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Ald. Martin kyboshes autocentric supermarket planned for a transit-friendly site

Rendering of the supermarket proposal.

Large surface parking lots near CTA stations are definitely overdue for being redeveloped into more productive land uses. However, 47th Ward alderman Matt Martin made the right call by denying developer CRG's request for a zoning change to allow a car-focused supermarket and bank building on the current Fifth Third Bank parking lot at 3950 N. Damen, at the southwest corner of the six-way Irving Park/Damen/Lincoln intersection.

The property is part of a planned development, which also includes the Fifth Third Bank building at the southeast corner of the junction. Therefore Martin would have had to sign off on an amendment to that status to allow CRG to construct the 45-foot-tall building with a 45,000 square-foot supermarket and a drive-through bank, which would have had 153 total car parking spots.

The site is located two blocks, about a five-minute walk, west of the Irving Park Brown Line station. It's not surprising that the alderman turned down the request, since the developer wouldn't even reveal to him, let alone the community at large, which grocer would be moving in, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

"Alderman Martin based his decision in part on direct feedback from many 47th Ward residents, as well the Northcenter Neighborhood Association, whose Zoning Committee communicated their 'grave concerns' regarding this proposal," said a statement posted on the ward's Facebook page. "The proposal also failed to garner support from the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce."

This area has been the subject of two community surveys in the past two years. The 2019 Northcenter Visioning Study -- done by the chamber, NNA, and the 47th Ward office, with input from hundreds of residents -- emphasized the need to improve the pedestrian experience along local retail corridors; support locally-owned businesses; and increase housing density and diversity in specific locations to support those businesses, including on the Fifth Third Bank lot.

And recently Martin’s office did a community visioning survey focused on Irving Park Road, with hundreds of residents voicing support for improving pedestrian and bike safety, and encouraging more locally-owned businesses to open. "The proposed development achieves none of the community’s stated goals," the statement said. It noted that while there are already several places to buy groceries within walking distance of the bank lot, yet another supermarket would increase competition for locally-owned shops.

The bank lot location, looking southeast towards downtown.
The bank lot location, looking southeast towards downtown.
The bank lot location, looking southeast towards downtown.

The statement also pointed out that this auto-centric plan would worsen traffic congestion and make conditions more dangerous for people walking and biking, which is the opposite of what residents said they wanted. "Many of the 153 proposed parking spaces would be reserved for grocery store customers and thus experience significant turnover -- not to mention those earmarked for delivery drivers. The nearby Six-Corner Intersection experiences notoriously bad traffic, which would only be made worse by this influx of cars. Significantly, the proposal would have grocery store shoppers who drive, bank drive-through customers, and large 'WB-55' delivery trucks enter on Damen -- each with their separate entry."

The ward noted that all of this additional traffic crossing the sidewalk would not only endanger pedestrians, but also cyclists using the busy Damen bike lanes. The extra car trips could also impact the buses that stop on both sides of this corner.

Screen Shot 2021-02-12 at 10.14.08 AM
The plan included three driveways crossing the sidewalk on Damen, and a fourth on Irving Park.
The plan called for three driveways crossing the sidewalk on Damen, and a fourth on Irving Park.

"Safety aside, the proposed design would do the opposite of improving the area’s pedestrian-oriented feel, which neighbors have called for," the statement added. "The many and active curb cuts on both Damen and Irving Park that this proposal includes, as well as the long blank façade along Damen, would discourage pedestrian traffic in the area. In fact, both blocks bear a Pedestrian Street designation in the city’s Zoning Ordinance, which imposes specific design guidelines on developments to actively foster pedestrian traffic. Approving this proposal would require granting an exemption from this designation."

In addition, Martin, NNA and the chamber agree that any development at this location should include a residential component, so as to take advantage of the transit-friendly location and help support local businesses, the statement said. "This car-oriented proposal in a transit-rich area misses the point."

Indeed, whatever eventually gets approved for the redevelopment of the parking lot and bank building, it should be a land use that supports local businesses and makes the area more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, rather than an "anti-transit-oriented development" that undermine those goals.

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