CLOSING IN?: An architectural rendering detailing plans for the Sears at the corner of North Avenue and Harlem. The plan could become reality if Ald. Taliaferro signs off on various zoning issues, but not before the public chimes in. | Rendering courtesy of Seritage

Residents of Galewood and nearby Oak Park, River Forest and Elmwood Park will get one last chance to give their input on the proposed redevelopment of the former Sears store and its parking lots at the northeast corner of North and Harlem Avenues.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes the site, said that he intends to have one final vote during his regular June 19 community meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. at Rutherford Sayre Fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave.

On June 14, Taliaferro had not yet announced the vote on his ward Facebook page or through his online newsletter. When reached by phone, however, he indicated that the vote would take place during his community meeting. 

Seritage Growth Properties, which owns the site, is working with Highland Park-based Tucker Development to build a mix-use project on the site that would include retail and residential components. The project requires two zoning changes, which in Chicago traditionally requires the local alderman’s blessing. 

Last week, the zoning application appeared on the agenda of the June 20 meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission. The commission’s approval is the first step in finalizing the zoning change. The commission meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at Chicago City Council chambers, 121 North LaSalle St.  

Taliaferro said that Tucker Development has made some “small modifications,” specifically mentioning “more green space,” but he declined to elaborate further, saying that he would share the information at the meeting. Seritage spokesperson Abe Tekippe wrote in an email that “that there are no updates to share at this time.”

Although the alderman said that he takes public input seriously, he was sensitive to the fact that developers and prospective tenants wanted to move on the project as quickly as possible, and he had no interest in spending any more time discussing the project after Wednesday’s meeting.

When a property owner applies for a zoning change, it goes through several commissions and committees, with the full Chicago City Council making the final decision. 

But in practice, they tend to defer to the wishes of local aldermen. When Lori Lightfoot was sworn in as mayor, she issued an executive order that banned the so-called “aldermanic prerogative” when it comes to city department decisions, but the order made no reference to City Council, its committees and other decision-making bodies. 

During Taliaferro’s March 25 community meeting, Tucker Development explained that they are looking to turn  the Sears building into a mixed-use development, with branches of an unnamed “national grocery store” chain and “national health club” chain occupying the first floor, apartments on the existing second and third floors, and two more floors built above them. 

The developers are also planning to build apartments and townhomes on the parking lot north of the Bank of America building, with the buildings wrapping around a resident-only parking lot in the middle.

According to the June 20 Plan Commission agenda, Seritage applied to change the zoning for both the Sears building and the parking lot to planned developments. The Sears building would have 161 apartments and a total of 472 parking spaces for residents and customers, while the other lot would have a total of 152 dwelling units and 177 parking spaces.

Originally, Taliaferro planned to let residents hold the vote on whether he should support the zoning changes during the April 24 community meeting, but he decided to postpone the vote to wait for the traffic study to be completed. 

Taliaferro also wanted time to see if the developer and the city could agree on reduced density and the number of affordable housing units. 

When reached for comment, Judith Alexander, chair of the North Avenue District, noted that the recent Urban Land Institute report listed the site as a potential catalyst for revitalization.

“We hope all remaining open issues — including zoning — are soon resolved to the satisfaction of the interested parties so that the project can move forward in a timely fashion,” she said.

“We need this project in our community,” Taliaferro said. “We need quality retail, we need new quality grocery stores.”

Taliaferro also said that he received “hundreds of calls” both for and against the project. The phone calls, along with the June 19 vote, will shape his decision, he said.

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