ALBANY PARK — A large empty lot at Lawrence and Central Park avenues has been considered a blight on the Albany Park neighborhood for years, but some residents would rather see it remain vacant than transformed into the site of a high-volume strip mall, as envisioned by the property's owners.
"I think that's just terrible at every level," said Shylo Bisnett, founder of Albany Park Neighbors.
The proposal, which referenced 7-Eleven and Wingstop as potential tenants, was brought to the attention of the community group by Dana Fritz, chief of staff for Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), at Tuesday night's meeting of the organization.
Fritz noted that a preliminary plan had already been presented to the Department of Zoning, which opposes the strip mall.
"It's not something that our office supports," Fritz said. "It's not good development, and it hasn't been for several decades."
The alderman is looking for pedestrian-focused development and "strip malls just don't fit into that," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Albany Park Neighbors.
"That corner is super pedestrian-friendly," said Bisnett, who ticked off a number of more desirable options, including a second-hand bookstore, "a place where you can get pancakes with your kids at 9 a.m.," or even a gym.
"Anything that facilitates community," she said.
Resident Eric Filson pointed out that existing strip malls in the neighborhood already have a high rate of vacancies, demonstrating a lack of demand. The malls also tend to encourage loitering, he said.
"This could exacerbate and potentially introduce new problems," Filson said.
The property, at 3555 W. Lawrence Ave., previously housed a gas station and would likely require significant environmental remediation, Bisnett said.
"Nothing grows there," she said.
Fritz noted that while the developers had yet to file a formal plan for the site, the alderman's office was interested obtaining feedback from the community to gauge approval of or resistance to the idea.
Megan Backes spoke for her neighbors, saying, "I'd rather continue to see a vacant lot. I'd rather see that than something wrong for the neighborhood."