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CTA Bypass Could Force Brand New Businesses to Move, Close

By Serena Dai | April 23, 2014 6:35am
 CTA said some 16 properties may be needed to build a $320 million bypass near the Belmont "L" stop.
Belmont Bypass Targeted Properties
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LAKEVIEW — One business opened less than a month ago, while another opened in just the last six months. Another landlord recently took out a $2.1 million mortgage for renovations — and is halfway done.

But in a couple of years, all of them could be bought by the city as part of the CTA's $320 million plan to build a set of tracks for the Brown Line to run above the current tracks, a project known as the Belmont bypass.

To complete it, officials have said the city may need to take over 16 buildings near the tracks. Though the CTA has said the plan has been floated before, many locals said they were shocked to hear of it.

Those that would be affected include new businesses to longtime residents.

Serena Dai joins DNAinfo Radio to discuss the impact of the Belmont bypass on the neighborhood:

Pradeep Patel, who owns Gold Crown Liquors, 3425 N. Clark St., and 11 other stores in Chicago, said he bought Gold Crown three years ago. The CTA will help him relocate, but he won't be able to recoup the money he put into the business, Patel said.

"I was sad, upset, frustrated, very angry," Patel said.

A public list of affected buildings has not been released. The CTA first wants to confirm that all residents and landlords have been notified, spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.

Some tenants had barely spent any time in their buildings before hearing from the CTA.

Big Cheese Poutinerie, 3401 N. Clark St., opened its first U.S. outpost less than a month ago. Co-owner Michael Stadnicki said he was disappointed more than anything. The owners plan to try to find another space in Wrigleyville, farther north, he said.

"We hope our loyal customers will follow us," he said.

Irish bar Johnny O'Hagan's was reopened recently, too, by Irish immigrants Garrett Diamond and Conor Kelly, who also own Halsted Harp, 2138 N. Halsted St. in Lincoln Park. Kelly said he didn't want to comment until he'd spoken to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). Diamond could not be reached for comment.

Incidentally, the building once housed a Korean restaurant that was run by a woman who now lives in a home on Wilton Avenue that the CTA may also buy for the project.

Myung Tam ran a restaurant called Sammee's at the Johnny O'Hagan's building for 14 years, she said. Her family bought the home on Wilton Avenue nearly 10 years ago, after the restaurant closed, she said.

Now, she's a stay-at-home mom in a home that's filled with her three children's instruments and her big, textured paintings. The nearly 30-year Lakeview resident said she was surprised to hear from the CTA.

Mostly, she's just concerned about where her family will live if they're forced to leave.

"Everything is so expensive here," she said. "Where do I go? The schools are here."

The CTA said plans are not finalized. A community meeting on the Belmont bypass is scheduled for May 22, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Town Hall Police District headquarters, 850 W. Addison St.

"We’re meeting with dozens of community groups and residents," Chase said. "Everyone has a voice in this."

But many people said they were resigned to leaving, saying their discussions were a "moot point" if the city has already made a decision.

Patel said he was trying to think about a relocation positively because he saw no way to fight the CTA.

"The government decides something, a private person doesn't have any say," he said.

Owners of 3406 N. Sheffield — which is undergoing a renovation — are hoping that the CTA will consider putting tracks above their building instead of buying it, or taking a different route, said Devon Tillery, a leasing and marketing assistant with building manager Chicago Apartment Place.

"We really don't want to stop building," she said. "We put a lot of resources into it."

The commercial building started filing for renovation permits last June, according to public records. Owners bought the building in 2012 for $1.6 million and took out a $2.1 million mortgage last July.

Renovations, including a total rebuild of three storefronts, were estimated to cost at least $253,000, according to building permits. The restoration is about halfway done, and part of the building is already leased out, Tillery said.

Wisconsin-based chain Toppers Pizza planned to open there, according to public documents.

"We know it’s going to affect a lot of the retail in the neighborhood," Tillery said.

Others aren't planning to leave without a fight. Many residents on Wilton Avenue have been figuring out a plan, including educating residents not being targeted about the bypass' potential impact on the neighborhood.

Local landlord and business owner Woody Slaymaker said he plans to "at least aggravate" the CTA. None of his buildings is being targeted for purchase, but the city may want to buy air rights over his building at 3326 N. Clark St.

Slaymaker also owns six other buildings on Clark Street, and he said he thinks the tracks will "destroy" the street.

"You're going to turn a really nice area and muck it up with gunk and years of construction," he said.

The CTA disagrees with business owners and landlords worried about declining property values. Any changes "will be designed to visually integrate as much as possible with that existing infrastructure," Chase said.

"An elevated structure has sat in the neighborhood for a century," she said. "There’s no proof that modifying the existing structure would suddenly harm property values after many years of benefiting them."

The CTA looked to use as few properties as possible, Chase said in a statement, to "reduce delays and be able to increase train service for future generations of customers."

Confirmed targeted properties include:

• Five residential buildings on Wilton Avenue, including a 14-unit condo building built seven years ago. Condos in the building are worth at least $300,000 each, according to assessor's office. Others start at $424,000 and climb to more than $600,000.

A building at 3334 N. Clark St. with three filled storefronts and office space, which had an estimated value of $2.5 million in August 2012, according to public records.

• Bolat African Cuisine's building, 3346 N. Clark St., valued at $309,560.

• Johnny O'Hagan's building, 3374 N. Clark St.

• 3354 N. Clark St., a mixed-use building with four residential units and a long-empty storefront, valued by the assessor's office at $995,520.

• 3401 N. Clark St., which houses Big Cheese Poutinerie, Fiesta Cantina, Beer on Clark, Clark Street Beach and Gold Crown Liquors.