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Dunkin’ drive-though at 35th/Archer station is a tragic waste of transit-friendly land

The parking lot at 3542 S. Archer. Image: Google Maps

It's a real shame when land next to a rapid transit station isn't leveraged to take advantage of that valuable amenity, but is instead squandered on car-centric land uses that could be built anywhere else. That's especially sad in a working-class community like McKinley Park on Chicago's Southwest Side, where the excellent access to public transportation could be used to build transit-friendly housing and/or space for essential retail and services, which would help connect residents with work, education, and other opportunities.

Instead, the neighborhood is slated to get a single story Dunkin' Donuts on a property right across the street from the 35th/Archer Orange Line station and bus hub. The plan includes a drive-through, which will degrade the pedestrian environment. As reported by McKinley Park News' Justin Kerr, 12th Ward alderman George Cardenas is unhappy about the proposal and is seeking a zoning change for the land, currently occupied by a parking lot, at the northeast corner of Archer and Leavitt Street.

On January 4, the city issued a building permit for the new doughnut shop at 3560 S. Archer Ave., McKinley Park News reported. The location is about a mile away from another Dunkin' Donuts at 3256 S. Ashland Ave., opened two years ago by the same property owner and developer, Sanjeev Khatau.

The McKinley Park neighborhood plan, created by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, identified the parcel by the 35th/Archer station as a prime candidate for transit-oriented development, Kerr noted. Much of McKinley Park, which is bisected by the Orange Line, falls within areas targeted for equitable, affordable TOD by the city of Chicago's eTOD plan.

Alderman Cardenas issued a statement that he'd asked the Chicago Department of Planning for a comprehensive review of the issue, arguing that residents had no input on the plan. "We rightly deserve to know traffic patterns and the impact this business will have on the surrounding area." He noted that the parking lot is zoned C1-2, which allows Khatau to build this low-density development "as of right," without Cardenas' approval for a zoning change. "This store was not approved by my office, or required any community input because of the underlying zoning."

The alderman's statement said he is working with the planning department to re-zone land around the station. "I'm seeking a zoning that is calmer and fit for a retail environment which will bring jobs and better quality of life... My intention is to continue engaging the community on land-use planning and development decisions."

It would be great to see the city rezone land around all of Chicago's rapid transit stations to ban low-density, auto-centric development like this and encourage TOD. Letting a developer build a drive-through doughnut shop on land that should be used for dense, transit-friendly housing, retail, and services, is truly a missed opportunity.

Read the McKinley Park News piece here.

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