Despite its suburban reputation, some of the most appealing parts of Beverly/Morgan Park are its decidedly un-suburban characteristics.
However, with a planned new development at 1943 W. Monterey Ave., the neighborhood is taking a step backwards by emulating a traditionally suburban style of development.
The city recently sold the parcel in question, which is located directly across from the 111th Street Metra station, for $1 to a developer who plans to build a single freestanding Dunkin Donuts on the site.
Given the city’s leverage, it is disappointing how little the community will gain from the deal.
For context, in the early 20th century, the same parcel of land was home to six distinct storefronts. A building consistent with that traditional style of development can be seen to the west on the 1900 block of West 111th Street, where residences are housed above ground-floor retail.
In contrast to the value the neighborhood historically derived from the plot of land, the single Dunkin Donuts will be accompanied by nothing more than an eight-space parking lot and a drive-thru. Given that the last thing the community needs is more space dedicated to cars, this is a troubling use of real estate—especially considering the Metra station and CTA bus route that the site abuts.
“Transit-oriented development” is a concept that includes a set of principles about how to best maximize land use in areas served by public transportation. In a situation such as this one, encouraging a transit-oriented development pattern over a suburban one is beneficial for multiple reasons.
In addition to being better for the environment and stimulating better public health outcomes, transit-oriented development also contributes to a more vibrant local economy.
Much of what makes the Beverly/Morgan Park area attractive is traces of a more traditional built form over that of a suburban model: mixed-use, live-work-shop corridors, commercial and residential districts connected by a street grid and a community accessible to pedestrians and transit riders as well as drivers.
Perhaps one of the most egregious aspects of the Dunkin Donuts development is the missed opportunity to add more residences to the neighborhood. More neighbors equates to more patrons for local businesses, more transit riders and an increased tax base for the city. All this on top of the fact that the country is currently facing an affordable housing crisis and the Beverly area lags far behind many of its Chicago neighbors in fostering multifamily housing.
I lament that 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea’s office has handed over city-owned land virtually free of charge only to gain so little in return. The Beverly/Morgan Park area deserves more. The neighborhood deserves to have people prioritized over cars as well as have assets added to the community rather than them being chipped away.
While this development is but one parcel of land, it sadly speaks to a larger trend of the last several decades: the suburbanization of central cities. One only needs to look at the sea of parking lots that have taken over Monterey Avenue as evidence of this.
I plan to continue advocating for a more traditional style of development in the hopes that developments such as the one in question do not proliferate to the point of rendering the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood just another Chicago suburb.
The health of the environment, families and communities depends upon it.
Will you join me?
Editor’s note: Scott Kibler, a Chicago transplant from the Pacific Northwest, currently resides in the Beverly/Morgan Park. He holds a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in urban planning from the University of Minnesota, and he works in healthcare.