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Parking Karens want to block Lincoln Square affordable TOD, advocates fight back

Detail from the NIMBY flier. Won’t somebody think of the cars?

Lincoln Square parking NIMBYs are on the march to block the redevelopment of a city-owned surface parking lot across the street from the Western Brown Line station into transit-friendly, mixed-income housing. But neighbors who are in favor of bringing equitable transit-oriented development to the community are fighting back.

Back in January 2021, 40th Ward alderman Andre Vasquez and 47th Ward alderman Matt Martin held the first of a series of meetings to conduct a community visioning process for the parking lot at 4715 N. Western Ave. The property qualifies as a TOD due to its proximity to the 'L' and the relatively high-frequency Western bus route. About a year prior, there was backlash from some merchants and residents to an initial proposal from nonprofit developer The Community Builders for an all-affordable TOD on the lot due to parking concerns, every though that plan called for virtually every existing car space to be replaced with a garage spot.

Ground floor plan for TCB's original proposal, including garage parking.
Ground floor plan for TCB's original proposal, including garage parking.
Ground floor plan for TCB's original proposal, including garage parking.

TCB's proposal (view it here), which called for 42 affordable units and 4,000+ square feet of commercial space, did not receive Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the city when the developer applied. The proposal would have been as tall as the DANK Haus German cultural center on the west side of Western, with six stories on Western, but then drop to three stories on its south face on Leland Avenue.

TCB has gone back to the drawing board with a new plan for a 51-unit, five-story, mixed-income development. The proposal includes studios and one-bedroom apartments affordable to households making $60,000; two-bedrooms affordable to households earning $75,000; and apartments specifically intended for artists. The plan also calls for ground-floor restaurant or retail space with a large outdoor seating area along Leland, plus upgrades to sidewalks and landscaping to "enhance a Leland gateway from Western Ave. to Lincoln Ave."

"The development's intention is to help strengthen the overall community, while also helping to ensure Lincoln Square remains affordable to a range of incomes," TCB stated in a flier for an upcoming online community meeting where it will present its plan. The info session takes place next Tuesday, May 11, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

In an email to residents, Alderman Martin's office noted that while TCB has not formally submitted its follow-up proposal to the ward, the developer is interested in possibly re-applying for Low Income Housing Tax Credits. "If the tax credits are allocated, TCB would still have to go through the office's regular development process with more thorough community outreach and consultation."

Even though there's no formal proposal yet, the parking Karens are freaking out again. Recently Streetsblog readers have spotted alarmist fliers in Lincoln Square, similar to ones distributed during the first wave of backlash, warning that turning the parking lot into housing will destroy the neighborhood, even if virtually all the car spots are replaced.

The anonymous flier warns that the community's car parking situation will only get more dire after Northwestern Health opens a new clinic at the former Chicago Brauhaus German restaurant site at 4732 N. Lincoln Ave. But if all those schnitzel and polka fans didn't create a parking crunch, why exactly will clinic clients cause carmageddon?

The parking NIMBY flier.
The parking NIMBY flier. Click to enlarge.
The parking NIMBY flier.

Most ludicrous is the flier's claim that "Right now studies show that the Lincoln Square commercial district has a parking deficit of 1,519 spaces." For starters, its definition of "right now" is 23 years ago. That claim is based on a 1998  Lincoln Square Master Plan created by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

That rather quaint document applies the car-centric zoning of the time to all of the existing buildings in the area, including apartments built during the streetcar era, absurdly assuming that every dwelling unit in the transit-rich area needed at least one parking spot. Under the city's current TOD ordinance, parking requirements are essentially waived for new construction within a quarter mile of transit stations, half a mile on designated Pedestrian Streets, including Lincoln and Leland in the Lincoln Square business district. In other words, that 1,519 spots number is ancient and completely irrelevant.

Page from the 1998 Lincoln Square Master Plan.
Page from the 1998 Lincoln Square Master Plan.
Page from the 1998 Lincoln Square Master Plan.

On the other hand, The 2019 Lincoln Square Master Plan created by the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce in 2019 and informed by 1,700 responses from neighbors, called for more residential development, specifically affordable housing, senior housing, and transit-oriented development which could help support local businesses.

Fortunately, other residents are pushing back at all this ridiculousness. Today nearby neighbor and nonprofit consultant Daniel Ronan launched a petition in support of building eTOD on the parking lot.

"The conversion of this public parking lot to a new affordable housing development will be beneficial to local businesses by creating more local foot traffic and a better environment in which to shop and live, and keeping more money recirculating locally in the economy," Ronan wrote. "With the development of this lot for affordable housing, local draws to the community such as the German Day Festival, Applefest, Mayfest, the local farmer’s market, the DANK Haus German Cultural Center, the Old Town School of Folk Music, and the Davis Theater will all have that much more of a local audience to draw from."

Ronan added that the parking lot isn't as nearly as effective for generating revenue for the city as the additional housing and retail space would be. He also noted that "there are many options to arrive at this vibrant neighborhood other than driving," including the Brown Line, three CTA bus lines, and a Divvy station across the street from the the site.

Hopefully most Lincoln Square residents will see the parking NIMBY fliers for the fearmongering nonsense that they are. But you can support the push for more affordable housing and retail in the area by signing onto Ronan's petition here.

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