LAKEVIEW — A patch of gravel outside the CTA parking lot by the Belmont "L" stop will soon be beautified with more greenery, but residents of the block say the transit authority went back on a promise to sell the lot — which they say needs to be improved, too.
The under-"L" parking that expands into former residential lots is "ugly," poorly maintained and diminishing property values on the 3200 block of North Wilton Avenue by billowing dust onto homes, neighbors say.
"It looks like an abandoned lot that some slum lord isn't maintaining," said Terri Hanley, the president of the 3200 North Wilton Block Club.
The CTA bought eight parcels with homes on the block during Brown Line renovations in 2007, and the block club was told the residential properties would go up for sale in 2009, according to a flier Hanley kept from a meeting at the time.
But 2009 came and went, and the property never went on the market, instead transforming into a gravel lot parking that neighbors say diminishes home value. One home of the east side of the street went down in value by 25 percent, or nearly $150,000, Hanley said.
Though city parking lots must generally abide by maintenance rules, an old ordinance exempts CTA from them, driving resentment from neighbors who say the poor quality of the lot impacts homes.
"They put the world’s cheapest gravel, so all day long, dust billows into our houses," said Ellen Hughes, a resident of the 3200 block of North Wilton. "All day long."
One fix: Local leaders plan to beautify the strip of land right outside the CTA's property, an area between a wrought-iron fence and the sidewalk. It's owned by the city and currently covered with gravel and weeds.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Central Lakeview Merchants and officials in charge of a special service area taxing district are collaborating on potential plans, including adding more evergreen bushes and paving the area to add more sidewalk or transforming it into a mini-dog park, according to Tunney's office and merchants association executive director Gus Isacson.
More greenery will "cover the view" of the gravel lot, said Sougata Deb, Tunney's director of infrastructure and special projects. Specifics on the plan or financing have not yet been determined, but the hope is to reach a plan that requires little maintenance, he said.
The CTA is also willing to contribute financially to the project, Jeff Wilson, CTA's government and community relations, said at a recent Hawthorne Neighbors meeting.
"I'm here to tell you we're committed to helping," Wilson said. "CTA does not own that property."
But beyond the beautification of the strip, dozens of residents submitted a petition this month asking the CTA to force Central Parking Systems, which runs the lot to keep cars parked under the L, with a fence to keep them from parking any further, the petition asks.
Hanley, who is leading the effort, said last winter she realized after meetings with the CTA, including with president Forrest Claypool, that the organization was "dragging their feet" with the property.
With more plans for the Red Line in the future that might require the property, she does not expect the CTA to sell it in the near future, like the agency originally agreed, she said.
But "they need to compromise a little," she said.
Wilson told neighbors that he's read the petition and that the CTA is evaluating it, he said. The CTA will listen to any problems the neighbors have, he said.
"I’m very responsive to the community’s requests," he said. "The news may not always be good news. I am responsive and your message will not fall on deaf ears."