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Alderman: Trader Joe's Wicker Park Plan Needs Neighboring School's Support

By Alisa Hauser | March 2, 2014 8:04pm
 A proposed new Trader Joe's at 1815 W. Division St. in Wicker Park
A proposed new Trader Joe's at 1815 W. Division St. in Wicker Park
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Adam Berkelhamer

WICKER PARK — A nascent plan to bring a Trader Joe's to an old lumber yard on Division Street appears to be moving along, but the developers will first need to get support from the community surrounding a neighboring public school, a local alderman said on Friday.

"We are not going to be supporting it unless the school community is fully on board. We put education and schools above all other considerations," said Matt Bailey, a spokesman for Ald. Joe Moreno (1st).

"We want to get the perspective of the principal," Bailey said, referring to LaSalle II Elementary School principal Lauren Albani, who along with the school's council wants to bring the Trader Joe's plan to the community during a Local School Council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

Bailey told DNAinfo Chicago that representatives from Trader Joe's and the developer, Bill Smith, of Smithfield Properties, "will be giving an overview of their plan" at Monday's meeting.


Located on the southeast corner of Honore and Division streets at 1815 W. Division St., the former lumber yard is directly opposite from LaSalle II Elementary School at 1148 N. Honore St.

The plans, designed by architect Adam Berkelhamer, call for a three-story building with both upper-levels reserved for parking, with 33 spaces on the second floor and 40 spaces on the third floor.

The first floor will have 13,990 square feet reserved for Trader Joe's and an adjacent 3,700 square feet of available retail space, according to Berkelhamer's renderings.

Grant Drutchas, president of the LaSalle II PTO, said that as the plan stands, at least two dozen parents from school, which serves about 550 students, are concerned about traffic, and in particular truck delivery and the fact the grocer's delivery trucks will have to park next to the school's eastern entrance.

"The traffic that comes with a Trader Joe’s cannot be underestimated," Drutchas said.

Honore is where the main entrance to the school is, and the street serves as one of the main drop-off and pick-up points, Drutchas said.

Because LaSalle II is a magnet school there is "a significant population that doesn't live in neighborhood," and Drutchas estimates about one half of the students are driven to school by their parents.

In afternoon pick-up there are at least 100 parents that use the Honore side of the school, Drutchas said.

In addition to traffic and safety concerns, if Trader Joe's wants to sell alcohol, it would have to challenge a liquor moratorium prohibiting the sale of packaged goods on the south side of Division Street between Wood Street and Hoyne Avenue.

Additionally, the state's Liquor Control Commission Act prohibits liquor sales within 100 feet of a school property.

The developer's attorney, Jim Banks, reportedly met privately with Albani and told that her that "they are in the process of talking with state legislature" about lifting the ban, and there was some suggestion that they were looking to make Honore a two-way street," Drutchas said. 

Neither Albani, Banks or Trader Joe's representatives could not be reached for comment but Drutchas said that while he has received the plans in advance of the meeting, "We don't know how firm they are."

Stan Nitzberg, a principal from Smithfield Properties, did not return calls seeking confirmation of whether a lease has been signed or if Trader Joe's is still looking at other locations in the area.

Neal McKnight, president of the East Village Association, a neighborhood group that serves the areas where the school is located, said his group is "deferring to the LaSalle II LSC" on the matter of whether they will support a Trader Joe's. 

"The traffic is the biggest issue," said McKnight, who also said he knows from trusted sources that "it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. This is their preferred spot but there are other spots they can operate out of."

Teddy Varndell, a Wicker Park resident, said he supports the idea of a Trader Joe's at 1815 W. Division St.

"I get accused of being a NIMBY all the time. I think it's an inconvenience for people picking and dropping off their kids. I don't want to sound callous and I do appreciate their concerns, but I think their concerns can be overcome. Do they want the convenience of their pick-ups and drop-offs to overshadow the need for a grocery store for the entire West Town neighborhood?"

Varndell lamented the fact that outside of Aldi and Cermak Foods, Jewel is only the full-service grocery store for the west part of Wicker Park. 

Varndell said a grocery store in the former Miller Lumber site would "give a close walk-able option [to a grocery] to people in West Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village."

Varndell said he believes there would have been more traffic from a lumber yard than a Trader Joe's and said he "doesn't remember hearing any stories of kids getting run over by lumber trucks."

"Bottom line is, it's all a tradeoff. I would prefer a grocery store to 39 condos and two large restaurants," he said, referring to a previous plan.

Downtown developer Smithfield Properties purchased the 27,000-square-foot Miller & Son Lumber Co. building at Division and Honore streets in September 2011 for $3.2 million. The lumber yard was demolished in October 2012.

"We hope that we get good community turnout to the LSC meeting on Monday, and that those present get a good perspective on the views of the community," Drutchas said.