City planners shift support to Division-Ashland plan

Planning, Preservation and Development Committee Report by Scott Rappe

Pizza Hut/Walgreens

We can add the Chicago Department of Planning & Development to the growing list of organizations and individuals that support our position that the former Pizza Hut site should become a dense, multi-use, transit-oriented development.

In a letter recently sent to Alderman Flores, the DPD states its official position that the proposed Walgreens does not meet the 2002 Near Northwest Side Community Plan and cannot be built as currently proposed.

This conclusion was arrived at after a detailed internal review and represents a welcome shift in position. In an earlier letter to EVA, the DPD lamented their “limited ability to influence the development plan” because of the “correct zoning for a retail project.”

This is a positive development, but the battle is long from over.

Although Walgreens will not be allowed to build what was presented at the November EVA meeting, that does not get us any closer to what we have been advocating. The city’s leverage will certainly help, but it will still come down to Walgreens doing what is right, rather than what is necessary to garner approval.

In mid-January, the EVA sent a letter to Walgreens asking it to find a developer with the necessary experience and interest to build what this important corner needs. The letter pointed out that RDM development's project behind MB Bank is doing many of the things that Interra-Vision and their attorney told the EVA were not possible.

On Jan. 27, Channel 20's Northwestern News devoted several minutes of its newscast to this issue. Although they declined to be interviewed on tape, Walgreens provided a statement of their commitment to serving the 'healthcare needs' of the community. Parsing its words, Walgreens shows that it clearly does not yet grasp the importance of the issues at hand.

To Walgreens this may seem like a local issue, but what happens on this corner has relevance on a citywide scale. In the context of a transit crisis, a bid for the Olympics and growing public demand for environmental responsibility, national chains will be forced to change how they meet the needs of the communities they serve. And it might as well start at Ashland and Division.

Boundary Tree Pits

During renovation of its new space on Division Street, Boundary removed two parkway tree pit fences and paved over the 75% of tree pit with concrete. After much public outcry, Boundary installed miniature fences around the newly condensed tree pits to replace those removed during construction. As the first new fence was being installed, the alderman’s office noted that no permit had been issued and asked that work stop immediately.

Since the Division Street streetscape is protected by a CDOT moratorium, the permit process would have insured that only properly sized fences of the original design would have been allowed. Boundary moved forward and installed the second fence anyway. On the same day, in an email to the EVA, the alderman’s office committed to "get the right-sized and designed tree pit fence re-installed."

In a subsequent meeting, representatives of the EVA asked Alderman Flores not to issue a sidewalk café permit to Boundary until the tree pits were restored. Last week an EVA delegation met with Alderman Flores to discuss sidewalk cafes and learned that the alderman signed off and Boundary has received their 2008 permit.

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