Mixed-Use, Multi-Story Development comes to Ashland Division (But not where you think!)

By Scott A. Rappe

After months of rumors about a development coming to the large parking lot behind the MB Bank, permits have been issued and construction has begun. This week heavy equipment began work on a new 33 unit development with ground floor retail space and both surface and underground parking.

Sited almost directly across Division Street from the proposed Walgreens, this development is mostly consistent
with the community’s goals for the Pizza Hut site.

According to Mike Anzani of RDM Development, the project will include two four-story buildings and conversion of the MB Bank lobby into a CVS pharmacy. The first building will be built immediately west of the existing bank and fill nearly the entire
parking lot, leaving a driveway between it and the existing chiropractic office to the west. This driveway will lead to another four-story building that will be located at the rear of the triangular-shaped property.

The building fronting on Division Street will have a small storefront space where MB bank will relocate. The rest of the ground floor will consist of a driveway and covered grade level parking serving a rear entrance (the bank’s current parking lot entry)
to CVS. Above this will be three floors of condominiums. The rear building will be similar, with three stories of condominiums above ground floor retail space.

The project is being done ‘as-of-right’ under the property’s current B3-2 zoning, meaning that it did not require any concessions or variances. As such, it will be consistent with the rest of Division Street in terms of height and density. Unfortunately this also means that it did not require any community review.

While the drawings show an attractive contemporary building, most of the Division Street frontage will remain driveway and grade-level parking, as it is now. Had community input been requested, more emphasis on street-facing retail would have been requested.

Like the Wendy’s and Pizza Hut properties across the street, the MB Bank parking lot was inexplicably exempted from the 2004 zoning ordinance’s ‘Pedestrian Street’ designation that covers Division Street all the way to Leavitt. This
special provision protects the pedestrian-oriented retail character that has made shopping destinations of portions of Division, Armitage, Halsted and Lincoln.

It is to their credit that RDM Development understood the importance of this, and did not create a strip mall instead. I have written previously about the wasteland of parking lots and fast food chains that cut off the Polish Triangle from the booming stretch of Division Street to the west. This development is a big step in the right direction to mending this torn section of urban fabric.

It is also vindication of the East Village Association’s advocacy for a large mixed-use development on the Pizza Hut site across the street. Despite Walgreens' protestations to the contrary, RDM Development’s plans prove that there is a demand for residential and retail development adjacent to the Polish Triangle.

We can now add a developer, with money on the line, to all those who have already expressed their support for a mixed-use, multi-story transit-oriented development on the Pizza Hut site. It is time for Walgreens to get with the program!

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