ALBANY PARK — Walgreens' plan to build a new store in Albany Park at 4750 N. Kimball Ave. is drawing complaints from neighbors and Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), who say the drugstore chain's design for the site jeopardizes pedestrian safety.
Renderings show that developers plan to demolish the existing building at the corner of Lawrence and Kimball avenues, which houses a Payless Shoe Store and the offices of the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce and North River Commission.
In its place, they intend to build a 13,000-square-foot store with set-back retail, a parking lot for 17 cars located at the intersection of Lawrence and Kimball, and 30-foot-wide driveways on both streets to access the lot.
"It's great that Walgreens wants to come to Albany Park," said Shylo Bisnett, a member of the leadership team of Albany Park Neighbors, which formed in 2012.
"What we don't want is a parking lot and two giant driveways near bus stops and a train station," she said. "It's not smart. We have a really dense, walkable community. Our main concern is that the Walgreens, as designed, will severely put pedestrians in danger."
According to Bisnett, more than 5,000 students attend elementary, middle school, high school, pre-k and after-care programs within a half-mile of the proposed Walgreens. North Park University and Northeastern Illinois University are both within a mile of the site and have a combined enrollment that exceeds 14,000.
The Kimball Brown Line station, which notches 4,000 boardings per day, is located directly across the street from the planned Walgreens.
"Lawrence is really busy, Kimball is really busy," said Bisnett. The large driveways are a "lot for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate."
Comments collected by Albany Park Neighbors via Facebook indicate that while residents largely welcome the addition of a new Walgreens, they questioned the proposed layout and emphasis on parking.
"It's right at a transit terminus, in the middle of a dense residential neighborhood, and easy walking distance from a college campus — why do they need to have parking at all?" asked one neighbor. "Anyone wanting to hit a Walgreens by car has multiple good options nearby (if you're already driving, go on over to Pulaski, no biggie)."
Mell learned of the plan when the developers, Centrum Partners, approached her office seeking approval for the curb cuts needed for the driveways.
Mell, who supports the city's "complete streets" policy — which calls for development to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, as well as autos — has signaled that she intends to oppose the curb cuts.
"For some people, it's hard to visualize that not everyone drives a car," said Mell at a recent meeting of the West River Park Neighbors.
The alderman has asked the developers to put the building, not the parking lot, on the corner of Kimball and Lawrence, which would minimally move the driveways further from the already congested intersection. Alternatively, she suggested they consider adapting the existing structure.
"As far as my office is concerned, those are the only two options," she said.
Bisnett pointed to Walgreens stores in Bucktown and Lakeview that have limited or no parking and feature building re-use, as opposed to the "cookie-cutter" facade proposed for Albany Park.
"Close your eyes and it looks like you're in Schaumburg or Bolingbrook," she said. "We think our neighborhood warrants a little more thought. We would love to have them show this building and our community the same thoughtful eye they've shown Bucktown."
Mell has remained engaged in talks with the developer and Walgreens. She has tentatively scheduled a community forum with Centrum Partners for Jan. 15 at Roosevelt High School, with the time still to be determined.