JEFFERSON PARK — A plan that would prevent strip malls from being built on vacant pieces of land near Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues would hurt the area by encouraging denser developments, according to a unanimous vote of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.
Members of the association agreed they were concerned that a proposal from Ald. John Arena (45th) to designate Milwaukee Avenue from Giddings to Higgins avenues and Lawrence Avenue from Long to Laramie avenues as a "pedestrian overlay zoning district" would create a parking crunch by paving the way for dense developments.
Heather Cherone says the association and Arena have different views of the future of the neighborhood:
Arena, who is running for re-election, has touted the measure, which has yet to be considered by the City Council, as the first step in an effort to bring new life to the struggling Jefferson Park Business District.
The proposal would require new buildings to be built within five feet of the sidewalk, that the facade facing the street be at least 60 percent transparent glass, that buildings have a primary entrance facing the street and that all parking be in the rear and not be visible from the street, according to the proposal.
That would ban strip malls by prohibiting new driveways and drive-throughs, which can hurt walkable shopping districts, Arena said.
But the association was most concerned about the proposal's effect on parking in the area and its impact on the area's quality of life, association President Judy Skotzko said.
If Arena's measure passes, developments in the district would not have to include as many parking spots as normally required by city ordinance because they would be within 1,200 feet of the Jefferson Park Transit Center. Without the pedestrian district designation, developments must be within 600 feet of a terminal to get a break from the city's typical parking requirements.
In addition, new shops smaller than 10,000 square feet would be allowed to provide fewer parking spaces than typically required.
That could make parking in the area difficult and hurt businesses, Skotzko said.
Arena has said the measure was designed to have the opposite effect. It would start to reverse decades of decline and fill long-empty storefronts by making the area safer and more welcoming for pedestrians, especially those using the transit center to commute to work and school, Arena said.
Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff, said the alderman was not invited to the meeting of the neighborhood association, but held a community meeting last month about the proposal that drew a mixed reaction from residents.
"All this would do is encourage the preservation of the existing urban shopping district," Brugh said. "We are blessed with tremendous access to public transit. We should play to our strengths."
Opponents of the measure contend it would do nothing but inconvenience those who have lived in the area for decades and rely on their cars to get around.
The proposal is designed to shape the future of the area as proposals begin to be developed for vacant parcels east of Milwaukee Avenue along Lawrence Avenue, Brugh said.
There is no parking crunch in the business district, except when the Copernicus Center hosts a high-profile event or concert, Brugh said.
"Parking is plentiful in the business district," Brugh said. "We want to ensure that this remains a walkable, urban shopping district."
Those lots are now being used as overflow parking lots for the Copernicus Center and parking for a limo company.
Arena has said he would support a plan to build a relatively dense condominium development of "reasonable height" on the property, which has been vacant since an ambitious redevelopment effort by city officials in the mid-1990s and early 2000s was scuttled by fierce community opposition.
No formal proposals for the vacant land have been made, officials said.
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