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Our TOD Bike Tour Showcased Chicago’s Parking-Lite Building Projects

Discussing the 1611 West Division building with developer Jamie McNally. View more photos. Photo: John Greenfield
The tour group discusses the 1611 W Division Street building with Jamie McNally.

A score of Streetsblog Chicago readers joined John Greenfield and me last Saturday to pedal to 12 sites where developers are taking advantage of proximity to train stations by building dense housing with fewer parking spaces than usual. The buildings, in different phases of approval and construction, are all near Chicago Transit Authority 'L' stops.

In general, the Chicago zoning code requires new construction to include one parking space per residential unit. However, in September of 2013, the city council passed a transit-oriented development ordinance, which cuts that requirement in half for buildings within two blocks of a rapid transit station. And in certain circumstances, the new law also allows developers to build more square feet of floor space at these locations.

High-density, low-parking developments near the CTA attract residents who are interested in getting around by transit, walking, biking, cabs, and car-sharing. They're less likely to bring their own cars into a neighborhood, which means a lower impact on traffic congestion. And when developers aren't forced to provide parking spaces that residents might not use, it reduces construction and housing costs.

The tour group, including architects, real estate brokers, policy analysts, planning students and lay people, met up at Daley Plaza. We cycled northwest to the Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee intersection, at the south end of the burgeoning "TOD building corridor" along the CTA Blue Line's O'Hare branch. Over the past two weeks, workers demolished a building at 500 North Milwaukee, next to the Grand station. Two new mixed-use buildings are planned for the site.

Rolling north on Milwaukee, we visited TOD project sites at every Blue Line between Grand and California. Just east of the Chicago Avenue station, the recently sold Gonella bread factory, 1001 West Chicago Avenue, will be replaced with 360 residential units and 300 parking spaces. A little north of the train stop, we met up with Brad McBride, an architect at bKL Architecture, who told us about his company's plans for a 47-unit building with 24 parking spots that has been approved for 830 North Milwaukee.

We stopped at Polish Triangle plaza at Division/Ashland/Milwaukee in Wicker Park and checked out two projects. Jamie McNally of Henry Street Partners told us about 1611 West Division, an 11-story tower with 99 units but zero residential parking, built in 2012, which is now almost completely occupied. Work has also started on a mixed-use building with 58 units and zero parking spaces, located behind the Bank of America at 1237 North Milwaukee.

Up the road in Logan Square, we stopped at a vacant lot at 2211 North Milwaukee, around the corner from the California stop. A new building slated for the site is dubbed "L," after the train system, as well as the neighborhood. Developer Ben Brichta from Property Markets Group met us here to discuss the project, which will have 120 units and 60 car spaces. There will also be 216 bike parking spaces, bike repair and washing stations, and a separate entrance for bike riders.

One tour goer asked Brichta why there is often community opposition to dense, parking-lite, transit-friendly projects like this one. Brichta replied there has been misunderstanding about the purpose of the TOD. Some neighbors are worried that providing fewer parking spaces means new residents will compete with them for on-street parking.

David Brown talks to the tour group about his proposed Montrose Green development next to the Montrose Brown Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

Along with opposition to the "L" building, there has been fierce resistance to a proposal by 1611 W Division developer Rob Buono to build two towers at 2293 North Milwaukee Avenue with 213 units and 68 car parking spaces. Opponents have posted flyers around the neighborhood condemning the latter proposal.

The latest flyer, from the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, encourages residents to show up for First Ward Alderman Joe Moreno's ward night this evening and a Chicago Plan Commission hearing on Thursday at 1 p.m. in City Hall. Currently, there are competing petitions about the 2293 project: one asks Moreno to delay the hearing, and one asking him not to.

Steve Rhodes, publisher of The Beachwood Reporter, happened to be passing by our tour group and overheard Brichta's explanation. Rhodes shared his viewpoint with us, that existing residents aren't concerned about whether new developments are located near transit, or how many parking spaces are included (actually, they are). Rather, he argued, longtime residents are opposed to an influx of high-end housing because it will raise property values, property taxes, and rents, pushing low- and middle-income people out of the neighborhood.

Gentrification, and the rising housing costs associated with it, are better mitigated by allowing development than by preventing it. Rhodes is correct that the addition of high-end rental units in the Milwaukee Avenue developments will contribute to rising property values. However, building more housing units in Logan Square will help ease the pressure on the existing rental market as newcomers move in.

Rather than fighting against density, residents who want to prevent displacement of longtime residents should lobby for including affordable units in TOD projects, as well as for creating affordable housing elsewhere in the community. 13 percent of the units at the 2293 North Milwaukee development will be affordable, which is three percent more than required by the city.

The 2211 North project will include 12 affordable units, the mandated amount. The affordable units at 2211 North will be one and two-bedrooms available for $800 to $1,100 per month to a family of four, for example, earning up to $43,000. Moreno has said he won't approve necessary zoning changes for this and other TOD projects in the ward unless the developer includes affordable units on site, rather than avoid the requirement by paying into the city's affordable housing fund.

The tour continued north, passing the approved, triangular TOD building at 2328 North California, across from the Logan Square post office, where a fence surrounds a car wash that will soon be demolished. At Belmont, we headed east to ride through Roscoe Village and saw the site of a proposed TOD building at 3400 North Lincoln, next to the Southport Brown Line station.

Finally, we headed up Ravenswood Avenue to the Montrose Green site, 1819 West Montrose, adjacent to the eponymous Brown Line stop. Developer David Brown told us how he bought the land from the CTA back in 2008, at the depths of the Great Recession, and helped start a community garden on the site in 2012. Now he's building a mixed-used commercial, residential, and retail building on the land with 24 units and 10 parking spaces, with plans for a restaurant on the ground floor.

View more photos of the bike tour here.

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