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Armitage Walgreens Will Skirt Parking Need With Lower Level, Neighbors Say

By Paul Biasco | April 9, 2013 9:04am

LINCOLN PARK — Walgreens and the development team behind a controversial three-story storefront along Armitage Avenue on Monday night admitted their proposal is divisive, but stood by their architect.

"I've gotten both extremes," Spiro Tsapras, CEO of Centaur Construction Co. said during a community meeting. "No one's really told me, 'Eh, it looks OK.'"

Plans for the modernist building at 834 W. Armitage Ave., set amid a stretch of historic structures, were released late last week, prompting one small retailer to charge that the drug store chain was  "vanilla-boxing the neighborhood."

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said there would "likely" be another meeting, but the developers plan on filing for building permits in May. Tsapras said it would take 60 to 90 days to get the permits once the application is filed.

The majority of residents who showed up to the community meeting at St. James Church, 2050 N. Freemont St., were opposed, voicing concerns over a lack of parking, the architectural design and store hours, but conceded that it was likely the project would push forward.

At the meeting — which included Mark Hunt, the developer, Walgreens officials and Smith — residents hammered the building's architect and the drug store reps on a parking requirement they felt Hunt was skirting.

In the Walgreens design, Hunt included a basement level of retail that doesn't factor into square footage requirements that affect how much parking a store must provide.

The proposed structure will have about 15,000 square feet of retail space spread between its first, second and lower levels. The first and second levels will make up 9,900 square feet of retail, which falls just 10 square feet short of the requirement for off-street parking.

"By code [the lower level] is not required to be in the calculation," said Ted Theodore, the building's lead architect. "In a city lot, you can't provide the parking. That's the nature of building on a city lot."

Theodore, a principal at Camburas & Theodore, said the developers voluntarily met with the city Landmarks Commission to discuss the design a "month or two" ago to discuss the fit of the building along the Armitage-Halsted Historic District. The structure is not required to follow landmark guidelines because a former church at the location was exempt in 2003.

Historic Preservation Division Director Eleanor Gorski "was extremely pleased with the design when she saw it," Theodore said.

The developers have taken a number of steps to address neighborhood concerns, including creating a first floor loading dock at the back of the building that will allow a truck to fit under the structure without blocking the alley or traffic.

Walgreens officials also said they will likely close the store at 10 p.m. each night and will not be able to sell liquor, thanks to a moratorium put in place by Smith.

Walgreens District Manager Rob Ewing told community members concerned with parking issues that employees will be told there is no public parking in the area and that the workers would not be permitted to feed the meters along Armitage.

Neighboring small business owners along Armitage have opposed the chain moving onto the quaint block for months, but some neighbors are happy to have a stable business that they hope will anchor a retail stretch that is now pocked with vacancies.

"Walgreens is the best drugstore we have anywhere," said John Yeh, a Chicago Symphony Orchestra clarinetist who has lived at Halsted and Dickens for the past 14 years. "I think the design looks beautiful. There's a diverse architecture around here."