Wal-Mart: Lakeviewers wonder, some worry

December 10, 2010

By Odette Yousef

Wal-Mart is rumored to plan its first Chicago North Side location in the Lakeview neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

A report that Wal-Mart intends to open its first North Side Chicago store in the Lakeview neighborhood has already raised the hackles of many community residents and business types. But beyond making a Facebook page and complaining to their alderman, it’s not entirely clear what recourse objecting residents will have. “They picked a location that they most likely knew that would be less opportunity for opposition for them to move forward,” said Maureen Martino, head of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.

 
But first…it should be noted that neither Wal-Mart, nor the company that owns the property at 2840 N Broadway Ave., has confirmed that anything’s been signed. From a Wal-Mart spokesperson: “We have not executed a contract on any new sites in Chicago and we do not have any new projects to announce. We are evaluating opportunities – small, medium and large – across the entire city.” From an employee that picked up the phone at Mid America Real Estate Group: “No comment.” 
 
Still, members of the local residents organization and the chamber of commerce will meet on Monday to figure out what it could mean for the neighborhood, should the big box chain move in. York Chan, president of the South East Lake View Neighbors, said most residents he’s talked to so far oppose the project. But he admitted nobody really knows what they’re objecting to. "We're 24 hours into this without anything proposed,” said Chan. “No one's able to truly evaluate what would be stopping them."
 
Chan says, normally, when residents object to a new building development in their neighborhood, they can oppose it and potentially kill it during the public zoning process. But when a retailer moves into an existing commercial space that already has the necessary zoning? “That’s what we’re trying to figure out, too,” said Chan. Previously, the space under discussion housed Pet Smart, Wolf Camera, Maui Wowie, and Hollywood Video stores.
 
44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney is also waiting to see plans before he can say where, exactly, residents would have a chance to scrutinize any plan for the 30,000+ sq. ft. property. But he said there’s no question that they will have a chance. “We would ask any retailer to come to our community if they were interested,” said Tunney, “to meet with the chambers of commerce, the residential neighborhood organizations, and then also we have a planning and zoning committee for the entire ward.” Tunney said he learned about the potential deal the same way residents did – from news reports. He says he won’t take a position until he sees a plan.
 
While Tunney awaits more information, his opponent in the 44th Ward aldermanic race has been less circumspect. On his Facebook wall, David Winner says he’s “very concerned” about the possible new retailer in the neighborhood. “Besides adding to congestion to an already congested area, this may be the breaking point in what we know as the small ‘mom and pop’ shops along Broadway and Diversey,” he wrote. Unless the rumors of Walmart’s entrée to the neighborhood are conclusively squashed, this issue will likely be a big issue in the race. If nowhere else, the ballot box may become the place where residents voice their concerns.