City Should Raise Priority of Using Damen Green Line Station to Prime Good Land Use

Land around the station could be put to more supportive as well as benefitting uses.

The station access elements are highlighted in this rendering. CDOT/Perkins & Will
The station access elements are highlighted in this rendering. CDOT/Perkins & Will

When I first saw the design for the new Green Line station at Damen Avenue on the Lake Street branch, I became worried that the station didn’t have an entrance providing access to the westbound platform. Several of the other stations on the branch to city’s West Side and Oak Park have entrances on both sides: Ashland, Morgan, and Conservatory-Central Park Drive, to name a few.

The Damen station is designed by the architecture firm Perkins & Will and the project is managed by the Chicago Department of Transportation for the CTA.

The lack of a westbound entrance, coupled with the low-intensity use of nearby city-owned land and other parcels, also raised a red flag that not enough was being done to prime the surrounding area to take advantage of the improved rapid transit access.

The station will have non-wheelchair-accessible exits at both ends of both platforms, in addition to the single entrance on the south side of the station. People traveling east only need to go up one level to the eastbound train platform, but those traveling west will need  to ascend two levels to a bridge and the descend a level to the westbound platform. An elevator on the north side of the station will carry passengers between the bridge and westbound platform, but it won’t go all the way to the ground.

CDOT spokesperson Mike Claffey told me that, due to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, if a direct entrance to the westbound platform was provided, it would have to be wheelchair accessible, so it couldn’t require customers to go through a Rotogate, the revolving-door-like device the agency normally uses at entrances that aren’t monitored by a customer assistant. (The new Sunnyside entrance to the Wilson station in Uptown features a wheelchair gate with a high door to discourage fare evasion. The gate is within sight of a small office with a glass door, but the entrance doesn’t have a dedicated attendant.)

The high wheelchair gate at the Wilson station's unattended Sunnyside entrance. Photo: John Greenfield
The high wheelchair gate at the Wilson station’s unattended Sunnyside entrance. Photo: John Greenfield

A 12,300 square foot city-owned property is being used for the front entrance to the new Damen station. Claffey said that the plaza will have some landscaping, despite what the city’s renderings show. According to the design, a Divvy station will be about 100 feet from the station entrance, behind a low wall.

Claffey said the station house and the area outside it are extra large to accommodate United Center crowds. He added that there are about 160 events at the stadium annually.

Current zoning on the station property would have allowed the city to incorporate 17 apartments in the station design. While including onsite housing, offices, and retail in transit stations is a common practice around the world, it’s unusual among Chicago train stops. Clark & Lake station is the only modern elevated station that is integrated within an office and retail building. Some older neighborhood ‘L’ stations on the Red Line have first-floor retail.

Across from the station entrance is a CHA-owned property that’s been vacant since at least 1988. A new residential building is planned here, and shown in the renderings.

To the south of the station area is a communications tower that occupies a corner of an otherwise vacant lot, with its own alley or driveway. This is a poor use of urban land.

Communications equipment owners often sign longterm leases, but given that nowadays most communications equipment is attached to buildings, there’s an opportunity for the city to use eminent domain to purchase the land. The property owner or the city should redevelopment the land to take advantage of the fact that it will have excellent transit access, by building housing, workplaces, and/or retail.

Map of the area around the Damen Green Line station
A map of the area around the Damen Green Line station shows the for-sale property, a future building on CHA land, and the size of the land used by a communications tower.

In the surrounding blocks, the city’s planning department says they’re working on two programs to address land use changes that the new station could inspire. Department of Planning & Development spokesperson Peter Strazzabosco said their department is working on a “market analysis of commercial and residential properties to the south” and a Planned Manufacturing District review.

North of the station, between Lake Street and the alley south of Grand Avenue, all of the land is in the Kinzie Corridor PMD, which restricts changing the zoning to allow uses other than manufacturing and low-density commercial and warehousing. Since May the planning department has also been reviewing how the PMD could be modified. This could happen by reducing the size of the district or allowing some sections of it to be rezoned.

Last year, the department changed the PMDs around Goose Island to reduce the restrictions on office development in some areas and allow new residential in other areas. The department has no timeline for when the Kinzie PMD review will be completed and any recommended changes would be adopted.

Both the market analysis and the PMD review of “will help inform planning opportunities for nearby land and help maximize the station’s benefits for the community,” Strazzabosco said. DPD last met with property owners in May to discuss the PMD and hasn’t set a schedule for future meetings.

In the meantime, a three acre piece of land next to the new station is for sale. Because of the PMD, this land can currently only be used for low-intensity development. Since many of the kinds of uses present in PMDs don’t rely on nearby transit to sustain them, the addition of the station will do little to increase the value of land within the district. The city can unlock new value once it allows new uses on the land. While neighborhoods benefit from a new station, ridership is also maximized by appropriate land uses.

The city’s plans for the station area are focused on accommodating United Center attendees rather than building up a neighborhood village around the new transit amenity. Train stations increase value in a city, especially on the properties surrounding them. Chicago should capitalize on this phenomenon by making sure nearby land – both city-owned and not – is used in a way that captures that value.

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  • GA

    I’m fully confident of the city’s ability to chip away the the PMD as developer interest dictates. There is quite a bit of vacant and underused land within a few blocks of the station which will be quietly rezoned as required, A few years later a larger chunk of the radius around the station will probably be removed from the PMD entirely. Similar to what happened west of Ogden with the Morgan station.

  • What I’m afraid might happen is that a new owner will acquire a large piece of PMD land (before DPD chips away at it) and leases the land long-term to a tenant, preventing that piece of land from turning over to a more transit-supporting use.

  • GA

    It’s possible but I think unlikely. The land owners over there, unless they’ve been in a coma, are aware of what’s happened to the east of them. They’ll likely hold out to sell to people who can pay the most and that’s the office and residential developers. The alderman is development friendly so as long as he’s consulted prior there aren’t likely to be any surprises when the zoning asks come through.

    I’m far less concerned about this turning out ok than say the growing issues along the Blue line where some residents/groups are increasingly trying to stymie apartment development of empty or hugely underused parcels next to transit.

  • Anne A

    I hate station designs that force riders traveling in one direction to do a crossover to access the platform. At Howard station, this sometimes results in missed trains and longer waits.

  • Thomas Paine

    Eminent domain for private devlopment? Last time I checked this isn’t your facist dreamstate. Kelo v New London was a joke, but go ahead and cite big corporate stealing from regular folks to support your argument.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I’m not sure I understand: “And if there’s another accessible entrance, then there has to be another CTA station assistant.”

    What does he mean by accessible? CTA stations all over the city have auxiliary accessible entrances that aren’t staffed.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Wherever a station structure spans a hard to cross street, entrances on both sides of the street should be the default, not the exception. The first goal of station designs should be making it easy for passengers coming from all directions to get to the train.

  • Dennis McClendon

    What’s an example?

  • PP

    Overall this station is a GOOD thing

  • Carter O’Brien

    just off the top of my head:

    Green/Orange Line: Roosevelt
    Blue Line: Logan Square
    Brown Line: Paulina (I believe Diversey and Belmont may as well)

  • johnaustingreenfield

    We’re not endorsing using eminent domain for private development (although, unfortunately, there is a precent for that in Chicago.) But redeveloping the land for a public good, such as transit-friendly affordable housing, would make a lot of sense.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    We’ve edited that passage — see above.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Wilson Sunnyside entrance, described in the article, is an example. Not sure about Roosevelt or Paulina, but Logan Square’s only wheelchair-accessible entrance is staffed.

  • Cameron Puetz

    None of the Brown Lines auxiliary entrances are accessible. The elevated stations all have stairs on the auxiliary side. The auxiliary entrances to grade level stations could be made accessible with a simple turnstile change.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Not a fan of eminent domain for private development, but I’d be amazed if the tower was actually an issue. Whoever owns the communications equipment, has pretty specific requirements that could easily be accommodated by a developer. Elsewhere in the city similar equipment is commonly attached to buildings. It couldn’t be hard for a developer to make a deal to relocate the equipment to a roof mounted tower.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Ah, I see. In my sector it’s always prefaced by ADA.

  • david vartanoff

    The westbound platform elevator itself would not be significantly more expensive to continue to the sidewalk given the need for robust support framing. As to the human presence at the fare gate, if one believes in growingthe ridership WB making the sidewalk to platform time and distance as short as possible is critical.

  • rohmen

    That area is a total mess right now, with Lake Street shut down for the foreseeable future because of this project, and Fulton also undergoing a (presumably) lengthy project for water main replacement, etc. I could be wrong, but I sort of doubt that anyone that really needs a large-scale PMD designation is going to be jumping at vacant lots/buildings in that area in the near future.

    Also, while a lot of the PMD stuff is bad, there are a lot of small businesses in those buildings on Fulton that benefit from the designation (like several coffee rosters, a distillery, etc.) and are seemingly very likely to still embrace transit (or at least there workers may). I mean…. we want some manufacturing to be in this City, right??

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  • CIAC

    There’s not going to be enough westbound passengers who get on at that station to spend serious money making their entrance a little more convenient. Probably over 95% of passengers will go eastbound.

  • Dennis McClendon

    None of those auxiliary entrances are accessible. They all require using stairs.

  • Carter O’Brien

    They are accessible, but they are not ADA compliant, which is distinct from the stations that have two exit points but only one entrance (Irving Park Brown Line on the north side, for example).

  • BlueFairlane

    I mean…. we want some manufacturing to be in this City, right??

    Do we? I’ve kind of gotten the feeling a few times from some in these parts–say, for one example, before and during the departure of Finkl–that manufacturing in a city is a backward sort of thing that wastes space that might otherwise be devoted to creating the rich, urban fabric we all love so much. It’s not always (or even usually) expressed directly, but it seems to be a quiet undercurrent beneath a lot of the arguments typically expressed by either the commentariat or the site itself. It’s a side of New Urbanism I have trouble lining up behind.

  • rohmen

    Yeah. I definitely think the “PMD Bad” thing is a bit too reductionist.

    The stretch of PMD on Fulton (the real “innovation” district part) aren’t things like Finkl, or even other industrial manufacturing, etc. It’s filled with things like coffee roasters (several actually), small-scale clothing/technology manufacturers, distilleries, etc. The larger PMD district in that area are mainly distributors that service other area businesses (which again, where DO we want those businesses to go to then, as we do seem to get a benefit if they’re closer in to the areas they serve).

    Given the above, I’d argue that even if people think things like Finkl should vanish from inside a City (which is another ball of wax, with my main question being are we just all suppose to be white collar/creative people in the core of the City—hard to say the answer isn’t yes on these boards), we should all seem to be able to agree that we DO want that sort of “soft” manufacturing in the City.

  • Andrew Ryan

    The sale brochure for the land specifically addresses the possibility of a zoning change: It says “the Chicago Planning Commission is currently evaluating proposed changes to PMD 4 and a decision is expected in 1Q2019, which will determine the new zoning for the PMD as well as the Subject property.” Sounds to me like the property owner is specifically marketing the property for potential TOD redevelopment. I highly doubt any potential buyer would spend $14.5 million and then just lease it to another industrial tenant.

  • It looks like Alder Burnett isn’t going to support a rezoning of the area around the station to allow non-industrial uses.
    https://www.chicagobusiness.com/commercial-real-estate/fulton-market-transformation-shows-signs-creeping-westward?utm_source=Twitter&utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_medium=Social

  • Andrew Ryan

    Alderman Burnett might consider relaxing the PMD permitted uses along Damen immediately north of the new station. Developing a retail corridor along Damen in conjunction with the new station has long been contemplated (https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/zlup/Planning_and_Policy/Publications/Reconnecting_Neighborhoods/05_Near_West_Study_Area.pdf). However, there is ample room for TOD developments south of Lake St., which is not in the PMD. It probably makes sense, at least politically, to encourage development in that area before meddling too heavily with the zoning in the (thriving) industrial corridor to the north.

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