WICKER PARK — A Trader Joe's planned for Wicker Park received conditional support from a local school council Monday night, but the grocery chain faces a number of hurdles before construction can begin.
Shortly after news arrived in February that Trader Joe's was interested in setting up shop in a former lumber yard at 1811-25 W. Division St., Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) made it a priority for developers to earn the support of LaSalle II Elementary School, 1148 N. Honore St., which neighbors the proposed store.
The plan also requires a zoning change, lifting two liquor moratoriums and changing a state law that prohibits liquor sales within 100 feet of a school.
Smithfield Properties plans to construct a three-story building on the site with a 13,180-square-foot Trader Joe's, 76 parking spaces for the store and roughly 4,000 square feet of commercial space.
After months of debate, LaSalle II's council voted Monday to support the plan — but only if the store doesn't disrupt school drop-off and pick-up activities along Honore Street. The vote of support also requires Smithfield to honor a number of other promises its made to the school, including additional safety measures and financial incentives.
The vote was six in support, four in opposition and one who abstained.
"The alderman’s direction early in the process was to work closely with the school and hopefully garner their support, and that’s what we saw tonight," said Smithfield's Kevin Henning.
The Trader Joe's garage entrance would be along Honore Street, which Smithfield has proposed to convert from a one-way to a two-way street.
Some in the community have expressed concern about the store, with a number of parents saying it would endanger kids entering and leaving the magnet school.
Smithfield commissioned a traffic study draft that found the Trader Joe's, if constructed with several changes to nearby streets, would leave conditions as bad off as they are now. Currently, the intersection of Division Street, Honore Street and Marion Court provides major headaches, the study showed.
To help sweeten the deal, Smithfield has agreed to pay for a portion of a suggested traffic signal at Division and Honore in addition to renovating LaSalle II's lunchroom and a computer lab. Henning said Smithfield could also create a "community covenant" in an attempt to enforce restrictions on truck deliveries to avoid disruption to the school.
The developer has also committed to eventually contribute $10,000 each year to the school for as long as Smithfield owns the property, Henning said.
Moreno, who attended the meeting, hasn't weighed in on whether he supports the project but said that new traffic signal at Division and Honore is now necessary for his approval.
He also suggested that development isn't the worst thing that could happen to the land.
"I’ll tell you what’s very unsafe in a community — absolutely, extremely unsafe are empty lots," Moreno said.
Leonard Becker, who is serving as interim chair of the LSC, sent a letter to fellow members about why he supports the development.
"If we vote not to support the project, we may be forfeiting Smithfield's generosity and the opportunity to influence what happens across the street," Becker wrote.
He also wrote that "there is no doubt that Smithfield and Trader Joe's will work with us to make sure our students are safe."
According to Smithfield Properties, some of the next steps in the process include applying for a zoning change and holding at least one more community meeting.
The developer will face some opposition from the board of East Village Association, which has voted to oppose the plan in its current form, according to Neal McKnight, president of the group.
The organization worries, among other things, about traffic and the idea that the plan "flies in the face" of the character of Division Street, which is made up of a number of small businesses, McKnight said.
But Henning said Smithfield believes "there's wide support for Trader Joe's in the broader community."
"The small number of voices that we heard tonight opposing [the] development will largely be drowned out by the community at large," he said.