Present-Day Low-Rise, Spread-Out Landscape
New development, whether residential, commercial, or industrial, can be a plus or a minus. Multiple factors influence a community’s support for, say, a six-story apartment complex, a hookah lounge, or a tool-and-die plant that ranges from appearance to function to density to environmental consequences. What is a drawback in one neighborhood can be seen as an advantage in another. It all boils down to the character of the community and how it sees itself changing over time.
If low-density development is the linchpin that keeps Gladstone Park’s wheels from sliding off its axles, then it follows that challenges to its low-rise spread-out character are the major threat to its existence. Build a tall automobile storage tower, a big box store, a metal recycling plant, or a huge apartment complex and you’re disrupting the synergy of the entire community. But rehab existing historic storefronts so they can be used for new restaurants, barber shops and mom-and-pop stores with apartments above them and you have a winning formula.
Sometimes Gladstone Park’s location, 10-11 miles from the Loop, is a blessing and sometimes it’s a curse. The distance has always kept it far enough away from the economic pressures of the center city, allowing it to escape dense commercial and residential development. The fact that the community is literally next door to the suburbs with their big box stores has, for the most part, also kept Gladstone Park from being invaded by large national chains that would have displaced the community’s Mom-and-Pop shops.
Part of the reason for the community being out of sync with the rest of the city can be chalked up to timing. It was only when Gladstone Park’s subdivisions were being built out in the 1950s that the population had much need for a business district. When its commercial building boom was delayed until the 1960s, property so far away from downtown was still both available and cheap. Merchants spreading out on bigger plots of land were able to cater to the growing postwar car culture by providing parking lots for shoppers’ automobiles in numbers not found in other parts of Chicago. Larger plots also meant for increased road frontage with plentiful street parking. This set the pattern for Gladstonians getting accustomed to pulling into dedicated parking lots next to large one-story or two-story shops, restaurants, and offices if they weren’t parking directly on the street in front of them.
The legacy is that Gladstone Park is one of the very few communities in Chicago with so much available parking in its commercial zones that it has never had to institute parking meters. Fortunate enough to have wider secondary streets, it has also not had to regulate the great majority of them as one-ways or required permit parking except for a very small number of exceptions. It may not sound like much, but to many Gladstonians, the lack of traffic and parking problems (no meters!) is a vital part of their identity and a huge source of pride.
Ironically, when Chicago city planners conducting research for the 2017 Gladstone Park Corridor Study were confronted by the community’s wealth of parking and lack of traffic problems, they were flummoxed. Describing the differences they found the community’s 2-1/4 mile long N. Milwaukee Avenue business district, they shook their heads and wrote:
The wide street, overall low scale of buildings, shallow lots, unusual car-oriented architecture and the profusion of signs create an environment more similar to major streets in Los Angeles than older, traditional streets in Chicago.
Section of N. Milwaukee’s broad boulevard at the center of Gladstone Park facing south toward W. Bryn Mawr. The physical appearance of the 2-1/4 mile business corridor is different from that of any other community in Chicago with disbelieving city planners in 2017 writing the road is “more similar to major streets in Los Angeles than older, traditional streets in Chicago.” Its width supports 4 driving lanes, a center turning lane, a bike lane and room for parallel parking on both sides. Shops, offices, and restaurants are low rise and spread out, a direct effect of the timing of when they were built after residential subdivisions in the community were nearing completion during the postwar period of the 1950s. By then American car culture hit its zenith and business owners were able to respond to changing societal trends thanks to the community’s relatively less expensive land in comparison to that nearer the center city 10-11 miles away. They constructed low-rise buildings spread out on larger plots of land with more road frontage, providing both ample street parking and dedicated parking lots. Photo by author.
While the same study had much to criticize about storefronts that had stood empty and unkempt since the Great Recession, it did praise Gladstone Park’s relative wealth of historic commercial buildings with apartments on their upper floors. Noting that there are not many of their kind throughout the rest of the city, planners recommended, “As much as possible these buildings should be retained [as affordable housing] whether the ground floor contains an active business or not.”
A late 1920s L-shaped Gladstone Park commercial building at the corner of N. Milwaukee and N. Menard showing the left wing at 5500 N. Menard. Its first floor offers storefronts for a wide a variety of businesses while its second floor has affordable apartments for rent. Distinct for its yellow brick construction with arched limestone doorways and decorative parapets, the historic Art Deco structure is further enhanced by its red clay tile roof. This is just the type of building Chicago City planners recommended preserving in its “Gladstone Park Corridor Study, Milwaukee Avenue from the Kennedy Expressway to the City Limits, January 28, 2017.” However, there is continual pressure in the community from developers who want to tear down smaller buildings such as these in the hopes of replacing them with new complexes of three, four, five or more stories that make more money per square foot of property for their owners. This kind of “upzoning,” representing a more intense use of land not permitted without variances, is feared by the community. Photo by author.
As if in a time warp, much of the Gladstone Park business community in 2022 looks like it did 60, 70, even 100 years ago. Exteriors of original buildings, perhaps with new windows, doors and signage, otherwise remain virtually unchanged. While some people might lament this makes Gladstone Park a relic that should be put to better use, others see the opportunity to preserve the unusual nature of what the community has before it loses it.
But Gladstone Park has been increasing badgered with building proposals for apartment complexes of four-, five-, six-, seven- or more stories along its business and industrial corridors. Throwing up high-rise residential developments in a community of one-and two-family dwellings not only increases density, but also brings all the problems that come from concentrating large numbers of people together in hundreds of apartments. Such a strategy has the potential to immediately and completely change the character of a proud, friendly, and easy-going neighborhood, previously spread out by design.
Less appreciated is the danger that comes from tearing down Gladstone Park’s low-rise offices, shops, and restaurants to make way for apartment complexes, undermining its bustling “downtown.” Turn a full-service village into a bedroom community and people would be forced to spend their everyday lives elsewhere, losing the cohesiveness they once had as a community.
So how all of a sudden did Gladstone Park get to where unwanted development has become such a real threat to the essence of the community?
Once the Chicago Department of Transportation implemented its “complete streets” initiative on the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in Gladstone Park in 2015, development challenges followed. One of the first was city’s 2016 approval of a medical marijuana dispensary at 6428 N. Milwaukee, Norwood Park one block north of GPNA’s northern border at W. Devon. Located in an existing one-story brick commercial building, it was as close to the suburbs (3 blocks) as one could get.
As dnainfo recounts the situation in a November 10, 2016 release, the Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals rubberstamped Union Medical’s application to become the sixth such medical marijuana dispensary in the city after two years of acrimonious community and aldermanic opposition. Ald. Anthony Napolitano (Ward 41) said his constituents’ biggest concern was that the shop, then called Zen Leaf, would eventually sell recreational pot, according to a September 28, 2019 Nadig Newspapers article.
The action left surrounding Far Northwest Side communities, including Gladstone Park, feeling steamrollered, especially when Illinois did, in fact, okay the legal purchase of pot for recreational purposes as of January 1, 2020. Playing musical chairs, the Zen Leaf dispensary was bought by Progressive Treatment Solutions (PTS) along with three others in Illinois and rebranded as Consume Cannabis in 2020 with the capability of serving both medical and recreational populations.
Consume Cannabis hasn’t gone unnoticed in the city. In its 2022 “Your Guide to Every Weed Dispensary in Chicago,” the online insider ratings site Thrillest, described the community’s revamped pot shop as a “straightforward dispensary…tucked away in residential, family-friendly Norwood Park” before advising hopheads, in cringe-worthy fashion, just how to enjoy their tripping in the community with this review:
Consume: Chicago just so happens to sit down the road from Chicago’s iconic old-school hot dog purveyor Superdawg. Grab some weed, grab a Chicago dog, and disappear into the Caldwell Woods Forest Preserve across the street.
After Norwood Park and neighboring Gladstone Park mounted a two-year battle with the city, the Zoning Board of Appeals rubberstamped six medical marijuana facilities in Chicago in 2016, including this one (earlier called Zen Leaf) in an existing one-story brick building at 6428 N. Milwaukee. Residents were most concerned recreational marijuana would be next in the family-friendly residential location, which is only 1 block north of Gladstone Park’s border at W. Devon and three blocks from the suburbs. Progressive Treatment Solutions took over as Consume Cannabis in 2020 when, in fact, Illinois did legalize recreational marijuana, allowing it to market to both populations. Now the owners want to leave Norwood Park for the former Rainforest Cafe in River North, many times its size, although approval is dependent on whether the politically-connected firm’s partnership with the “social equity” firm Bio-Pharm is enough to prove it is balancing the white-dominated industry with Black ownership. Photo from the corporate consumecannibis.com website.
But the story doesn’t stop there. In December, 2021, PTS applied for a special use permit to the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals to move its Norwood Park facility to the former grand-sized Rainforest Cafe, 605 N. Clark Street in River North, according to an April 7, 2022 Fox 32 Chicago news release. The siting, within 1,500 feet of three existing weed shops, would not be permitted by state law unless the corporation came in as a “social equity” applicant to balance the white-dominated weed industry. The twist, Fox 32 Chicago reported, is that PTS had recently formed a partnership with Bio-Pharm LLC and installed Terry Peterson, a former 17th Ward alderman and Black, as their new CEO, thus technically becoming a social equity applicant. The company’s 2023 economic disclosures provided further intrigue when they showed PTS, which is partly owned by David Flood of the Flood Brothers trash hauling company with a history of lucrative contracts with the city, were paying all consultant bills in gearing up for the application. (As if he didn’t already have enough industry clout, Flood was also cited as the principal officer of Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois, later known as the Cannabis Business Alliance of Illinois.)
Lo and behold, once the 89,995 influential residents of River North heard about the $7-10 million expansion plan for another pot shop in their neighborhood…even as or because it included four armed guards and 90 surveillance cameras…they began objecting. The Chicago Tribune highlighted the loophole PTS was using to partner with a social equity firm on May 12, 2022, putting it on track to reapply to the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals to get permission to relocate. Like the nearly 200 social equity licenses for pot shops the state has awarded by the third quarter of 2023, the plans for the PTS dispensary in the former River North Rainforest Cafe have thus far stalled.
In early January, 2024, attorneys representing Progressive Treatment Solutions announced it was pulling the plug on its application to move from its Norwood Park location to the infinitely larger and more prestigious Rainforest Cafe site due to being “…delayed by litigation and the uncertainty and additional costs it brings.” Both GRI Holdings, owner of the nearby Green Rose dispensary and River North resident Robert Brown had filed suits against PTS’s plans to open within the prohibited 1,500 feet of three existing weed shops. GRI against the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulations and Brown against the city claiming the site’s zoning had been illegally approved. Meanwhile, the state pledged its intention to seek more clarity on the social equity issues that were the basis for PTS’s application.
Interestingly, although one of Lightfoot’s planks was specifically to keep marijuana dispensaries out of the Loop, River North’s Alderman Brendan Reilly introduced legislation to expand pot sales in October 2023 to downtown, according to The Chicago Tribune. Whether he was motivated by residents’ allegations that his district had unwittingly become the de factor center of the city’s cannabis industry is unknown.
Meanwhile, a second cannabis dispensary opened April, 2022 at 4758 N. Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Jefferson Park, some 4 blocks south of the Kennedy Expressway (and Gladstone Park) after a lot less fanfare. The City Council granted Columbia Care a zoning change to expand into a neighboring storefront only after much debate centering around opposition by a Black Caucus that wanted more racial equity in the industry. Pushing for the expansion for months, the community’s Ald. Jim Gardiner said the weed shop would haul in some $2.4 million in annual tax revenue and be “a business that will bring some life to a depressed corridor in Jefferson Park,” as recounted by Block Club Chicago May 26, 2021.
Considering the state’s announcement it had approved 185 new marijuana dispensary licenses in Illinois according to Robert McCoppin in The Chicago Tribune, June 10, 2022, it would not be unexpected for Gladstone Park to see another potshop come into the community by fall. Winning applicants have been given 180 days to select a physical storefront location and obtain operating licenses with the possibility of a 180-day extension.
Former Food Processing Plant, 5150 N. Northwest Highway
Shortly after Gladstone Park residents became embroiled over the siting of a cannabis dispensary at the community’s very northern end, they were blindsided by an equally disturbing and rapidly-shifting proposal for its very southern end. With zoning changes, lawsuits, petitions, and the intervention of city and state, the situation quickly grew complicated and nasty.
It began in 2016 with LSC Development’s permit to build a five-story self-storage warehouse on a 1.54-acre plot at 5150 N. Milwaukee that was once an old Archdiocese of Chicago food processing plant. Residents rebelled, pointing out a 70-foot tall public storage facility was too dense of a business development to put one block south of W. Foster in an area of one-and two-story businesses surrounded by single family homes.
Former Ald. John Arena agreed that the siting of a public storage facility in Gladstone Park’s downtown business district would not revitalize its commercial area. With the cooperation of the city, he had the site downzoned to stop it and pull the already-issued permit, as summarized in a January 18, 2018 Nadig Newspapers article.
But downzoning didn’t just restrict what couldn’t be allowed; it opened the door wider to what could be allowed. Next thing anybody knew, the city had made a backdoor deal to approve the parcel for a tall, dense housing development unlike anything ever seen in Gladstone Park before. Shocked residents felt deceived, cut completely out of the decision-making process.
It got worse. Arena voiced support for the proposed seven-story, mixed income apartment complex against the will of the community he was supposed to represent. In the same article he announced the housing development would include 30 Chicago Housing Authority units and 50 affordable housing apartments for the purposes of helping end segregation on the Far Northwest Side.
That statement fanned the flames of his constituents, twisting their objections from a tall, big issue into a racial issue. Meanwhile, Full Circle Communities, the building/management company that signed up to develop the project, kitty-cornered across from Jefferson Park’s 16th District Chicago Police Department at 5151 N. Milwaukee, had stated its intention to prioritize housing for veterans and persons with disabilities.
Jefferson Park residents, not that far out from Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green 3,606-apartment project that became the national poster child for everything that was wrong with public housing, feared the worst. They’d seen with their own eyes how the failed housing project with its subsidized apartments had brought gangs, garbage, rat and cockroach infestations, and crime to what was once a wealthy area before bringing the whole neighborhood down.
Violence had already migrated north into the Portage Park neighborhood just south of Jefferson Park with Carl Schurz High School considered gang infiltrated by the Bloods and Crips by 2010, as detailed April 1 of that year by news source Chicago Talks. So although the Far Northwest Side (and Gladstone Park in particular) had been “largely immune from the surge in violence,” there were 12 shootings and two murders in Portage Park in 2015 and eight shootings with one murder in 2016, some of which were gang-related, according to dna info Chicago. Many people thought that was too close for comfort.
Demonstrators from greater Jefferson Park came out in force and made a spectacle of themselves, carrying signs and spewing vitriol against “Section 8” housing, fearful of what subsidized rentals for low-income households would bring to their safe, quiet, family-friendly community, as detailed in the February 23, 2017 Chicago Reader.
In the way those squawking the loudest can, the small, but vile group of agitators stole the spotlight, attracting the disapproving attention of the whole city. Once it got ugly, finger pointers piled on, quick to dredge up the admittedly sordid history from 55 years ago when white homeowners reacted hostilely and sometimes violently to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Chicago Freedom Movement marchers demonstrating for open housing, according to the January, 2018 Nadig Newspapers source.
Misconceptions flourished on both sides. Nobody pointed out that the new housing complex was sited kitty-cornered across the street from Jefferson Park’s 16th District Chicago Police Department at 5151 N. Milwaukee…an inopportune place for gangs or criminals to want to live. And contrary to the myths then circulating, the Chicago Freedom Movement march took place in Marquette Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side, some 15 miles south from the proposed housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.
(A full discussion of Chicago’s housing segregation problem is beyond the scope of this zoning review. Readers interested in its history are referred to an excellent distillation of the issues in Mapping Chicago’s Racial Segregation in the February 24, 2022 South Side Weekly, which starts with the geographical separation of Native Americans in colonial times and traces segregation along ethnic and racial lines to the present day.)
Soon after, the Illinois Housing Development Authority independently refused, for financial reasons, to approve low-income tax credits to Full Circle for the second year in a row, endangering the development’s fate. That led The Reverend Shawna Bowman, a mile up N. Northwest Highway at the Friendship Presbyterian Church, to accuse the state authority of enabling “the forces of white supremacy” to maintain segregation on the Northwest Side, according to a May 21, 2018 article in Nadig Newspapers. This, even though Full Circle kept reiterating that the subsidized housing was to prioritize veterans and disabled persons.
Predictably, LSC sued the city for downzoning its property in order to revoke its building permit. Eventually they reached a settlement with the city that allowed LSC to build a Public Storage facility on the northern half of the site. The only other controversy LSC experienced came in 2018 when nine Scabby the Rat inflatables made their appearances on the building site for reported use of nonunion personnel during its construction.
Public Storage at 5160 N. Northwest Highway. After parent company LSC obtained a permit to build on the 1.54-acre site, the city revoked it by downzoning to render it nonconforming, instead approving plans for the construction of an affordable housing complex in its place. LSC sued. In the settlement that followed, LSC was allowed to build a public storage facility on the northern half of the lot, which left enough property on the southern half for Full Circle Communities to build a seven-story 75-unit housing complex. Photo by author.
Meanwhile, Full Circle Communities began building its seven-story 75-unit housing complex on the southern portion of the tract with 45 units set aside for Chicago residents with incomes no higher than 60 percent of the city’s median, 15 for those earning no more than 30 percent, and 15 going at market rate, according to the National Equity Fund that syndicated the project. It was reported that the management company received in excess of 150 applications for its apartments from veterans, who were to be given placement priority when the facility opened in 2021.
Seven-story 75-unit housing complex built and managed by Full Circle Communities with the intention of providing affordable housing for veterans and disabled persons when it opened in 2021. Although the neighborhood’s primary concerns were over the height and density of the building, which is a half block south of Gladstone Park’s border, the proposal scared some in the greater Jefferson Park area that had long prided itself on living in one of the four safest neighborhoods in the city. Fearing the 45 units geared for low-income Chicago residents would bring criminals, drugs, gangs, and trash into the community, demonstrators turned loathsome. When the media published a photo of at least one protestor carrying a sign against Section 8 housing (Chicago Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Vouchers Program), the whole city was riveted. Civil rights supporters, progressives, politicians, and housing advocates came down hard on the neighborhood with accusations of racism. At that point there was no bandwidth left for residents objecting to the sheer scale of the project to get their message across. Photo by author.
Former Restaurant/Bank Property, 5700 N. Central
Soon after taking a bath on “5150,” the seven-story mixed-income housing project that became, by far, the tallest building in the Gladstone Park area, residents were confronted with a proposal for a 4-story, 52-unit apartment/retail complex at 5700 N. Central that the developer floated in the September 12, 2019 Nadig Newspapers.
The plan entailed tearing down a former bank/restaurant on a 33,000 square foot tract on the corner of N. Central and N. Elston bordered on the west and south sides by N. Parkside and W. Seminole. At first the proposal produced muted grumbling. After all, the one-story brick and limestone midcentury structure with its distinct rounded end had been accumulating litter and weeds since the Republic Bank had closed down in 2014, the upscale DiLeo’s Restaurant before that.
The former 33,000 square foot bank/restaurant property at 5700 N. Central showing the geometrically round mid-century facade of the one-story brick structure at the corner with N. Elston (right). After unsuccessfully trying to lease the structure since the bank’s closing in 2014, the owner tried to sell to a developer who floated a plan to build a four-story 52-unit (later 45-unit) market rate apartment building. After Gladstone Parkers came out in full force against the plan, the builder bowed out. This photo, taken by the author in May, 2022 after the property had been vacant nearly eight years, shows overgrown vegetation.
Then about 40 homeowners surprised the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association by putting their collective feet down at its next meeting. Residents of N. Parkside at the back of the plot had already been living on one of the few streets in the community that had had to be converted to one-way due to the heavily-trafficked N. Central/N. Elston intersection nearby. Unlike other Gladstone Parkers, they also suffered from having to have permits to park their cars in front of their houses due to customer spillover from businesses nearby. They didn’t want the additional burden of a large dense building looming over them with 50 or more cars added to the mix.
Homeowners of the 1-1/2 story bungalows and English Tudors two, three, and more blocks from the former bank property also voiced their trepidation. If the four-story complex with 19 studio, 22 one-bedrooms, 8 two-bedroom, and three three-bedroom units were allowed, they were sure parking problems that had never before existed would spill over to their streets.
Gladstone Parkers simply couldn’t see why they should have to approve a zoning variance that would “upzone” the neighborhood with a taller and denser housing complex out of character to the community. They also knew that there was danger in approving one rezoning exception because any other applicant wanting the same consideration to build a four-story apartment building like it afterward could not then be denied. Gladstone Park would then be awash with other large, dense housing projects not at all similar to the community’s existing two/four flat rental housing and other small apartment buildings not above three stories.
Fortunately, since all apartments in the proposal were to be market rate, Gladstone Parkers could focus on the real issue dear to their hearts: maintaining their zoning and not allowing nonconforming construction to bring in unwanted population densities, traffic and parking problems. There was no distraction because “affordable,” or public housing, was a nonissue.
When the developer was made aware of the negative reactions of the community even when he reduced the scale of apartments to 45, he withdrew. Meanwhile, 5700 N. Central’s owner, who had unsuccessfully been trying to lease the property after the bank closed in 2014, decided to demolish the building himself to save on “upwards of $100,000” a year in property taxes and the expense of maintaining it, according to his attorney as quoted in the October 29, 2020 Nadig Newspapers. Thus, the community was to lose one of its larger mid-century modern commercial buildings of note (and in good condition) and there was nothing they could do about it.
Beginning demolition in November, 2020, the owner subjected the entire neighborhood to a nightmare of numerous permitting and environmental issues that resulted in multiple stop work orders. For two years and running, the building was left half torn down in dangerous condition. It quickly became the community eyesore. Secured with inadequate fencing, the building attracted children who slipped through to play in the hazardous rubble. There was vandalism, broken glass, and boarded up windows.
As of May 26, 2022, the structure still looks like the photo below that was taken over a year earlier. The whole debacle put such a bad taste in the mouth of the community that residents are no longer very receptive to plans for any new building on the site.
The partially-demolished building at 5700 N. Central as seen from the back off N. Parkside/W. Seminole on March 28, 2021 (above) and the subsequent vandalism that occurred in the still intact front off N. Elston that occurred April/May, 2022 (below). After about 40 community members at a Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association meeting objected to a zoning change that would allow a four-story 52-unit (later 45-unit) apartment building to be erected in its place, the developer withdrew. The owner then decided to have the unique one-story mid-century brick structure torn down himself to save on property taxes and maintenance. The demolition process that started in November, 2020 became a neighborhood nightmare as it ran into numerous permitting and environmental issues. Stop work orders left it in a dangerous, inadequately-secured state for over two years running. Children were seen accessing and vandalizing the hazardous structure, making it into an even worse eyesore. Photos by author.
According to a notice delivered door-to-door to neighborhood constituents by Ald. Gardiner in May, 2022, there are currently no development proposals for the property. A second notice informed nearby residents that the demolition company was to return to complete the teardown June 13, 2022.
6067 N. Milwaukee
In the same September 12, 2019 Nadig Newspapers article revealing prospective plans for a four-story 52-unit apartment complex on the former bank/restaurant property at 5700 N. Central was a mention of another four-story 15-unit apartment/condo complex proposal for 6067 N. Milwaukee.
Near the merger of N. Milwaukee and N. Elston (just behind the new Stefani restaurant), business properties had been combined and upzoned in 2006 from B3-1, the low-density designation of virtually all of Gladstone Park’s business corridors, to B3-3. The new zoning variance increased the allowable density of residential units from one per 2,500 square feet of land to one per 400 square feet of land, thus permitting six times the density. The condo project for which the zoning change was granted never materialized, according to the same article. There have been no more public disclosures about plans for 6067 N. Milwaukee since.
It is unknown if the community can proactively ask the city to revoke the 2006 B3-3 upzoned designation for the latter parcel so that it comes back into conformity with Gladstone Park’s area-wide B3-1 zoning.
The only other B (business) property on Gladstone Park’s Commercial Corridor that is not zoned B3-1 (besides the Planned Unit Development, or PUD, that is the site of Full Circle Communities seven-story affordable housing complex at 5150 N. Milwaukee) is at 6305 N. Milwaukee. Two blocks south of W. Devon, the community’s northern border, the B3-2 property hosts the 6,379 square foot “Park View Crest” brick apartments built in 1968.
There are also a handful of C (commercial) zoned properties on Gladstone Park’s N. Milwaukee Business Corridor that allow for more intense business uses such as liquor stores, warehouses, auto shops, strip mall shopping centers and factories that aren’t considered manufacturing. Would it be wise to look into these and see whether they make sense where they are located before unwanted, but technically conforming, businesses apply for building permits on these tracts?
For more information, consult charts at 2nd City Zoning by DataMade outlining Chicago’s nine main zoning categories with their multiple divisions that delineate what can legally be built on every piece of city land.
Former United Methodist Church Property, 5850 N. Elston
As if N. Elston residents hadn’t gone through enough defeating the 2019 proposal to build a too tall, too dense apartment building at the corner at 5700 N. Central and then having to suffer through the former restaurant/bank building’s ongoing demolition as it sat half torn down as hazardous eyesore over the course of more than two years.
The next thing they knew, a similar proposal four blocks down the road was on the table. Hudson Construction Services proposed building a four-story 18-unit condo complex on the 24,500 square foot property where the Elston Avenue United Methodist Church at 5850 N. Elston had recently closed down, as reported March 25, 2021 by Nadig Newspapers. Like at 5700 N. Central, plans would have required a zoning change for more intensive use from the single-family homes and two/three flats that were legally allowed on the street.
The proposal involved tearing down the striking mid-century brick and limestone church, built in 1958 with sweeping roof lines, stained glass windows, and attached classroom wing. Most of the parking lot, informally shared with next door’s Kolping Center (a Roman Catholic social aid society), were to be taken up by the housing.
Objecting to the upzoning that would be needed for the condo project to go forward, residents maintained the height and density of the buildings would be out of character for the neighborhood of two/three flats and single-family homes. With N. Elston serving as a major thoroughfare through the community, there was also the fear that increased numbers of vehicles would severely aggravate parking problems on surrounding streets. Again, there were no affordable housing issues to muddy the waters.
When nearby homeowners reported to the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association that an Ethiopian Christian congregation was looking to buy a church building to use for faith-based purposes, all concerned parties were urged to seriously consider this solution as one everyone could support. GPNA welcomed the Chicago Yemarach Evangelical Church congregation to the historic church building in June, 2022. It was a win-win with a noteworthy mid-century building saved from destruction while the street it was on was spared upzoned gentrification.
Rendering of Hudson Construction Services’ proposal for a four-story 18-unit condo project at 5850 N. Elston (above) would have involved tearing down the recently-closed Elston Avenue United Methodist Church (below) built in 1958. The brick-and-limestone building with sweeping roof line, stained glass windows, attached classroom wing and large parking lot, is nestled in an area of two/three flats and single family homes. Residents protested the upzoning request the builder needed for the project, fearing the height and density of the building would be out of character for the neighborhood while severely aggravating parking problems on the street. When nearby homeowners reported to the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association that an Ethiopian Christian congregation was looking to buy a church building, the group encouraged all concerned parties to come to a solution the community could support. The Chicago Yemarach Evangelical Church will be opening in the historic church building June, 2022 and using it for faith-based purposes. Thus, GPNA’s actions saved another notable mid-century building in the community for posterity. Condo project rendering courtesy of applicant; photo below by author.
JP MORGAN CHASE BANK REDEVELOPMENT, 5813 N. Milwaukee
In 2019 JP Morgan Chase announced plans to redevelop its bank site at 5813 N. Milwaukee at the corner of N. Austin by building a new one-story 6,602 square foot branch office in the present facility’s front parking lot. So that it would operate continuously, it would only tear down the older two-story 12,000 square foot facility behind it once the new building was completed. The proposal called for reducing the new facility’s parking lot to 46 spaces and replacing 4 drive-in slots with two new drive-in lanes with ATMs.
Although the new drive-in lanes required a special use permit, the 50 residents attending the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association meeting November 20, 2019 were generally in favor of the bank’s overall redevelopment plan, according to the next day’s article in Nadig Newspapers.
However, there was concern for what would arise on the 27,000 square foot former parking lot of the larger Chase Bank that would be split off to be sold. Homeowners of the single-family homes on the surrounding streets opined that potential plans for a three-and-a-half-story six-flat on the plat would be too dense. According to the same Nadig Newspapers article, any residential proposal on the tract would probably require a zoning change since the property is now zoned B3-1 for low-density business.
Ald. Jim Gardiner deemed the bank redevelopment as positive for the community in his May 12, 2022 online newsletter, emphasizing that Chase is investing over $5 million in the project. Meanwhile, the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce posted on its website that the development would create over 120 union construction jobs.
As of May, 2022, no building proposal had as yet been submitted for the empty lot the bank is selling.
Hookah Bar, 5762 N. Milwaukee
Perhaps Gladstone Park’s most frustrating battle in striving to determine its destiny began in the spring of 2023 when an application for a 55-seat hookah lounge was filed to open in a vacant 2,100 square foot former title loan office at 5762 N. Milwaukee. The operation, which would involve people socializing while drawing in tobacco smoke from a hose connected to a heated water chamber, is in a special business category that needs a special use permit from Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
In order to mute local objections that were already fomenting locally, Warren Silver, attorney for the two applicants, made a presentation to the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association June 8. Maintaining his clients, formerly of Kyrgyzstan, had successful experience operating such establishments in their home country before immigrating to America, he emphasized how hookah was an important part of Kyrgyz culture.
Vacant 2,100 square foot former title loan office, 5762 N. Milwaukee, is the site of a proposed hookah bar to be run by two applicants originally from Kyrgyzstan who maintain it is an important part of their culture. Despite strenuous community objections, a lack of support from local Alderman Jim Gardner (particularly in regards to its location near two schools), and a rare objection from the city Department of Planning and Development, the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals approved the applicant’s special use permit for the operation at its October 20, 2023 meeting. The Board of Appeals, a quasi-judicial panel that’s independent from City Council, has a track record of acting on its own despite community or Aldermanic or other opposition. Photo courtesy of Nadig Newspapers.
But Gladstone Parkers—and particularly those who live in the surrounding residential area—were bent out of shape by the fact the hookah bar just barely met the city’s law banning new tobacco licenses within 100 feet of a school. The St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (Roman Catholic) School at 6040 Ardmore Avenue is only about a block beyond the 100-foot prohibition area. And although Hitch Elementary School, the neighborhood public school at 5625 N. McVicker Ave, is some 500 feet away, residents claimed its students, too, would be walking past the hookah bar when going home from school with children getting the message that tobacco use “is okay.”
Parking was another issue even though the property includes seven parking spaces. Residents said they already fight for street parking when a restaurant and other nearby businesses are busy. They disputed the supposition that seven parking spaces would be enough for the hookah bar when it is full with some 50 customers.
In making its case, the applicants promised that no one under the age of 21 would be admitted. They would charge $40-45 for two people and no alcohol would be sold although there would be a BYOB policy. There would be no live music. In response to community objections, however, the applicants later voluntarily agreed to change their proposed opening hours from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. six days a week to 5 p.m. to midnight with an extension to 2 a.m. on weekends.
However, that small concession did not placate the community despite the fact it has spent three years waiting to see a viable tenant come into the storefront on the triangular lot at the intersection of N. Milwaukee and N. Austin. Even the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce—whose number one task has been to reduce business vacancies—stated its opposition to the hookah bar. Meanwhile, Thomas Tsaganos, the property owner of 5762 N. Milwaukee said there have not been many prospective tenants since the title company closed in 2020. The current applicants, having hired an attorney and an architect, are strongly motivated.
Despite widespread condemnation of the hookah bar proposal, Gladstonians had little hope their wishes would be taken seriously. That’s because they knew of a very similar case 10 years earlier when the Prince Hookah Lounge, 5001 N. Harlem Avenue in the Oriole Park neighborhood was approved by the Board of Appeals despite strenuous community objection. Even though residents have complained to the ZBA about how it is now being allowed to stay open until 4 a.m. on weekends, generating noise, litter and overall bad behavior, they have been met with deaf ears. (Customers apparently aren’t wild about the Prince Hookah Lounge either with Yelp reviewers giving it an overall 2-1/2 star rating with one-third more 1-star than 5-star ratings as of December, 2023.)
Then, in a surprise move, the city Department of Planning and Development announced at the two-hour Zoning Board of Appeals meeting that it did not recommend approval of the hookah bar’s special use permit the business needed to open in Gladstone Park, a rare event said to occur in only 1 percent of ZBA cases. However, the DPD had no authority to intervene. And because the Board of Appeals is a quasi-judicial panel that acts independently of the City Council, even the additional opposition of local Alderman Jim Gardner made no difference. The special use permit was granted at its October 20, 2023 meeting with only one member, Sam Toia, voting no.
Residents were not placated when, as part of the approval, the ZBA reduced the bar’s closing hours to 10 p.m. on weekdays and a ban on the BYOB policy. It was unclear by December whether the applicants would still want to open with the reduced hours and alcohol prohibition. But as Attorney Silver made clear, any and all restrictions such as these can be struck down in a year’s time if the hookah bar operates with a positive track record.