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Whole Foods Vote Delayed After Neighbors Say Concerns Not Addressed

By Ariel Cheung | May 12, 2015 11:43am
 The planned Whole Foods Market in West Lakeview would be the city's second-largest, but residents are concerned the boxy design will be an unattractive addition to the neighborhood.
The planned Whole Foods Market in West Lakeview would be the city's second-largest, but residents are concerned the boxy design will be an unattractive addition to the neighborhood.
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Provided/Melrose Street Concerned Residents

WEST LAKEVIEW — Neighbors of a planned Whole Foods Market say they will now oppose the supermarket's move unless their concerns over increased traffic and its "big box" design are addressed.

After Monday night's West Lakeview Neighbors meeting, the smaller group of neighbors said they were disappointed Whole Foods seemed "unwilling to make any compromises whatsoever," as one resident said, and would seek a new tenant to replace Whole Foods unless changes were made.

"This is a plum real estate property — they know that and so do we. We will continue to try and push them to improve their plans or for Novak [Construction] to find a more appropriate tenant, one that understands the importance of this corridor to the community and that the development needs to be balanced," group organizer Tricey Morelli told DNAinfo Chicago.

The Melrose Street Concerned Residents — a group of neighbors most affected by the Whole Foods move across the street to 3201 N. Ashland Ave. — said their woes centered on the street-level parking garage, the building's exterior design and the plans to add a secondary entrance and exit on Melrose Street and a traffic light at the corner.

"It's an industrial big box look — it doesn't look like a market. It looks more like a Costco or Sam's [Club], and it's completely out of context in a residential neighborhood," said Morelli, who presented the residents' concerns.

The packed West Lakeview Neighbors meeting had a couple of tense moments, but mainly remained civil after a reminder from Will DeMille, board vice president.

The neighbors presented alternative plans that would alleviate some of their concerns:

  • Either eliminate a second exit altogether, move the Melrose Street exit to Ashland Avenue or make Melrose Street end in a cul-de-sac, which would become an attractive gathering place for neighbors.
  • Move the parking garage underground and have street-level retail with windows that would provide a more scenic design.

The Whole Foods representatives and Novak Construction President John Novak said the alternatives simply weren't viable. The plot's water table and proximity to the lake and river make it impossible to support an underground garage, while the second exit was required by the company's real estate committee.

"Like anyone, we'd like to, at some point, get a return on our investment. Without these basic requirements, we wouldn't have approved the project and we wouldn't go forward," said Michael Bashaw, Whole Foods Midwest Regional President.

Developers did say that a park only used by a nearby school was included in the land purchase (for an additional $1.4 million), and Novak promised it would become a public park.

Other neighbors voiced support for the project, suggesting that such a large plot of land was destined for a big box store of some type and believed Whole Foods was willing to work with them.

Novak agreed.

"Regardless of the outcome of this project, I hold Whole Foods in the highest esteem. They are so concerned about the neighborhoods and the people," said Novak, who said his company had worked on dozens of Whole Foods projects in the past.

When neighbors heard the Chicago Department of Transportation had yet to approve the developer's traffic study detailing the addition of a traffic light and the plan to switch a portion of Melrose Street to one-way, they insisted on delaying the vote on whether to recommend the development to Ald. Tom Tunney.

The neighbors also said they needed more time to consider the proposal after learning there would be no changes to the current plan, despite their recommendations. Twelve neighbors voted to postpone the decision, with nine requesting a final vote and four abstaining.

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