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Chicago wants to sell four parking lots it owns on the North Side

Published on Aug. 10, 2021 by Steven Vance

Plus: One urban planner argues why it would be a good idea to keep a hold on some of the parking spaces.

Chicago’s Department of Planning & Development (DPD) has put up four surface car parking lots for sale on the North and Northwest Sides, expecting to net $10 million in the transactions. They are lightly used: “Between April and December of 2019, the lots’ parking utilization ranged from 3 to 12 percent of capacity”, according to a press release announcing the planned sales.

A little-used surface parking lot at the corner of Lincoln Ave and Berenice Ave in North Center. Photo: Alex Nitkin

All four parking lots are in areas where market activity and rents are high enough to spur and support new construction redevelopment opportunities. Chicago Cityscape’s Address Snapshot reports are the perfect tools to help identify complementary development nearby, amenities, eligibility for the city’s TOD ordinance, and calculate the zoning capacity.

The four parking lots are (links go to Address Snapshot reports, which are available to Cityscape Real Estate Pro members or for a one-time fee):

Want to locate more city-owned land that could be purchased? Most of the over 14,000 properties owned by Chicago can be bought through one of the city’s several acquisition programs, even if that property is not advertised. Chicago Cityscape has the only map of all of these properties, and we have three ways to locate them:

  • Look up city-owned land near an address of interest. Once you access the Address Snapshot for that address, click the “Load Chicago-owned property” button and find land up to one mile away.
The screenshot shows how to find Chicago-owned property near a given address within Address Snapshot.
  • Look up city-owned land in a given ZIP code, ward, or community area. Once you access the Place Snapshot, click the “Load Chicago-owned property” button to find land inside the boundary. Secondarily, use Property Finder and select the Chicago-owned property filter.
  • Look up city-owned land in an area of your choosing by drawing a Personal Place. Then, like the other options, click the “Load Chicago-owned property” button to find land inside the boundary as well as up to one mile away.

By some measures, the planning department in Mayor Lightfoot’s administration has beefed up its operations enough to sell more city-owned commercial-oriented land for better uses than vacancy. The INVEST South/West program is the most visible measure, whereby the department selected large plots — and even some existing buildings — and created robust RFPs with market data and sample renderings to generate wider interest.

The Large Lots program, on the other hand, through which the city sells vacant residential-oriented land to neighboring owners for $1, has been held back for almost three years by internal inter-departmental rules that inhibit or prohibit the sale of city-owned land that needs but hasn’t had environmental remediation. Pretty much all vacant land has some kind of remediation need, but it isn’t publicly known if the city has done enough testing to show that there’s a clear and present danger. Hundreds of Large Lots have already been sold and begun to be used, and even more — sold and unsold — have been used by neighbors long before the program began.

It’s a good thing that City Hall is more active in selling land it owns. Michael Podgers has argued in Streetsblog Chicago, however, that selling surface parking lots without a parking management plan is squandering the opportunity to mitigate the restrictive impacts of the parking meter deal. The need to compensate Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, for any loss in curbside parking makes it imperative to find alternative locations for it. These four parking lots (or parking garages in new residential buildings on these lots) are four ways to make room for the addition of bus lanes and protected bike lanes that the deal obstructs.

The planning department hasn’t indicated how it will evaluate bids, yet according to Alex Nitkin’s article in The Daily Line, “Nelson’s team [a broker at Cushman & Wakefield] will narrow the offers down to ‘a couple of bidders’ and the planning department will collaborate with aldermen to select the winning plan for each site, [Nelson] said.

With Chicago’s property sales programs, the highest bid doesn’t always win due to other criteria. For these parking lots, the city could reserve the right to “keep” some off-street parking spaces (not necessarily in their current physical form) for an eventual swap with curbside parking spaces.

Chicago wants to sell four parking lots it owns on the North Side was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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