The proposed nine-story mixed-use development planned for the long vacant southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street was stalled at the Planning and Development Committee, as members voted to hold the matter for debate and consideration. With upcoming school spring break, resulting planned vacations for some aldermen, the matter will not come to a vote until late April.
Numerous residents criticized the project for offering inadequate parking in an area that already suffering a parking shortage. While zoning regulations call for 216 parking spaces for the 112 dwelling units, plus office and retail space in the proposed building, the project plans have only 127 spaces for all uses. In addition, plans call for the elimination of four parking spaces on Chicago Avenue in order to add a right-turn lane from Chicago Avenue northbound onto Main Street eastbound.
A presentation by the developer consistently pointed to the “transit-oriented” nature of the development as a reason for offering just 76 typical parking spaces for the112 dwelling units. Thirty additional spaces come from an “hydraulic lift” apparatus that operates much as a auto mechanic’s lift, hoisting one vehicle in the air so another can park under it.
Twelve more spaces come from “tandem” spaces, where one car parks behind another blocking the first car in until the second moves.
Some of these spaces will be “shared” spaces, meaning residents use them at night while office tenants use them during the day.
The retail shops planned for the ground level will have 13 parking spots available.
All retail traffic will feed onto Chicago Avenue through a new 12-foot curb cut, though vehicles will be required to turn right. All other traffic will exit through the alley onto Main Street or south to Kedzie Avenue.
Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology spoke in favor of the project, calling it one of the unique “transit oriented” opportunities in the Chicago area, because of its proximity to both a Metra and CTA station, as well as a bus stop. Others echoed the sentiment, saying that many residents would probably go completely carless given transit a car sharing options such as iGo or ZipCar.
Residents disagreed. Carl Bova of Rosalie Avenue said tandem and hydraulic-lift spaces traditionally do not work. Parking in the area is already tight he said. “City-owned parking lots in this area are over capacity,” and all have “waiting lists,” he said.
Parking seemed to be a major issue when the Main and Chicago TIF ordinance passed through City Council in early 2013. At that time, per a staff memo, public parking and streetscaping were expected to account for $4.5 million of the TIF’s anticipated $25 million budget – the third largest expense after utility improvements and rehabilitation of existing public and private structures.
The TIF designation was justified in part by “a lack of parking and challenging traffic circulation patterns,” according to a Jan. 7, 2013 memo – misdated as Jan. 7, 2012: “If not for the designation of a TIF district and the ability to use TIF financing, improvement would likely not occur in a coordinated and comprehensive manner. The use of TIF financing could address these factors,” the memo’s TIF designation summary concluded.
The developer of the lot at 835 Chicago Ave. “anticipates utilizing two to three million dollars of TIF funds for the development, and estimates the completed project will generate $16 million dollars back into the TIF,” according to staff’s March 12, 2014 memo.
Rather than take up the debate immediately after the developer’s presentation and citizen comment, the Planning and Development committee put off the matter until late April. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, expressed concern over the shared parking aspect of the project. All other members withheld comment until the debate begins in earnest.