On the subject of Metra

Got a couple other things in the works, but for the moment, a developer read my post at Streetsblog last week about how Metra needs to get some people near its damn stations and proposed a 20-story rental tower across the street from a station in suburban Park Ridge. Park Ridge is not amused:

“Something like this is not going to be well-taken. And it’s not well-taken by me,” said commissioner Jim Argionis.

“We can’t make this work. This can’t be done,” Kocisko said. He added that though the city may generate added property tax from the development, there would also be an increase in city services required for so many new residents.

Kirkby called the plan “preposterous” and compared the design to something that might be found in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood or in Dubai.

A couple thoughts.

1. That is one ugly building. (There’s a rendering in the article I linked to.)

2. Park Ridge is exactly the kind of suburb/neighborhood that is hugely desirable and yet has used its zoning laws to keep out the kind of people for whom moving to Park Ridge would be a major advancement in terms of neighborhood safety, access to jobs, and high-quality public education. As of 2010, Park Ridge was 93% white, the median family income was $110,000, and the median house sold for $420,000. It’s got to be less than half an hour on Metra to downtown Chicago. And yet Park Ridge – like, say, Lincoln Park – actually lost population between 2000 and 2010.

3. In the real world, Park Ridge is never going to approve a 20-story glass box in the middle of a small, low-rise downtown surrounded by single family homes. But there is, in fact, a middle ground. Instead of saying “We can’t make this work,” a commissioner might say something like: “This plan as submitted doesn’t make sense for Park Ridge. But we know that we have to let our town grow. Come back to us with something that won’t look like it was airdropped in by mistake. Come back with a midrise, in other words, whose aesthetics match the expectations of the community.” There are ways to add density without sticking your finger quite as deeply into the eyes of your new neighbors.

Just for fun, here’s Park Ridge’s zoning map. See if you can find the places where apartments aren’t illegal! (Hint: It’s almost nowhere.)


8 thoughts on “On the subject of Metra

  1. The problem with point 3 is that Park Ridge’s desired aesthetic is 100% single-family. Mid-rises would elicit the same reaction. In Austin, single-family neighborhoods have protested plans to construct duplexes. Any adding of density is going to stick a finger in the eyes of the privileged.

    1. Yeah, that’s definitely the case. And that’s why there needs to be some sort of democratic accountability on housing policy above the micro-suburban level.

  2. Compare Park Ridge to Highland Park. While HP is still definitely suburban, and I haven’t looked up the details of the particular zoning classifications, the overall trend is for denser development near the railroad tracks and especially around the main downtown train station, with lesser density farther from there and along the lakefront. Ravinia’s business district is rather constrained, and as I’ve mentioned once before, Braeside at the very bottom of the map is a joke. Nevertheless, the overall pattern is relatively simple and logical at first glance, with a very strong downtown presence. It’s kind of ironic that Park Ridge is the way it is, because it’s much closer to downtown Chicago, and it has a more urban (think streetcar suburb rather than railroad suburb) development pattern than you see on the North Shore.

    Click to access Zoning_Map_2013_Color_ReducedSize_201312020823447694.pdf

  3. I’ll be a little bit kinder to the commissioners than Alon. Park Ridge has a comprehensive plan (link below) specifically drafted for Uptown that goes on in great detail about height, bulk, proportion, building materials, architectural style and so on. The proposed building transgresses just about every design recommendation that was put forth in this document. Why the commissioners were incapable of or unwilling to articulate these design standards in response to the proposal, I don’t know, but I have to question how the developers could possibly have expected a different response. Perhaps they thought they might push the envelope as far as they could initially, but there’s also the risk of making a first impression so bad that the city doesn’t even feel inclined to work with you. Having your proposal insulted is probably not a good omen.

    In any event, the parking podium by itself works pretty well as massing for a midrise building, and I have a feeling that, if you removed the podium and redistributed the 16-story residential component over the parcel, perhaps as a courtyard building, you could maintain the same square footage with a four to six story building. With the parking requirements (390 spaces!) perhaps making midrise residential structures difficult to either design or pencil out, the standards in the comprehensive plan seem rather quaint and naive.

    Click to access 2002UptownPlan.pdf

    1. Yeah, I think this is the thing. There ought to be, in the circumstances, something that looks like a good faith effort. There isn’t here. But yeah: I’d love to see Park Ridge be progressive enough to reshape these units into midrise form. The parking really is peculiar: I would think there’d be some incentive for locals to embrace low parking requirements, at least near train stations, to keep other cars off the road. Maybe there are inroads that can be made on that point.

  4. The combination of single family detached homes with a few high rises in a cluster isn’t a fantasy design; it exists in suburban Vancouver (and maybe Toronto). Usually some townhomes and low rise are mixed in, but the combination is normal there.

    1. Yeah. There is a pair of Google Streetview images I show everywhere I get to talk, which show a high-rise cluster in ~inner ring suburban Toronto, and the blocks of single family homes a quarter mile away. It’s pretty striking for most people, since generally speaking in the U.S. that *is* a fantasy design.

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