By preserving the traditional urban shopping district in downtown Jefferson Park, and making sure that future development is ped-friendly, the P-Street designation will help make the retail strip more attractive to shoppers. That’s especially true for those walking to and from the transit center.

Meanwhile, the designation would encourage developers to build housing near the Blue Line and Metra, without requiring them to provide more parking spaces than residents would actually use, which would help keep prices affordable. These condos and apartments, located a short, pleasant walk from trains, would attract buyers and renters who are less likely to own cars.

The new residents would also be more likely to patronize shops within the P-district, creating a virtuous cycle. That would be a shot in the arm for local merchants in a neighborhood with an excess of empty storefronts. 45th Ward chief of staff Owen Brugh has noted that the P-Street designation has been helpful in the Six Corners area near Irving Park/Cicero/Milwaukee, which is seeing an economic upturn.

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Sportif Importer, a five-minute walk from the transit center, is flanked by empty lots. Image: Google Maps

The P-Street designation would pave the way for the development of two empty lots east of Milwaukee on Lawrence, adjacent to the Sportif Importer bike shop. They’re currently used for overflow parking during concerts at the Copernicus Center across the street. Currently, there are no plans for the land, but Arena has said he’d support a relatively dense condo development there, of a “reasonable height,” DNA reported.

Some Jefferson Park residents may be accustomed to driving for most of their trips, and the neighborhood association members may find it difficult to believe that anyone would move into the neighborhood and not bring a car. However, if the P-Street goes through, living car-free near the transit center and a vibrant, walkable business district would become an appealing option for many people. Without the designation, we’re likely to see more suburban-style development, or no development at all, in Jeff Park.

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