Preliminary Galewood McDonalds plans shared during the May 24 community meeting | Provided

A long vacant Walgreen’s store on North Avenue in Galewood could become a McDonald’s though some neighbors objected at a community meeting last week saying the site is already a traffic tangle as Ridgeland, Narragansett, North Avenue and Mobile Avenue all cross at the foot of the elevated development parcel.

The developer and Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) promised a follow-up meeting in short order that would also include representatives from the fast-food chain.

Troutman & Dams, a real estate firm based in Chicago’s Elston Industrial Corridor, is working with McDonald’s to open a restaurant with a drive-thru at 1606 N. Mobile Ave., Chicago.

Eric Dams, one of the firm’s principals, unveiled the proposal during Taliaferro’s May 17 community meeting, which was held at Rutherford Sayre fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave. He said his firm is in the process of buying the site, and, if the deal is complete, they will lease it to McDonald’s.

The plans call for them to demolish the Walgreens building and build a smaller building with a wraparound drive-thru. Cars would enter through the existing entrance at the southwest corner of the lot, and there would be 45 parking spaces along the lot’s perimeter. The drive-thru requires a Special Use permit, and the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals usually defers to local aldermen on whether to grant one.

During the meeting, several residents expressed concern about the drive-thru’s impact on traffic, both along North Avenue and the nearby residential streets, as well as noise and customers tossing garbage onto the street.

Dams said that McDonald’s would mitigate the noise. The drive-thru window would be facing North Avenue, and the site would be surrounded by a six-foot fence.

Beth Chlumecky was one of several neighbors who said she was worried not just about the customer cars, but the freight delivery trucks.

“Nobody wants a semi up and down the street, that damages the street. that damages the trees,” she said. “And that little section of traffic is a nightmare as it is. Adding a drive-thru is even more problematic [for] traffic in that area.”

Dams emphasized that the plans shared during the meeting are preliminary, and he would be willing to have another meeting to share more details. Taliaferro said he will schedule another community meeting, which would include McDonald’s representatives, sometime in the next 1-2 weeks.

The site takes up most of the land between Narragansett Avenue and the spot where Ridgeland Avenue becomes Mobile Avenue. Cars traveling north tend to turn from Ridgeland to Narragansett. A bus turnaround used by Pace bus route 311 and some rush hour CTA Route 72/North buses is located on the west edge of the side, wrapping around a Dunkin Donuts location. To further complicate the situation, the lot is partially raised, because the ground slopes slightly east of Narraganset – which means that the developer is limited to the access point that’s already there.

The Walgreens was closed in early summer of 2015. It served as a COVID-19 testing site at the height of the pandemic, but, other than that, the site remained vacant. It ended up in foreclosure in 2022, and it was purchased in an auction by a company that, according to the Illinois Secretary of State data, is owned by executives at Manhattan-based Tokio Marine HCC insurance company.

Dams said that his company has been working with the current owners to advertise the site for prospective tenants.

“We’ve been working on the site for the last 9-10 months, the interest that we had is auto parts, collision repair, a plasma donation center, a dollar store, not some of the things that we thought would work with the community,” he said.

Dams said that they couldn’t get any grocery tenants to open on a lot that size.

“The size of the building is currently 12,000 square feet, and most grocers are 30,000 square feet, and there’s not enough property to do a bigger-size building and have enough parking,” Dams said.

While they initially wanted to preserve the building, none of the prospective tenants were interested. McDonald’s, he said, has been the most promising possibility thus far.

“I don’t know what the feeling, the feedback [from the community] is for McDonald’s, but that’s what I’m here to get,” he said.” I’ll take all your questions, comments.”

Dams said the lease would be with McDonald’s, and it would be up to the fast-food chain to decide whether they operate a corporate-operated or franchised location.

“McDonald’s does it the right way, it will be a nice-looking building, masonry on all four sides,” he said. “The site lighting will all be cut off at the property line, so it doesn’t spill out to adjacent neighbors.”

The current zoning allows them to put in a restaurant by right, but drive-thrus require a Special Use permit.

When asked about job opportunities for local youth, Dams said that the location “will be hiring 30-40 full-time employees.”

Athena Williams, a neighbor of the site as well as executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, echoed other neighbors’ concerns and questioned whether the area even needed a McDonald’s, saying that there are several nearby.

While there are currently no McDonald’s in Galewood itself, Austin as a whole has three – at 5133 W. North Ave., 5015 W. Madison St. and 5153 W. Chicago Ave. The Elmwood Park McDonald’s is located near Galewood’s north border, at 7217 W. Grand Ave., and the River Forest location is also within easy driving distance, at 626 N. Harlem Ave.

Dams responded that McDonald’s considers its locations carefully and studies what impact a new location might have on the existing ones.

“Their study is very sophisticated, and their biggest concern is impacting the other stores,” he said.

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...