WILMETTE – Graduate students from the University of Illinois at Chicago have recommended Chicago Transit Authority officials consider selling a portion of the Linden CTA Station’s parking area located in Wilmette to developers who could build a mixed-used residential multi-story building.
Students enrolled in UIC’s Transit Oriented Development Studio program conducted a study of the Linden CTA Station to determine whether surplus parking lots could be put “to more productive use for future redevelopment projects,” according to the UIC website. The study was funded by the CTA, Regional Transportation Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Initiative.
A new transit-oriented development in Linden Square — a business district that has suffered from empty storefronts and a shortage of pedestrian traffic — could potentially reverse the negative retail climate, according to the study’s authors. The CTA would also benefit financially from the sale of the land, as well as a potential boost in Purple Line ridership.
According to the study, the Linden Station CTA train lags other end-of-the line stations, such as the neighboring Howard Station in Evanston where the Red Line terminates. The Linden Station boasts merely 1,125 riders, versus Howard Station’s 7,912 riders.
Likewise, the Linden Station’s parking lots are under-utilized, according to the study. In 2014, the parking lot never exceeded 50%, while in 2015 it exceeded 50% only between July and September, primarily due to the Chicago Cubs baseball season.
The students estimated the CTA could sell 40% of the parking area for between $2.6 million and $3.5 million, or sell half of its parking area for between $3.3 million and $4.4 million, while retaining sufficient parking spaces for riders. The CTA station sits on a 5.4-acre lot.
The land value was estimated at $56 per square foot, after comparing the development value to 611 Green Bay Road in downtown Wilmette — where a TOD is in the works — and 1620 Central Street, Evanston, the site of a TOD developed in the last few years. The students estimated the Linden Station’s land value at a mid-point between those two comparables, where 611 Green Bay Road is valued at over $79 per square foot and 1620 Central Street at $89 per square foot.
Another factor the students considered was navigating the village’s zoning process. Additional building height could increase the CTA’s sale price, according to the study. Accordingly, the students recommended the CTA allow for a 9 to 12 month period for developers to secure a zoning approval.
Currently, the Linden Square business district is limited to three-story buildings, but the study did not rule out seeking a zoning variance for a four-story project. The area was rezoned about 10 years ago from two-and-a-half stories to three stories — among other zoning changes — to help revitalize the business district, according to Jonathan Adler, community development director. Adler also said the village would likely consider a proposal that exceeded current height restrictions.
“The village would be open to considering that. The village would have to see a proposal and there are other buildings of similar height in the neighborhood,” he said. Whether it would be approved, Adler was unsure.
Few in Wilmette would argue that Linden Square has not suffered from a downward retail climate. Julie Yusim, executive director of the Wilmette-Kenilworth Chamber of Commerce, was supportive of the concept. “I think that if it is redeveloped for a demographic that has disposable income, it will be a boon for this area,” Yusim said in response to questions from DailyNorthShore.com. “If it becomes condos or upscale rental, the residents will be happy to have conveniences close by (i.e. dry cleaners, workouts, massage, dental), which hopefully would encourage a viable grocery with sundries, additional restaurants, coffee, bakery, etc. I would hope that more people living here will provide more foot-traffic – that seems to be the biggest problem attracting those kind of uses currently,” she said.
But Bernon Wiley, owner of Comix Gallery located at 405 Linden Avenue, remains skeptical. Wiley told DailyNorthShore.com he has operated his store for over 20 years in the same location but has never seen anything developed the area. “I’ve been here over 20 years and I have never seen any plans come off the ground. I don’t take it too seriously,” he said.
Wiley noted that the business district was re-zoned to three stories to encourage development, but nothing ever came of it. He also expressed uncertainty that one development would make an impact on the business vitality of the area. “I don’t think one building will make much of a difference,” he said.
To view UIC’s study go to www.utc.uic.edu.
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