Neighbors Fear CTA Project


By Robert C. Herguth

Date of Publication: January 17, 2002
Source: Chicago Sun-Times


Homes, restaurants, taverns and at least one church property--nearly 100 private parcels of land--stand in the way of the CTA's $540 million renovation of the Brown Line, according to the agency's preliminary list.

Only 19 public and private lots had to be acquired for the $483 million reconstruction of the Blue Line's Douglas Branch.

Work on the Brown Line, which opened in 1907, is cutting a larger swath because the North Side neighborhoods along it are more built up. The CTA plans to buy up whole parcels or parts of them or the air rights above them.

Buying so much land--or seizing it when owners don't want to sell--will cost the CTA big bucks, more than the $1.4 million spent on Blue Line property. The CTA refuses to say exactly how much has been set aside.

The CTA says most Brown Line riders will welcome the project because it will bring relief to crowded trains and platforms, but few people whose land is being eyed by the agency are looking forward to the work ahead.

"You've worked so hard to attain this parking, and at the end of the day to see someone come and confiscate it, it doesn't sit well," said George Kafkes, parish council president for St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 2701 N. Sheffield.

A public staircase for a rebuilt Diversey station could gobble 15 spaces from the church lot, and new platforms would extend over the lot, potentially hindering future development. Kafkes fears more crime and wonders why the work can't be moved to, among other places, the dog park across the street.

"All options" are being considered to sway the CTA, including litigation, he added.

The owners of Polar Hardware Manufacturing, 1813 W. Montrose, say the planned expansion of the Montrose station would force their loading dock to be moved, eat into employee parking and make deliveries tougher at the adjoining Fannie May store.

The designs make little sense and this project may be the straw that forces a move to the suburbs, said co-owner Robert C. Albert.

"They're not worried about us--100 some employees at a growing company," he said.

A new Addison station probably will displace a popular nightspot known for its martinis, the Tiny Lounge at 1814 W. Addison. That's "disconcerting" to owner-operator Colleen Flaherty.

"We're identified as being under the Brown Line. That's usually how people find us," she said of the oddly shaped and, because of its narrow size, aptly named bar. "That I won't find again, the actual space."

Another concern: The bar is almost three years old, but its liquor license dates to the 1950s. What happens to the license if the bar moves?

The Brown Line work could be a "triple-whammy" for Mary Haas. Her Creative Claythings shop and pottery school at 3412 N. Southport might be razed. Because she lives upstairs, she'd have to find a new home to make way for Southport station expansion.

"I'm 52 years old. I've been here for 20 years and I have multiple sclerosis," she said. "Starting over doesn't really appeal to me. . . . Stress is awful on MS, and I would say this is a stressful situation."

Other targeted buildings include DePaul University's Hayes-Healy athletic building, built in 1929 and located in a historic district, and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center's five-level parking garage.

The project's price has soared from the $300 million range as the scope has grown.

Earlier in the week, CTA officials said the initiative would cost around $500 million. Later they said $540 million is a more solid figure.

The work will extend platforms by at least 100 feet, allowing for eight-car trains on the line, which saw a 9 percent growth in ridership over the past year. The platforms account for most of the air rights to be purchased from land owners, said Jack Hartman, CTA executive vice president of construction, engineering and facilities.

The project also will realign tracks, add electrical power and rebuild stations, adding elevators at 16.

The elevators would gobble much of the private property, although "a lot of these are taking 5 or 10 feet off somebody's backyard," said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. The list of targeted parcels "is not our final list, it's our working list," she said.

The project, expected to be mostly funded by the federal government, will start in late 2002 or early 2003 and is supposed to be done by the end of 2008.