This post is set up as a frequently asked questions page and will be updated as needed. Not all information may be 100% accurate – this is a major work in progress. Also, please don’t freak out about this as information is still being gathered (so far no one has, thank goodness). Photo by BWChicago. 

Update December 13, 2011: I testified this morning to the zoning hearing along with four other Logan Square neighbors (including Lynn Stevens, author of Peopling Places). The ordinance was passed. Afterward, I talked to Virginia, the McDonald’s owner, and Anita, a corporate McDonald’s construction manager. I will have more information later, but I’m busy writing an unrelated article for my main blog, Grid Chicago. I will also post my testimony from the meeting when the City Clerk’s office publishes it (assuming it gets published). Regardless of how you feel on the issues regarding this McDonald’s, this has been an educational experience for me and so many of you reading this blog, as well as many Logan Square neighbors. We and you have learned more about how the zoning processes (there are many at play here) work, how to testify at committee meetings, and what the heck a Pedestrian Street is (I’ve never heard of it before this situation).

Update February 5, 2012: The official record of the Zoning Committee doesn’t actually have verbatim my testimony (thank you to the very responsive social media team at Susana Mendoza’s Clerk’s office for the help on this). I forgot to do this earlier – here’s what I said to Chairman Solis and the other members of the committee:

Hello, my name is Steven Vance. (I am an Avondale resident.) I work as a consultant and writer on sustainable transportation advocacy and planning projects. The text amendment to modify the pedestrian street designation may negatively impact the continuity and safety in traffic of all modes along Milwaukee Avenue, which happens to be the city’s most popular bike route. I ask that prior to any further consideration of this ordinance that McDonald’s provide a traffic impact study.

Also part of this February 2012 update is to answer the question on why I didn’t post this to my other blog, Grid Chicago, where it would get more attention. The reason was twofold: I didn’t have all the information I needed to make a quality post worthy of publishing there; and that I didn’t have my purpose in covering this (and fighting it) fully explained. I am currently working on an article that will be published on Grid Chicago. This is more than a business dealings or zoning process issue: it is a transportation issue and zoning, land use, and how and where we build stuff directly affects how we get to places. Transportation and land use also have well-documented links to individual and societal health.

I’d like to thank all the other blogs that have linked to this page, and furthered the discussion:

Someone is testifying on this issue and no one is paying attention to them. 

What is going on?

Alderman Rey Colón proposes an ordinance to strip “Pedestrian Street” designations from two segments of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. Here’s the proposed ordinance and the hearing notice. The hearing is on December 13, 2011, in City Hall at 121 N LaSalle Street at 10 AM.

Why does he want to do that?

It has do to with the McDonald’s at 2707 N Milwaukee Avenue, at the corner of Sawyer Avenue. Here’s what is proposed:

  1. The McDonald’s building will be demolished.
  2. A new McDonald’s building will be constructed.
  3. The new McDonald’s building will have two service lanes in their drive through, to facilitate better “drive-thruing” (and possibly increasing traffic on the streets with additional customers). You would enter from Milwaukee and exit onto Sawyer.
  4. The position/width/geometry of the curb cuts/driveways will change, necessitating the P-Street de-designation.

The alderman’s email describes a lot (although it says this is a renovation). Apparently to construct the new building, as designed, the P-Street designation needs to be lifted so McDonald’s can be issued permits build their new drive-thru, driveways, and curb cuts. However, as the existing building is being destroyed and a new structure is being built, the new structure must comply with zoning (this applies to all properties in Chicago that are new). The curb cuts and driveways already exist: a new building could hypothetically be built in the same footprint without needed any kind of change.

In essence, the new McDonald’s building, as designed, cannot be built without removing (whether temporarily or permanently) the P-Street designation as the P-Street designation disallows new curb cuts, driveways, and buildings with drive-thrus. However, if the existing building is only being renovated, and the curb cuts are neither changing in their size or location, then it’s in my and others’ opinions that no “special permission” is necessary. But, it’s made been made known to me by the email and by the Alderman’s staff that the McDonald’s owners cannot receive permits to do construction without the P-Street designation being lifted.

What is a Pedestrian Street?

Zoning code: “The regulations of this section are intended to preserve and enhance the character of streets and intersections that are widely recognized as Chicago’s best examples of pedestrian-oriented shopping districts. The regulations are intended to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort [emphasis added].” Read the rest in the Municipal Code of Chicago.

Peopling Places: See examples of retail areas that conform to a P-Street designation and examples of non-conforming uses – they’re not pretty.

What is the Logan Square Pedestrian Street?

A P-Street designation starts at the six-way intersection of Diversey, Kimball, and Milwaukee Avenues. The southeast leg moves down Milwaukee Avenue to Kedzie Avenue. See this map that shows the southeast leg and the parts that are proposed to be stripped.

View Proposed ordinance to strip Pedestrian Street designation in a larger map

Where are there other Pedestrian Streets in Chicago?

Map on GeoCommons, current as of December 21, 2011. Municipal Code of Chicago lists all of them in a table.

What’s the problem?

  • Driveways and curb cuts are not conducive to pedestrian friendly retail environments. New ones are not allowed
  • The current use is non-conforming. It was implemented prior to the P-Street designation so it was “grandfathered” in.
  • It’s not clear if the removal of the P-Street designation is temporary (although the alderman said in an email to Bike Walk Logan Square members that it is), and if so, when it will be reinstated. It’s also not clear if anything else will be approved while the P-Street designation is lifted.

What does the zoning code say about non-conforming uses?

17-15-0403-A: Unless otherwise expressly stated in this Zoning Ordinance, nonconforming developments may be altered or enlarged as long as the alteration or enlargement does not increase the extent of nonconformity [emphasis added]. A building addition to an existing nonconforming development that projects further into a required setback or further above the permitted maximum height is an example of increasing the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically extend existing building walls that are nonconforming with regard to front or side setback requirements will also be considered to increase the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically or horizontally extend an existing building wall that is nonconforming with regard to rear yard open space or rear setback requirements will not be considered to increase the degree of nonconformity, provided that the original building was constructed before the effective dates specified in Sec. 17-1-0200 and provided such upper-story addition is set back at least 30 feet from the rear property line.

But since the building is completely new, then the new building must comply with all current zoning ordinances, including the P-Street designation. But since the alderman proposes to lift the P-Street designation, it won’t be complying with the P-Street section of the zoning code that disallows new curb cuts and driveways. Keep in mind that there are already curb cuts and driveways for the existing McDonald’s building. If the new building fit into the same footprint, a change in the driveways and curb cuts would not be needed.

Has anyone seen the building plans?

Not that I know of. I asked the Alderman’s office to see them and they are going to ask the property owners if I can. I feel that by seeing the plans I will have a much better understanding of the situation.

Have you talked to Alderman Colón?

No. I spoke with someone from his office, Monday, December 13, She was able to answer a couple questions, but needed to talk to others about my additional questions.

Other thoughts

If McDonald’s already has a curb cut, then replacing it with a new curb cut should not require the removal of a pedestrian street designation, especially parts of one that don’t have such a designation, and parts of one that should not be affected by this curb cut. (see non-conforming uses above)

Answered questions

Q: What is the estimated length of this “temporary” time period? And is there a chance that other things will change for other areas of that block while the P-Street designation is lifted?

A: If/when the permits are issued, then the Alderman can/will create an ordinance to reintroduce the P-Street designation for the affected segments (see the embedded map above).

Outstanding questions

Is it possible to approve the drive-thru without lifting the P-Street designation, as long as it doesn’t increase the extents of the nonconformity?

Is the proposed ordinance misspelled? It says to strip the P-Street designation from Kedzie to Central Avenue; it should probably read Central Park Avenue. Or, in another reading, perhaps it’s meant to convey that the ped designation is reclassified to be defined as from Logan to Kedzie (that’s a bizarre, needless distinction) and from Sawyer to Central Park., leaving out from Kedzie to Sawyer.

How come it just says “to reclassify pedestrian streets [then describes segments]” but doesn’t say what the new classification would be? Is it assumed that the new classification is just that it acquires the opposite classification (that being “no longer a pedestrian street”)?

Is the McD effort the ONLY effort that taking place? (Or are there other changes that might take place while the P-Street designation is lifted?)

What is involved in the McD effort? (Is it truly to “maintain” what is it currently? Or if there are changes being made to the parking lot, access, etc, what are they?)

Can the P-Street designation be lifted for a smaller portion of that block…so that it stretches only the length of the McD property area? (To play devil’s advocate, perhaps because of the way that designation works, it must be done “enforced” full block at a time?)

Why lift that small segment on the west side of Milwaukee between Sawyer and Sawyer (which is written wrong, mixing up east/west or north/south)? Why doesn’t it continue south to Kedzie on the west side of Milwaukee? Or alternatively, why lift the designation on the west side of Milwaukee at all? The southern point where Sawyer crosses Milwaukee is still in the middle of the McDonald’s properties, so it wouldn’t fully cover that development even if the west side of the street was relevant.

When I update articles, I always write when I updated it and a summary of changes I made. I will not be doing that for this article as the changes are being made fast and I may change a lot.