Novak Construction company’s plans to redevelop the former North and Harlem Sears location, including its parking lot, has hit a few bureaucratic snags, but Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said that the development is still on track. 

The alderman, whose ward includes the site and most of Galewood, gave an update on the project during his July 14 community safety meeting in response to a question from a constituent.

Taliaferro said that there are two issues holding the project up: the zoning change that was approved as part of the previous redevelopment proposal and a need to vacate an alley that, while no longer physically there, still officially exists from a zoning perspective. 

The developer is also waiting on permits, which were delayed because employees in the city’s building department worked remotely through much of the pandemic. 

Taliaferro is planning to hold another virtual community meeting on July 21 at 6 p.m. Although he didn’t say whether he would reveal more details at that point, he explained that residents are welcome to join the meeting and ask questions about this and any other projects in his ward.

The property under development includes the site of the original Sears store at the northeast corner of North and Harlem avenues and its main parking lot, as well as the auxiliary parking lot directly to the east of it. At the time Sears closed, the property was owned by Seritage Growth Holdings, which was Sears’ real estate arm before being spun off into a separate company. 

Seritage hired Tucker Development to redevelop the property. The plan that went before the city called for mixed-use development that would incorporate the refurbished store building and apartments on the east parking lot. 

As part of the process, the Chicago City Council approved establishing planned development zoning for both lots and changed the underlying zoning to allow mixed-use development on the Sears site and residential development in the parking lot. Any changes to the development plan must be approved by the City Council. 

In September 2020, Seritage sold the property to Chicago-based Novak Construction. The company plans to keep the parking lot redevelopment the same as Tucker’s proposal, but its plans for the store site were different. It demolished the Sears building completely and built a new grocery store, two retail buildings and a drive-through restaurant, while keeping the plans for the east parking lot the same. 

During the July 14 meeting, Taliaferro explained that Novak was still going through the process of changing the zoning for the Sears lot to accommodate the developer’s plans. 

The zoning change needed to be approved by the Chicago Plan Commission and the city council’s Committee on Zoning, Buildings and Landmarks before going before the full City Council for final approval. The most recent July 15 meeting of the Plan Commission didn’t have Novak’s project on the agenda, so the earliest the process can start is August.

Taliaferro also said that the parking lot had a north-south alley that had to be vacated, which also requires City Council approval. He said that the alley was there before Sears was built, when the lots were residential. Even though the alley no longer physically exists, it’s still legally there. 

“You can’t even see this alley,” Taliaferro said. “The houses have been torn down, but there’s an alley that’s supposed to be there.”

Novak Construction did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

To join Taliaferro’s July 21 Zoom meeting, use Meeting ID 868 2200 1141, or call (312) 626-6799.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...