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33rd Ward P-Streets Pass; Noon-O-Kabab Moving to Car-centric New Digs

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Noon-O-Kabab's current pedestrian and transit-friendly  location. Image: Google Streetview

Albany Park just took a step towards a more walkable future. Last week, City Council passed an ordinance to officially zone stretches of Montrose, Lawrence, and Kedzie in the neighborhood as Pedestrian Streets, or P-Streets.

“This lets developers know what kind of vision we have regarding movement around the ward,” said 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell. On June 25, she introduced the ordinance to create P-Streets on Montrose from California to Kimball, Lawrence from Sacramento to Central Park, and Kedzie from Montrose to Lawrence. “We want to prioritize pedestrians, bikes, transit, and then cars, in order to improve safety and reduce congestion.”

Mell said the ward’s transportation advisory committee came up with the idea for the P-Streets after Walgreens proposed building a suburban-style drugstore across the street from the Kimball Brown Line stop. The designation will prevent this kind of car-centric development in the future.

The ordinance forbids the creation of new driveways, and requires that new building façades be adjacent to the sidewalk. Buildings' main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and most 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 an alley or side street.

Meanwhile, developers who build on P-Streets near transit stops can get an “administrative adjustment” exempting them from providing any commercial parking spaces. In effect, the designation ensures that future developments will be pedestrian-friendly, and blocks the creation of drive-throughs, strip malls, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes and other businesses that cater to drivers.

The ordinance passed City Council with no opposition. “I’ve heard from a lot of people in the ward who are really happy about this,” Mell said. That’s in sharp contrast to the nearby 45th Ward, where the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association unanimously voted to oppose a P-Street ordinance introduced by Alderman John Arena. That ordinance also passed the council earlier this month.

Interestingly, Mell originally planned to schedule a zoning committee hearing on her ordinance in early September, but she pushed the hearing back a few weeks to accommodate a local eatery’s plans to move into a car-centric new location. Noon-O-Kabab, a popular Persian restaurant at 4661 North Kedzie, is planning to relocate across the street to the former location of a Kentucky Fried Chicken with a drive-through.

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Noon-O-Kabab's new location will have over 30 off-street parking spaces. Image: Google Streetview

Mell said Noon-O-Kabab owner Mir Nagahvi submitted his plans for the new restaurant to her office at the same time her staff was working on the P-Street proposal. “We postponed the hearing for him, out of an abundance of caution,” she said. “We just wanted to give him an opportunity to show us his plans. The KFC has been vacant for years. The fact that he bought it and is putting in a nice restaurant is an asset for the community.”

Currently, Noon-O-Kabab occupies a storefront with no off-street parking, although the sidewalk on Leland has been narrowed to make room for diagonal parking spaces. A couple of doors south, the restaurant operates a second kitchen used for catering, take-out, and delivery orders.

Consolidating all of the operations into a single building will significantly cut costs, and the new spot will allow the restaurant to expand from about 80 seats to over 130, Naghavi told me. He plans to open an Iranian imports store in the current restaurant location. He may rent the second storefront to a national chain, such as a café, or else sell that property.

The current Noon-O-Kabab location is just north of the Kedzie Brown Line station, and it’s also accessible via the Kimball and Lawrence buses, so it’s easy for many Chicagoans to get there without a car. The new location, at the northeast corner of Kedzie and Leland, is also transit-friendly, but it will also have dozens of off-street parking spaces.

Currently, there are 35 parking spots at the site, Naghavi said. He will be rehabbing the existing KFC building and expanding it somewhat, which will eliminate two or three spaces. While the current building façade does sit close to the sidewalk, the parking lot and driveways occupy much of the lot line. However, it’s not clear that the P-Street ordinance would have affected Noon-O-Kabab’s plans, since the project is largely a rehab, rather than new construction.

While it's great that a beloved local eatery is expanding into an abandoned fast food joint, it's a bummer that the new, car-centric location will encourage more people to bring automobiles into the neighborhood. Dozens of parking spaces certainly aren't needed for a successful expansion. Reza's, a bustling Persian restaurant three miles northeast at 5255 North Clark in Andersonville, has space for about 300 diners. Its parking lot only holds 20 cars but it's rarely full, according to a staffer.

On the bright side, Naghavi is honoring Mell’s request to eliminate one of the three existing curb cuts, located on Leland. The other two driveways on Kedzie will remain. Naghavi hopes to start construction in two months, and open the new restaurant in six.

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