I am writing regarding a proposal to construct a Burger King drive-thru restaurant at 7513 N. Clark (in the Gateway Shopping Center). The proposal requires an amendment to the planned development that underlies the Gateway Center Shopping Center. Any amendment to a planned development requires the approval of the Chicago Plan Commission and the Chicago City Council.
I sponsored a community meeting on the proposal in January. Approximately 40 people attended the meeting. In addition, my office received approximately 35 emails and telephone calls and an online petition regarding the project proposal.
Any zoning or land use issue in the 49th Ward that requires my approval or support undergoes an extensive evaluation process that starts with a review by the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee, a committee of neighborhood residents and representatives of the major community organizations in the ward. The Committee reviewed the proposal at two separate meetings. With one member dissenting, the Committee voted to recommend I support the proposed project.
After careful consideration of the Committee’s recommendation and the opinions and suggestions of the community residents who attended the meeting or corresponded with my office, I have decided toSUPPORT the proposed amendment to the Gateway Center planned development, allowing for the Burger King restaurant.
Below are the details of the proposal and my reasons for supporting it:
Burger King Corporation, and its franchisee Adam Velarde, propose constructing and operating a Burger King restaurant with a drive thru on the vacant “out-lot” that exists along Clark Street in the Gateway Center, just north of the building that houses the Dominick’s (see photo on left, courtesy of DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard).
When the shopping center was constructed fourteen years ago, the out-lot was intended to be developed at a later date for a commercial use compatible with the other tenants in the center. Despite aggressive marketing efforts on the part of the owners and managers of the Gateway Center, only one other serious proposal for the site has been proffered in the 14 years since the center opened.
In 2008, Panda Restaurant Group, Inc., proposed a Panda Express restaurant and drive-thru at the location. However, the Panda Express proposal called for the drive-thru lane to run immediately adjacent to the sidewalk along Clark Street with the restaurant located behind the drive-thru lane. The plan was so poorly conceived that I rejected it out of hand, as did Dominick’s, the anchor tenant in the center, which retains the right to approve any development that reduces parking in the Center.
A rendering of the proposed Burger King is pictured on the right. The current lot is 7,720 square feet in size and the proposed the building would be 2,598 square feet with 19 parking spaces located east of the restaurant.
The proposed restaurant would be constructed immediately adjacent to the sidewalk along Clark Street. The drive-thru lane, which would run behind the restaurant, allows for the “stacking” of eight cars and would be accessible by the existing entrances to the shopping center. No additional automobile entrances would be constructed. Patrons on foot would be able to enter the restaurant through an entrance on Clark Street.
The restaurant and drive-thru will be open every day from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, with 40 to 50 cars an hour using the drive-thru at the peak hours of operation from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m..
The traffic engineering firm of Gewalt Hamilton Associates analyzed the plan and determined that the Gateway Center has the requisite capacity to serve the restaurant and the associated traffic would not impact Clark Street adversely.
The franchisee, who owns 28 other Burger King restaurants in the Chicago area, estimated the restaurant would create approximately 40 jobs. If approved, the restaurant would be completed within three months of receiving the requisite permits from the City of Chicago.
For copies of the site plans, elevations and renderings, click on the attachments below:
The drive-thru would result in the net loss of 13 parking spaces. Before the proposal could be considered by the City and me, it required the approval of Dominick’s, which, under the terms of its Gateway Center lease, retains the right to approve any proposal that would reduce the number of parking spaces in the Center. After lengthy negotiations, Dominick’s approved the plan.
THE PROCESS LEADING UP TO MY DECISION
As with most development proposals, the Zoning Advisory Committee and I negotiated several changes to the original proposal. The most significant change was to the facade of the restaurant. The initial proposal called for the Burger King to follow the current corporate prototype for new Burger Kings, which was a facade clad in a blond face brick. I insisted that the facade instead closely match the red face brick of the buildings in and near the shopping center complex. Burger King agreed to my request.
At the community meeting, the Burger King representatives also agreed to paint a pedestrian crosswalk at the northbound entrance to the shopping center to provide extra added safety to pedestrians.
In addition, the Committee and I obtained a commitment from Mr. Velarde, the franchisee, to give hiring preference to Rogers Park residents and avail himself of the services of the Howard Area Community Center’s Employment Resource Center. He also agreed to ask Burger King’s corporate headquarters to consider using local union tradesmen in the construction of the restaurant.
Mr. Velarde also agreed to install security cameras around the building and actively monitor and disperse any loiterers inside and in front of the restaurant. He agreed to direct his managers to ask loiterers to move and if a loiterer does not cooperate, to have his managers call 911, sign a complaint when officers arrive, and go to court.
Finally, Mr. Velarde agreed to require his employees to patrol the area surrounding the restaurant and pick up litter and to keep waste receptacles from overflowing.
I accept the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee’s recommendation that I support the proposed Burger King development. A Burger King restaurant is compatible with the shopping center development and is the type of use that was contemplated when the shopping center first opened 14 years ago. Mr. Velarde, the proposed franchisee, is an experienced Burger King franchise operator, who enjoys an excellent reputation, having operated 28 stores in the Chicago area with little, if any, complaints in the communities in which his stores are located.
Many of those who patronize the Burger King will likely patronize the other businesses in the shopping center, which undoubtedly is why Dominick’s approved the plan despite the loss of 13 parking spaces. More traffic through the shopping center means more business for the other retailers.
The Burger King will generate approximately 40 jobs and the Mr. Velarde has pledged to fill those positions with neighborhood residents. Though most of these jobs are part-time jobs at slightly above the minimum wage, they provide an important entry point to the workforce for many young people in the neighborhood and will help other individuals supplement their family income.
Though some may prefer a more traditional sit-down restaurant or other retail use at the site, no restaurants or retail establishments, other than Panda Express, have expressed an interest in the site in the 14 years of the shopping center’s existence despite aggressive marketing efforts. The realities of the market are such that a drive-thru restaurant is the only viable use for that location.
Allow me to address a number of concerns expressed by some members of the community regarding the proposed Burger King development.
A number of residents have expressed concern about the potential traffic that the Burger King could generate. No doubt the Burger King will bring some additional traffic to the shopping center. A traffic study commissioned by a reputable traffic engineering firm determined, however, that the shopping center and Clark Street could handle the traffic the Burger King would generate.
Moreover, the Gateway Shopping Center development originally contemplated a multi-screen movie theater complex at the eastern edge of the center where the LA Fitness Health Club and Marshall’s are now located. The traffic studies at the time determined the area could accommodate the traffic generated by the movie theaters. If the area could handle the hundreds of cars leaving the center after the end of a movie, certainly it can handle traffic generated by a Burger King drive-thru, which the traffic study estimated to be only 40 to 50 cars per hour during the peak time of its operation.
Trash, litter and loitering concerns
Other residents expressed concern about litter and potential loitering that might take place in and around the restaurant. This certainly is a legitimate concern. But Mr. Velarde’s spotless track record at his other stores and his pledge to pick up litter regularly and eject any loiterers from his store should provide the community with a strong measure of comfort. Certainly my office will closely monitor the store to make sure Mr. Velarde makes good on his pledges.
Some residents, especially those who live in the nearby condominium building at Howard and Clark have expressed concern about the odors emanating from the Burger King. As Mr. Velarde explained at the community meeting, Burger King plans to install a state-of-the-art exhaust system, which promises to greatly minimize the odor generated by the frying hamburgers. Moreover, it is doubtful that the odors would be any more intrusive than those emitted from the grilled hamburgers at the Hop Haus restaurant, which is located immediately next door to the condominium building.
Concern about wages and the quality of food offered by Burger King
A number of individuals expressed opposition to the Burger King because it pays its workers low wages and, in their view, does not serve healthy food. As a long time supporter of living wages, I certainly share the desire to see all workers paid a living wage. However, the reality is that few restaurants, other than the high-priced venues downtown, pay their workers a “living wage.”
If we were to impose a living wage requirement for restaurants in the 49th Ward, our community would be devoid of any eateries at all. Those who share the concern for the wages of workers should focus their attention on Springfield and Washington and lobby their representative to raise the minimum wage for all workers. If such efforts are successful, we also should be prepared to pay more for our food.
As one who has greatly curtailed his consumption of fast food in recent years, I understand and appreciate the concern about the high fat and caloric content of much of Burger King’s offerings. At the same time, some of our finest restaurants also offer fatty foods that are high in calories, as anyone who has ever consumed a plateful of fettuccine alfredo can attest. We travel down a slippery slope if we use the quality of a restaurant’s food as a criteria for zoning relief.
The key to encouraging good eating habits and reducing the epidemic of obesity is public education, not our zoning code.
For those who wish to avail themselves of healthier food alternatives, our neighborhood offers a range of options, inlcuding the Heartland Cafe, Uncommon Ground, Act One Cafe, Gruppo di Amici, Morsel, and Sahara Kabob, among others.
Concern about the fate of the former Burger King at Howard and Claremont
Finally, a number of people have inquired about the fate of the Burger King, which once operated at 2321 W. Howard (at Claremont). Some have asked why Burger King simply does not re-open at that location. Others have expressed fear that the proposed Burger King at the Gateway Shopping Center will meet a fate similar to that of the Howard-Claremont Burger King.
Burger King no longer owns the Claremont and Howard site, having sold the property three years ago. Burger King explains that the previous store was owned by an incompetent franchisee, who ran the restaurant poorly until Burger King stepped in to shut it down. They believe the Clark Street location has much greater potential. As I indicated above, Mr. Verlade, the proposed franchisee at this location has a strong track record, having operated 28 restaurants successfully. And Burger King states he is one of their chain’s strongest operators.
On balance, I believe the Burger King will be good for the neighborhood and a good corporate citizen. It will make use of a vacant parcel that has remained dormant for years and help to generate additional business for the Gateway Center. It also will provide needed job opportunities in an area of high unemployment.
I want to thank everyone who took the time to attend the community meeting and/or express their views on the proposed Burger King drive-thru. Our community is filled with people who care passionately about their community. It is one of our Ward’s greatest strengths.
If you have any questions or further comments regarding my decision, please feel free to reply to this email.