The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) has officially released the draft of the new North Avenue Corridor Revitalization and Mobility Plan — and it represents one of the most ambitious comprehensive plans for the area in years.
The plan includes strategies to revitalize the portion of North Avenue, between Austin Boulevard and Harlem Avenue, on both the Oak Park and Galewood sides of the corridor. Last year, the North Avenue District, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and the village of Oak Park, successfully applied for CMAP's Local Technical Assistance Program. The program helps municipalities and nonprofits develop plans to improve transportation, land use and quality of life.
Since then, the agency has been working with other entities, including the Urban Land Institute, which bills itself as "membership-based, multidisciplinary real estate forum that offers communities strategic advice from development experts," to figure out the particulars.
The draft plan was released to the public on May 9, during an open house held at Galewood Trinity Church, 1701 N. Narragansett Ave. It was posted online the following day. The agency is expected to use the feedback to create the final versions of the plan, which will need to be approved by the three partner organizations.
The draft plan was largely developed during a technical assistance panel conducted by ULI Chicago that took place in December 2018. The panel took input from the three organizations and two municipalities. It found five major issues in the area of study, including speeding along North Avenue that makes the street unsafe for cars and pedestrians.
The plan also singled out the "unattractive, unfriendly streetscape" that deters drivers from stopping to patronize local businesses; too many vacant and underutilized buildings; and the lack of a unified vision between Chicago and Oak Park.
Many traffic and parking recommendations mirror ideas from the North Avenue traffic study that the Chicago Department of Transportation is currently conducting. That includes adding pedestrian refuge islands and medians at busier intersections, installing curb bump-outs, removing the "slip lane" at North/Austin intersection and sprucing up streetscape designs.
The ULI plan also suggests adding parking along side streets, working with owners of vacant parking lots to provide off-street parking, and encouraging businesses to share parking spots.
As part of the efforts to make the corridor more inviting, the plan calls for turning a small section of Kenilworth Avenue into a "flex space" that can be used to hold events.
The plan also calls for figuring out if the former U.S Bank plaza at the southwest corner of North Avenue and Austin Boulevard can be turned into a space for "arts-related programming," which would complement the planned Melvina Masterminds community center two blocks west.
In addition, the plan lays out the guidelines for what kind of development should be encouraged on both sides of North Avenue. In terms of residential development, the plan recommends multi-family buildings that may either be for sale or rent.
As the plan acknowledged, there has been some pushback from the community regarding multi-family rental developments, but it also argues that many claims made by opponents of those developments—such as that rental buildings wouldn't be well-maintained and would be filled with people who aren't invested in the community — aren't based in reality.
Renting is an increasingly popular choice, and the number of higher-income renters is growing. The study also points out that 21 percent of all housing in the corridor is already rental.
In terms of commercial uses, the plan encourages restaurants and cafes, service businesses and co-working spaces, as well as a food business incubator similar to East Garfield Park's Hatchery at the vacant IHOP location east of Oak Park Avenue.
The plan also preserving the former U.S. Bank bank building and adding another, so that it can accommodate mixed-use purposes, including street-level retail and 30 to 50 apartments above that. The plan calls for a similar concept for the vacant Walgreens at the Narragansett Avenue/North Avenue intersection, as well as moving the existing bus turnaround closer to the Galewood Metra station.
To ensure that both sides of North Avenue work together, the plan calls for the creation of a new umbrella organization made up of representatives from Oak Park and Galewood governments and community organizations.
The organization would have a dedicated staffer who would be in charge of implementing the plan. To help fund revitalization, Chicago and Oak Park would establish Special Service Areas on their sides of North Avenue.
Cindy Cambray, the program manager for CMAP, said that the final version will need to be approved by the North Avenue District board of directors, the 29th Ward Galewood Economic Development Committee and the Village of Oak Park. The exact timeline for finalizing the plan, she said, depends on how fast the three can get through the process.
"We hope to have it finalized by the end of June," Cambray said.
Judith Alexander, the chair of the North Avenue District, said that, while she liked many aspects of the plan, she does have suggestions.
"I want to see, and I'm going to ask CMAP to add more emphasis on, the arts," she said. "Arts can be so important to revitalization."
Alexander cited east Pilsen and Portage Park's Six Corners area as examples. She said that she is particularly interested in having pop-up galleries in vacant storefronts and installing more murals in the area.
"We can do that and we're going to [apply] for more grants to help pay for that," Alexander said.
For more information - and the full copy of the draft plan, visit https://www.cmap.illinois.gov/programs/lta/north-avenue.
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