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Traffic Issues Raised About Chicago's 1st Altschool Coming To Lincoln Park

By Mina Bloom | November 17, 2015 8:59am
 The top of the proposed building will house Altschool, and the ground level will be for retail space.
The top of the proposed building will house Altschool, and the ground level will be for retail space.
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Centrum Partners/Kage Brown

LINCOLN PARK — At the second community meeting to discuss building a small, private school on Clark Street, some neighbors raised traffic concerns while others welcomed another school option to the neighborhood.

Altschool, a for-profit school system that uses technology to tailor student learning, wants to open the first Chicago location at 2720 N. Clark St., a site that is currently occupied by The Edge Bar & Grill.

The San Francisco-based startup company partnered with developer Centrum Partners on the project, which includes ground-level retail. 

Ethan Warsh with Altschool and John McLinden of Centrum Partners sought community support from more than 50 neighbors at Alcott College Prep, 2625 N. Orchard St., Monday evening ahead of a zoning hearing Friday that will decide the proposal's fate. 

The pair presented a revised traffic study, which was conducted in response to "a lot of traffic concerns" from residents at the first community meeting in September, McLinden said.

According to the study, Altschool — which will enroll 100 - 150 students — would bring a total of 75 more car trips to the area between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 50 more between 3 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.

To minimize traffic, Altschool has agreed to stagger pick-up and drop-off times, which is relatively unheard of for Chicago schools, McLinden said.

"There's no school that would stagger drop-off and pick-up times. It's difficult for them. It's unusual for a school to go to such great [lengths.] Any reasonable ideas [Altschool has] listened and welcomed them," McLinden said.

There will also be additional staff working during peak traffic hours, with some staff members stationed near the Best Buy, 2650 N. Clark St., to ensure that parents don't use the alley — one of the concerns raised at the first meeting.

Parents will be able to pick up their kids on either Schubert Avenue or Clark Street, which Warsh says will "reduce afternoon traffic on Schubert by half."

McLinden named a number of other ideas they plan to implement including providing a limited amount of on-site parking for parents, listing traffic policies in the parent handbook, enforcing traffic policies, encouraging carpooling and communicating pick-up and drop-off times through an app for parents.

That wasn't enough for some residents, who said the developers were either not providing enough information or providing what the objectors thought was misleading information.

"I think your traffic study was a nice effort, but these people need to be made aware that there's a lot of big assumptions. You're from San Francisco, so I'm going to give you a leeway. Snow has a big impact ... it makes it so difficult on a one-way street," said one woman.

"I think it's fairly misleading to talk about the Altschool and its plan for having alternative drop-off schedules. We live in Chicago. It's not Silicon Valley. It's not startup haven. Schools start at the normal time and end at the normal time. It doesn't seem logical to me," she added.

McLinden responded that staggered pick-up and drop-off times will be required and is "completely rational and logical."

Others thought the data that was presented didn't reflect a holistic look at area's traffic, since it only included how many additional car trips the school would bring if the school was built, not the total amount of cars in the area.

No official poll was taken, but based on public comment, residents tilted slightly in favor of supporting the proposal.

Residents like James Munson — who lived in Lincoln Park briefly from 1970 to 1973, moved back in 2012 and has lived in the neighborhood ever since — said the school would be a great addition to the neighborhood and specifically for a stretch of Clark Street that hasn't seen that much growth over the years.

"One of the best things for [our school system] is some competition. That makes everyone compete and do better. I think a development like this will lead and others will follow. It will upgrade Clark Street," he said.

His remarks, like others who spoke in favor the plans, elicited applause from the crowd. 

McLinden would not say which retailers his company is eyeing for the ground-level space, but promised "a step up from what we see on Clark Street."

Friday the city's Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a hearing to determine whether or not to grant the developers a zoning change. The developers need the change because the site is currently zoned for a shopping district.

After the meeting, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who arrived after the meeting began, told DNAinfo Chicago that she wasn't sure if she supported the plans or not.

"I really haven't decided yet. That's why we have public meetings. I came in a little late and I haven't had the chance to catch up with them yet," she said.

If plans are approved, the school won’t begin accepting applications until September 2017. Annual tuition costs $25,000.