Chicago Avenue zoning crafts a better community

Proposed site of Forbidden Root, 1746 W. Chicago Ave.
President's Message
By Neal McKnight

It's again a critical time for East Village and the other neighborhoods near the Loop. There's a strong attraction to neighborhoods near the core of the city. East Village already benefits from this demographic trend, and is challenged by it. The East Village Association recognized this and consulted other groups – and most importantly Ald. Proco Joe Moreno and his staff – to develop a plan that would address the challenges of Chicago’s changing demographics.

As part of this plan, in April 2013 Ald. Moreno agreed to maintain the liquor moratoria in the East Village Association territory until May 2015. It is important to note that not all liquor licenses are banned by the moratoria, and new East Village restaurants continue to obtain incidental liquor licenses. The purpose of the plan was to allow our past planning experience with liquor sales guide the continued development of East Village.

Forbidden Root brewery has demanded that the East Village Association agree to lift two liquor moratoria and upzone a Chicago Avenue parcel it does not yet own, from B to C zoning. This proposal undermines well-laid plans for our community and the alderman's agreement. The proposal asks too much from the neighborhood, and it asks too much from Ald. Moreno. Forbidden Root would force him to break his agreement without considering the consequences. Our experience tells us that these demands are contrary to development of a dynamic, sustainable and locally focused commercial district.

Locally brewed craft beer is very popular right now, because many craft brewers like Forbidden Root espouse sustainable and local production and have committed to contributing to their communities. These are commendable principles that EVA has always supported. Ironically, Forbidden Root’s demands may undermine them.

With the purchase of Goose Island Brewery by Anheuser-Busch InBev, some beverage operators are looking for the buildup and the buyout. We don't know that Forbidden Root is looking to one day sell, but it raises concerns. Ultimately there's going to be an industry shakeout. Forbidden Root appears to consist of high-minded and responsible people, but we're always concerned about the next owner. If Forbidden Root doesn't survive or gets bought up, the neighborhood may have a different operator that's less responsible and not locally owned. That's particularly a problem when we're left with a parcel with C zoning and the right to brew and sell alcohol.

Lifting the liquor moratoria raises other concerns. Admittedly the moratoria can be blunt instruments, but once the moratoria are lifted, a 2-block stretch of Chicago Avenue is open for a full year to new package liquor licenses and tavern licenses as a matter of right. Unfortunately, our neighborhood has had a history of problem bars and liquor stores. Without the moratoria, low land prices and rents on Chicago Avenue will allow for the establishment of liquor stores and taverns that make little capital investment and are out for a quick buck. This mix often brings on vagrancy, public intoxication, public urination and vandalism. 

Without the moratoria. it's also incumbent on the neighborhood to establish why a new liquor license should not be issued. This is a high hurdle. Unlike our local chambers of commerce, the community organizations are all-volunteer and do not benefit from paid staff or taxpayer dollars. It's difficult to gather resources to oppose an objectionable applicant. 

Many neighborhood residents just got done battling the issuance of a new package liquor license to Red Apple Convenience. Although EVA did not lead this effort, we wrote to support it. Compare the feel of Red Apple (at Damen and Chicago) to an Olivia's or the Garden Gourmet on Ashland. Do we really need a liquor store that feels that it needs employees behind bulletproof glass? The neighborhood is improving but we still face risks, and once a liquor license is granted it's very difficult to take away. The liquor moratoria have resulted in other benefits.

The unintended creation of entertainment and alcohol districts can drive out other retailers. Neighborhoods are then left with a district that caters primarily to those who do not live in the community. We're then forced to travel to other areas to shop – usually in cars, contrary to the sustainability ethic – because the record store, dress shop and bike store are all gone due to rising rents and inconsistent uses. 

Division Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Damen Avenues serves as an example of how a commercial strip can grow and evolve with the benefit of a package liquor moratorium and a tavern moratorium. This stretch of Division Street has a healthy mix of different types of locally owned retail establishments. The moratoria on Chicago Avenue have the same rules that have long been in place on Division Street between Ashland and Damen. EVA believes that Division Street is attractive because the moratoria keep it from being overwhelmed by bars and clubs. This in turn encourages growth of locally owned independent retailers.  

EVA spearheaded efforts to have pedestrian designations placed on both Division Street and Chicago Avenue. This prevents billboards, drive-throughs, curb cuts and other auto-centric uses. The designation also requires new buildings close to the street, to create a better pedestrian experience. EVA also initiated plans to implement consistent B zoning. Initially this was done to discourage auto-centric, heavier uses allowed by C zoning but inconsistent with residential and pedestrian uses. It also prevented the expansion of package liquor stores. 

EVA's efforts go beyond zoning changes and moratoria. In the early '90s, Division Street from Ashland to Damen was nearly impassable for pedestrians. The vaulted sidewalks had deteriorated or collapsed, leaving gaping 6-foot holes protected only by sawhorses and caution tape.  Several of our members and a current board member had the opportunity to sit next to Mayor Daley at an event before the 1996 Democratic National Convention and invited the mayor to walk Division to show him how bad it had become. After Daley's tour, a streetscaping plan was approved. This initiative was unique in that it focused on pedestrian uses and created and protected the green spaces on Division.

The wide sidewalks, large trees and tree pits along Division Street today result are fruits of EVA members' labor. Their initiative spurred the development of stores and restaurants, and attracted customers who could walk from business to business. Division Street was then on its way to becoming the street that it is today. This took time, planning and patience. This collective experience guides our planning for Chicago Avenue. 

EVA also fought for the preservation of the Goldblatt's building and the construction of a Chicago Public Library branch in this building. These efforts resulted in a dynamic and sustainable use in a building that was to be demolished and replaced by a one-story building with a street-level parking lot. EVA also spearheaded creation of the East Village Landmark District. This effort prevented the wholesale demolition of historically significant buildings. It also raised property values and encouraged renovation.  Again these initiatives took time, patience and planning.

More recently EVA worked on creating a transit-oriented development at Division and Ashland. Initially the developer proposed a 2- or 3-story building with a surface parking lot and drive-through. We worked with the developer to craft a better project. This project resulted in a change in city ordinances that's spurring new transit-oriented developments throughout the city. The work required a creative legislator and a development partner who was patient, engaged and committed to our neighborhood. 

Our experience also tells us that small zoning changes can make a big difference. During the sustained boom of the '90s and '00s, a huge amount of residential investment was made in our neighborhood. The initial investments were renovations of existing structures. This made our neighborhood more attractive, which in turn attracted even more investment. But there was a downside as well. Due to a slight difference in residential zoning, different types of buildings were constructed north of Chicago Avenue. The unintended effect was an incentive to demolish existing structures. The construction of 3-unit condominiums at the expense of existing structures came simply because of this slight variation. The demolition rush was on. 

East Village then lost building after building merely because of this loophole. Some bad buildings came down, but many beautiful, valuable and contributing structures were demolished. Some blocks were completely replaced with condominium units built with split-face block. Besides undermining the historic character that made the East Village attractive, this zoning difference taught us to be thoughtful when considering zoning and use changes. Slight changes can make an enormous difference.

We believe that adjustments to Forbidden Root's proposal can allow it to make an investment in the community without compromising community plans and protections built on a history of successful and sustainable development. We look forward to continuing to work with Forbidden Root to craft a proposal that would allow the business to open and to maintain the protections available to the surrounding residents. 

Finally, EVA members are very optimistic about our community. We believe that both people and businesses want to locate here. We should take the time to review proposals inconsistent with current zoning, and to use the available tools to continue to grow and prosper and not destroy the qualities that make our neighborhood so attractive. 

Forbidden Root is sponsoring a community meeting on its plan. It's scheduled for 6pm Jan. 23 at its property, 1746 W. Chicago Ave.

9 comments:

  1. I apologize for the length of my response but it's the lawyer in me.

    "Forbidden Root brewery has demanded that the East Village Association agree to lift two liquor moratoria and upzone a Chicago Avenue parcel it does not yet own, from B to C zoning."

    Are you sure they didn't ask? I'm pretty sure a new business doesn't demand such things from a prospective host neighborhood. This letter has a pretty clear agenda from the get go.

    "This proposal undermines well-laid plans for our community and the alderman's agreement."

    What well-laid plans? That stretch of Chicago is an eye sore. I hope to god that wasn't planned.

    "The proposal asks too much from the neighborhood, and it asks too much from Ald. Moreno."

    No it doesn't. It literally asks you to do nothing. Just let them build their business. You don't have to lift a finger.

    "Locally brewed craft beer is very popular right now, because many craft brewers like Forbidden Root espouse sustainable and local production and have committed to contributing to their communities."

    No, craft brewing is popular because people like beer that tastes good. Any neighborhood is going to want a business that's making good, interesting beer as it it's a fun place to visit and it almost always becomes a destination venue, which incidentally buttresses neighboring businesses.

    "With the purchase of Goose Island Brewery by Anheuser-Busch InBev, some beverage operators are looking for the buildup and the buyout."

    Comparing a startup, brick and mortar microbrewery to a massive operation like Goose Island is ridiculous but then the paragraph goes on to say sillier things such as being concerned about a buyout from a multinational conglomerate. Where can I sign up for such a foolproof investment? Remember that Goose Island operated for 20 some years as the city's lone craft brewery before its buyout and, in the interim, served as a positive anchor in an otherwise shady (now very nice) neighborhood when it started. If anything, Goose Island's growth and path to selling out is an argument in favor of this local startup.

    And although this doesn't need to mentioned, there's no evidence that Inbev's subsidiaries have become less responsible with their neighbors.

    "Without the moratoria, low land prices and rents on Chicago Avenue will allow for the establishment of liquor stores and taverns that make little capital investment and are out for a quick buck. This mix often brings on vagrancy, public intoxication, public urination and vandalism."

    What? As someone with reasonable means that has been looking into purchasing or starting a bar in the area I can tell you that such an endeavor requires far more than a "little capital investment" and it's far from a quick buck. I know the actual numbers that is takes to buy and operate such a business and they're not low. The risk for failure is high. People entering such a business are in for the long haul. No one builds a bar or restaurant expecting or even hoping for a buyout. This isn't silicon valley. It's a bar, not Snapchat.

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  2. Continuing on...


    They also won't want to operate a business that allows "vagrancy, public intoxication, public urination and vandalism". Such behavior would undermine their bottom line and drive out clientele. If anything, we'll have more eyes and ears on that block preventing such nonsense because bar owners are generally paranoid about anything that risks their liquor license. This isn't Wrigleyville. It's a 2-4 block stretch of a street that everyone recognizes needs development.

    "Unfortunately, our neighborhood has had a history of problem bars and liquor stores"

    The problem liquor stores exist on the undeveloped stretches of Chicago ave. This isn't a coincidence. Also, comparing a microbrewery with $6 beers (minimum) to something like Rothchilds is just silly. And what "problem bars"? Again, a blanket statement without any citation.

    "Compare the feel of Red Apple (at Damen and Chicago) to an Olivia's or the Garden Gourmet on Ashland. Do we really need a liquor store that feels that it needs employees behind bulletproof glass?"

    Well that's up to the owners and they probably saw that the convenience store on Winchester/Chicago got robbed at gunpoint last year and so they decided to protect their employees. They're also a 24/7 operation, which are more prone to robberies. Further, the opposition to Red Apple's liquor sales was because (a) they wanted curbside liquor sales, which would have clogged a busy city intersection and (b) liquor was already available across the street at Dominicks. This letter completely ignores the context of that debate in order to advance it's misguided agenda.

    "The unintended creation of entertainment and alcohol districts can drive out other retailers. Neighborhoods are then left with a district that caters primarily to those who do not live in the community. We're then forced to travel to other areas to shop – usually in cars, contrary to the sustainability ethic – because the record store, dress shop and bike store are all gone due to rising rents and inconsistent uses."

    What? Permanent records aside, the new bike shop and other boutiques that inhabit East Village are all located on the block that is populated with bars. This also isn't a coincidence. New businesses like to be around places where people are. There's a reason they didn't put a shop on the stretch of Chicago ave. that we're arguing about.

    Want to know where I shop? Division ave. where all the bars and shops are. If we had more bars (and therefore shops) on Chicago ave., I could keep my money in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, silly letters prevent this.

    "Division Street between Milwaukee Avenue and Damen Avenues serves as an example of how a commercial strip can grow and evolve with the benefit of a package liquor moratorium and a tavern moratorium. This stretch of Division Street has a healthy mix of different types of locally owned retail establishments. The moratoria on Chicago Avenue have the same rules that have long been in place on Division Street between Ashland and Damen. EVA believes that Division Street is attractive because the moratoria keep it from being overwhelmed by bars and clubs. This in turn encourages growth of locally owned independent retailers."

    That stretch of Division is almost all bars. ALL. BARS. The above statement undercuts everything this letter is arguing for. Bars are the reason every other boutique, coffee shop, restaurant, and whatever else are there. For example, where there was a virtual no-man's land a few years ago, Bangers & Lace, and then the The Bedford, have filled, which in turn drew in restaurants and other shops after them. Now it's a bustling, vibrant stretch of Division.

    Ok, I've made my point. Best of luck to Forbidden Root Brewery.

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  3. A couple of clarifications to you rebuttal.
    1. Forbidden Root has said if you don't change the law to fit our business plan we are leaving. Sounds like a demand.
    2. Hyperbole is the argument that a 2100 sq. ft. tap room attached to a 10k barrel brewery will vitalize a strip from Ashland to Damen.
    3. EVA recognized that development was growing on Chicago Ave and thought it best to not have future developments with inconsistent uses in the residential neighbors.
    4. FR is asking for an ordinance change, it is asking for a zoning change, it asking for the community to abandon a planning tool. FR is slso asking its neighbors to put up with the odors truck and other things that come from a brewery.
    5. The proposal is not like Revolution Brewpub, no restaurant and no event space. It is like the tap room which is in a planned industrial district.
    6. FR is not like Goose Island but no one has suggested that it is. Goose Island's sale has attracted lots of money and interest to the industry. It is growing and part of growing is sale and consolidation.
    7. Good bars and package liquor stores require substantial capital investments bad ones don't. The law and the market don't recognize the difference.
    8. Check your facts on the businesses on Chicago and Division. There are a ton of retail outlets on Division between Ashland and Chicago. All of the new restaurants (Bangers & Lace the Bedford for example) that have liquor licenses on Division and likewise on Chicago were opened with moratorium in place. They opened with an incidental licenses. This is true for Chicago Ave. too.
    Keep an open mind and read a little closer.

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    Replies
    1. Seeing as they're not already there, I'm not sure how they could threaten to leave. They're saying, if you allow us to build this brewery, we'll bring investment and consumer interest to your neighborhood.

      I can't imagine anyone thinks that this taproom alone will revitalize that stretch, but it's exactly the sort of thing that a lot of people in the area would like. It's exactly the sort of first-mover that could lead to other boutique stores coming in.

      Also, the argument that they may one day be acquired by a heartless multinational is utterly absurd. Why did you let Garden Gourmet move in? They might one day get bought out by Walmart!!!

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  4. I'm going to agree with Billy here. That stretch of Chicago Ave. needs something desperately and I think a sustainable, micro-brewery/tap-room will pave the way for better restaurants, boutiques, and bars. Micro-breweries bring with them an influx of good business and good people with money who want to drink good beer. I go to Milwaukee every year just so I can visit LakeFront brewery, get a tour, and tastings. I wish it were closer to retail shops and restaurants and within walking distance. Instead you have to drive there.
    To your points:
    1. If that's the case, and our community feels strongly about not letting them be here, then let them leave.
    2. Something's gotta give on that stretch of Chicago Ave...why not see what the brewery does?
    3. Not sure about this - It's already inconsistent. There's residential, retail, a theater, numerous abandoned space, and a few restaurants. Asado coffee just opened and things need to start popping up around there so Asado stays...love that place and this is what the tap room will bring to that stretch.
    4. It already smells like urine along that stretch anyhow - I'd much rather smell hops and barley and it seems as though they aren't HUGE and being in that space they can only expand so much so the idea behind TRUCKS and a massive operation seems unlikely.
    5. Why not work with Forbidden Root and have them write a clause in their proposal that they will have some sort of food or snacks and have event space...
    6. Goose Island is so far beyond this microbrewery I'm not quite sure why Goose Island is part of this conversation. Ever heard of Half Acre brewery on Lincoln Ave? This is what Forbidden Root is wanting to do.
    7. Obviously Forbidden Root has sound capital investments or else they would not have provided a proposal to set-up shop on Chicago Ave.
    8. Unfortunately, there are no businesses between Chicago and Ashland on Division. If you mean between Ashland and Damen on Chicago, there's not much until you get closer to Damen. Or, if you mean between Ashland and Damen on Division, there's tons of bars and restaurants with a few scattered retail boutiques. That's what makes Division such a great street to walk along in both winter and summer.
    I know that my husband and I would frequent the brewery along with my friends who visit our neighborhood. Also, the amount of micro-brewery tourists that would come to Chicago Ave and pump money into the neighborhood would be substantial. I personally think this is a great proposal and I think the community is doing itself a disservice if it thinks otherwise.
    I'm around Chicago/Ashland BTW.

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  5. The EVA does nothing for the neighborhood except protect the interests of the people who run it; they're more interested in keeping the neighborhood ghetto like instead of allowing for new businesses revitalize the area. Don't think for one moment this isn't about competition on that stretch of Chicago and increasing rents for the existing businesses that cater to low-income folks.

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  6. Everyone keeps focusing on Forbidden Root, when the real threat comes from other less reputable businesses that will slip in the door once the moratorium is lifted. As a twenty-five year resident of EV, I have seen time and again the harm these taverns and packaged goods businesses do. They don't just inconvenience residents with noise, litter and urination-no, the real harm is how they retard the expansion of the legitimate businesses we all want to see. And once the moratorium goes, so does any semblance of control over the influx of them. If you want to see what a post-moratorium Chicago Avenue looks like, check out Rite Liquors on Division and Loop Tavern on Chicago. Remember: liquor licenses are FOREVER...

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  7. My understanding is that stretch of zoned b-1 so you cannot open a tavern (or a packaged goods business as well?) without getting zoning change regardless if the liquor moratorium is lifted

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  8. I agree with Scrubby Bubbles. The EVA does not represent the consensus of the residence in the community. Especially the new community rapidly developing in the neighborhood. The commercial development should evolve and the composition of the neighborhood evolves. Plainly put, not ghetto. Chicago Ave between Ashland and Damen is for the most part, embarrassing. As a new resident in the neighborhood I am down right jealous of my neighbors off Division Street and at times frightened to even walk my daughter down the street with all the low-rent establishments. EVA needs to get with the times and face the fact that the neighborhood is CHANGING. The median income is going up. The real estate values are going up. Sooner or later this association must represent the people that live and have invested in this neighborhood. The whole stretch should be C-zoned. Of course this all in my opinion, Mr. McKnight. Don't use this website or association as a soapbox for your personal agenda.

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