Fulton Market residents object to plans for narrow alleys
November 2, 2017

By Patrick Butler

And Eva Hoffmann

Fulton Market residents have asked 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett and the Chicago Plan Commission to delay approval of several proposed developments in order to enforce the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT’s) requirement that alleys measure 18 feet wide in the greater downtown area, which includes the Fulton Market area.

CDOT’s Street & Site Plan Design Standards say: “Alleys in the Greater Downtown Area (bounded by North Avenue, Ashland Avenue, Cermak Road, and Lake Michigan) should be a minimum of 18 feet to allow bypassing of trucks stopped in the alley, or the width necessary to accommodate movements into and out of loading docks, as determined by an engineering evaluation of truck turning templates.”

In spite of this rule, proposed developments at 328 N. Carpenter St. and 172 N. Ada St., which came up for discussion at a recent Plan Commission meeting, do not include 18 foot alleys.  While the alley width for 172 N. Ada is unclear (the developer did not respond to requests for clarification), residents voiced concerns that the proposed alley width measures less than 18 feet. The Carpenter St. developer, Sterling Bay Co., wants an alley only ten feet wide. Marquette Cos. is the developer for 172 N. Ada St.

In these cases and others, residents said developers easily can expand the alley widths to 18 feet due to the lack of existing structures abutting the alleys.

After the Fulton Market Association abruptly canceled an Oct. 14 community meeting to discuss City plans to enforce the alley width requirement, officials set a second for Oct. 26—only to have Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward) abruptly call it off to make way for an emergency public safety meeting in the wake of an assault at Madison and Aberdeen Streets.

Earlier alley meetings had been held on Aug. 17, Sept. 14, and Sept. 21.

Fulton Market resident and business owner Vlad Kagan said he found it “disconcerting” to find Burnett taking his notes on a Sterling Bay note pad during an earlier meeting on Sterling Bay’s plans for the neighborhood.

According to Kagan, the area needs 18-foot alleys for reasonable setbacks between existing, modest-scale buildings in the Fulton Market Historic District.

“A lot of the residents were relieved that the rule was going to be enforced,” Kagan said. “But now it looks like certain developers are getting a pass on that rule.”

Quality of life

“The reason it affects me so personally is quality of life,” Kagan added. “No amount of privacy blinds give you real privacy.”

Kagan and other residents said Fulton Market also needs the wider alleys so delivery and service trucks can access them to avoid double parking on adjacent streets, thus creating safer conditions for Fulton Market pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles and for snow removal in wintertime.

“Voters are asking our alderman to enforce City rules to keep the Fulton City Market livable and safe,” said Kagan.  “Our community welcomes new development, but we need appropriate street planning to accommodate large-scale new development.

“Sometimes parking goes into the alleys, some of which are only ten feet wide,” he continued. “You can basically jump in your neighbor’s window. With an 18-foot alley, that condo you bought for a lot of money can actually get some natural light.  As people who live in the West Loop, we don’t know what’s coming up next to us. The alderman may have known for a year about a new development, but until there’s a community meeting, we’re the last to know.

“Part of the frustration is, if there’s a rule, why are we going back on it now?” Kagan asked.

Insure ample space

“Fulton Market is one of Chicago’s oldest communities, with narrow streets and alleys,” said Aberdeen Street resident Ross Dereu.  “If we’re building highrise buildings and greatly increasing neighborhood density, we need to insure ample space for vehicle movements through our alleys.”

On Sept. 29, residents gave Burnett a petition signed by residents and business owners asking his support in making sure any developers in the Fulton Street Market area comply with existing alley width regulations.

They also asked Burnett to meet with Fulton Market residents and business owners to “clarify” the apparent discrepancies in the alley regulations requiring 18-foot alleys in some locations and 16 in others.

According to Kagan, Burnett has yet to meet with the local residents and business group. Burnett could not be reached for comment.

The Friends of Fulton Market has served as an open forum for Fulton Market area residents since last November.

The group is asking 27th Ward voters to continue signing petitions demanding the City enforce regulations requiring 18-foot alley widths in the Fulton Market area. To sign the petition, e-mail your name and address to friendsoffultonmarket@gmail.com or visit the Friends of Fulton Market on Facebook.

To contact Burnett’s office, call (312) 432-1995.

Developers Sterling Bay and Marquette Cos., Burnett, and CDOT did not respond to requests for comment.