An introduction to parking requirements: New Walgreens in Wicker Park


Walgreens opened a new store this month inside the Noel State Bank building at 1601 N Milwaukee, at the six-way intersection of Damen, North, and Milwaukee Avenues. Walgreens wonderfully restored the interior and exterior of the registered landmark building. The property acquisition (formerly occupied by MB Financial Bank) included a small parking lot with a driveway entrance on Milwaukee Avenue by Red Hen Bread Co. and an entrance through the alley. The parking lot has 7 car parking spaces, including 1 accessible parking stall. There are 8 bike parking spaces. It appears there would have been 10 but a bike rack wasn’t installed because it would have blocked a doorway that opens only from the inside. (The previous occupant used the parking lot to hold ~15 cars.)

When I first saw that Walgreens was building a parking lot, I asked myself, “Why do they need one? There’re three bus routes, a train line, this neighborhood is very walkable and many people bike around here. Plus, there’s a Walgreens store 0.37 miles away with 35 parking spaces.”* (No, I don’t do distance calculations in my head to that many significant digits – I figured that with an online map.)

The Walgreens property is B3-2 and in Parking Group M, Retail. Parking requirements, defined in the Zoning Code, are thus: “All other: None for first 4,000 square feet then 2.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet.” The building, according to the City’s interactive zoning map, is 21,800 square feet. That means 44.5 car parking spaces are required and 8.9 bike parking spaces are required (1 bike parking space per 5 car parking spaces).

I talked to Benet Haller who works in the Department of Housing and Economic Development to confirm this. “DHED” has gone by many names (some that persist today) including Zoning, Planning, Zoning and Land Use Planning, and Community Development.

This isn’t the case, Haller said. “Buildings within 600 feet of a CTA or Metra train station entry can get a reduction of 50% from the minimum parking requirements and landmarks (like 1601) have a minimum parking requirement of 0.”

The new Walgreens didn’t need to provide any parking spaces, so anything greater than 0 is the company’s prerogative.


Parking lot design regulations require them to be offset from the sidewalk or curb, with a buffer of landscaping and  a black fence. 


The bike parking at this store is supreme: it follows the 50 feet rule, has a useful fixture, is in plain view from the street, is easily accessed from the street, and in an open space. However, the open space here is a little too open: bikes parked here are at risk of being damaged by moving cars. 

This article is not a review of parking policies and regulations and how they affect transportation systems, but a simple introduction to my future exploration of these topics. They do so in myriad ways, including impacts on budgeting, raising revenues, and causing new trips by driving instead of by other modes.

I intend to publish analysis of the Wolf Point project that intends to bring over 1,000 car parking spaces to River North and Merchandise Mart, and discuss pedestrian-friendly designs.


Interior view photo by Dan O’Neil. 

How to use the interactive zoning map

The map’s old technology is tedious and lacks direct links to specific views or parcel information.

  1. Open the homepage
  2. Click on “View Zoning Map” (turn off popup blockers)
  3. Click the “Accept” button on the Liability page
  4. A new window will open and start loading a map of Chicago
  5. In the search toolbar below the map, enter the address in the form, 1601 N Milwaukee Avenue, and click “Find Address”.
  6. Wait for the map to center on the address (if you try to do things faster than the map, you may find yourself running into problems). Toggle on/off various layers of geographic information using the Layers, Zoning, and Images tabs on the right side. I like turning off the crosshatched pink layer, Pedestrian Streets, for easier viewing.
  7. Click on the “Identify Tool” in the left toolbar and click on the parcel. Wait. A new window will popup that includes a lot of information about this property, including its PIN (for tax purposes), and landmark and historic districts.

* Walgreens confirmed that the older store will remain open.


18 thoughts on “An introduction to parking requirements: New Walgreens in Wicker Park”

  1. I think the simple fact that the store only has seven car parking spaces is a good sign that things are moving in the right direction.

  2. Gotta give Walgreens some credit for reusing existing buildings. Another example is the old Thybony store in Andersonville that they rehabbed very well. It also includes relatively good bike parking.

    Compare that to CVS who like to raze the entire lot and built the same cookie cutter building everywhere.
    Kudos to Walgreens

  3. I think it’s great that Walgreen’s reused a historic building, and while I’d prefer to see zero off-street parking spaces, this seems like a reasonable amount. It could have been much worse: The ultimate low bar has been undoubtedly set by the MB Bank at Belmont and Halsted, with its beautiful historic structure surrounded on three sides by a surface lot multiple times its footprint, providing parking and no less than four drive-through ATM machines. This, in one of the most walkable
    neighborhoods in the city.

    While the city’s allowance of a 50% parking reduction for new structures within 600 feet of a train station is a nice start, it doesn’t go nearly far enough, especially for a residential building. Six hundred feet is .11 miles, which in Chicago’s eight-blocks-a-mile grid is just under one block, a ridiculously tiny radius. So a big new condo building just a few short blocks from a major CTA station (let’s say the Children’s Memorial redevelopment site, for example) must by law allot huge amounts of space for parking, just as if it were located in a far-flung neighborhood with considerably less density and access to transit.

    We’ll know we’re getting somewhere in Chicago when that 600 feet radius is increased greatly, or better yet, when we change it to parking maximums imposed instead.

    I look forward to your future coverage of this topic.

    1. One of the topics I’ll be covering is the concept of “maximum parking”. Instead of forcing developers to provide more parking than they feel is acceptable, we assume that the developer has their bottom line in mind and will do their best to provide least amount of resources that will satisfy their business interest. Their minimum may be less than the city’s minimum. The city then regulates the maximum number of off-street parking spaces that the neighborhood can support.
      I’m glad that the radius calculation is “as the crow flies” instead of actual walking distance or street grid distance; this possibly increases the number of lots within 600 feet (the property entrance must be within 600 feet).

      1. What would be wrong with simply taxing (thereby penalizing) or prohibiting parking lots in dense areas? There is a coordination problem here: many businesses will have an interest in obtaining parking lots if their competitors have them, but this individually rational strategy (from the perspective of the business owner’s bottom line) produces irrational consequences at the macro level—waste, loss of density, etc. So, wouldn’t it be better to give business owners who already have parking lots a prod (via taxation) to sell them off and thereby reward competitors who have no parking lots? Why should we pander to their existing calculations about what the minimum should be when that itself depends on suboptimal arrangements in which there are too many parking lots in the city?

    2. Michelle,

      As ugly as the parking lot at Belmont and Halsted is, I feel as if it’s not really for the bank. It essentially functions as parking for the Blue Man Group theater across the street. I imagine that if a developer paid the bank (or whomever actually owns the property) enough money, they would sell off a chunk of those spots. For the time being, they must be making more money off of suburbanites driving in to see the Blue Man Group.

  4. What would it take to get rid of the regressive zoning laws that require parking lots (or fail to penalize or prohibit them)? Are there other cities with more progressive zoning laws that prohibit parking lots or at least discourage them? Could we use their model as a template? Or would it make sense to tax parking lots and use the revenue to fund public transportation and other non-vehicular forms of transit? My basic question is this: what is it that Chicagoan advocates of density, walkability, active transit, etc. should put forward in the way of anti-parking lot demands? I always hear complaints about this—and I’m sympathetic to them—but I never hear concrete ideas for how to change things. Ideas?

    1. There is a giant lot at stave and california that is about to be turned into a giant parking lot for one restaurant. Being discussed on everyblock, logan square. Wish there was a way to stop it, but the alderman supports the idea.


          Masada… A restaurant in the works on the next block north by sultans market family. Huge property they are turning into a lot. Both colon and Moreno claim there’s nothing they can do. They say no zoning change is required to pave over this lot which previously housed a commercial loft warehouse before the economy went downhill. Presumably, new curb cuts will be required.

          Moreno thinks the parking lot is a good idea and will “remove blight”….even though development is happening right around it.

          1. Curb cuts might require special use permits, which are something that must be approved by the zoning committee. (However, this requirement might only apply to designated Pedestrian Streets.) If the zoning committee must approve something (above and beyond what the zoning bureau in DHED approves), then there *is* something aldermen can do about it.
            I’d call this replacing blight with a different kind of blight.

            By my measurement, the distance between 2206 N California (the proposed Masada location) and the California Blue Line station is <100 feet. This puts them in the "within 600 feet of a train station" rule that allows them to provide half the number of required parking spaces.
            The property is zoned B3-1, it's in Parking Group M ("eating and drinking establishments"), and the building has 1,800 square feet (I don't know how much the restaurant has). The parking rule for this group is "None for first 4,000 square feet then 2.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet".
            So, it appears that this restaurant development requires no parking spaces, the transit rule is meaningless, and so I presume the developer feels its advantageous for the business to provide a parking lot. In the EveryBlock discussion someone said they talked to Joe Moreno who said there will be 16 parking spaces.
            Ordinance "17-11-0202 Perimeter Landscaping, Screening and Fencing" applies to the "decoration" and landscaping around parking lots. It essentially requires the parking lot be set 7 feet back from the property line (on street sides) with a hedge in that 7 feet, and then there must be a "wall, fence, or hedge not less than 5 feet in height and not more than 7 feet in height" on the sides abutting R-districts (which is only on the Stave Street side of the property, all other sides are B-district).
            Feel free to share this with the the EveryBlock discussion. I am NOT a zoning code expert, though.

    2. I wonder if Chicago could start doing something like what Oak Park and Evanston do for their shopping districts — city-owned, fairly cheap (free, sometimes) multi-deck dense parking structures a block or two from the nexus of stores. Drive in, drop off your car, walk around and shop, eat, whatever, then go back to your car and leave the area. Ideally, it wouldn’t take any frontage on the actual commercial street, being back a block or so.

      1. The city tried it at various points; there was a lot at Paulina and Chicago until several years ago. They decided to get out of the parking business — hence the leases on the Grant Park garages and street meters.

        Coordinated parking is something that BIDs/SSAs can manage.

      2. Places like Evanston and Oak Park are already quite walkable and have good public transport options. Why should we encourage more car traffic by building parking structures? Build more parking lots and more cars will come. We should be building less parking lots and garages to encourage vibrant, walkable neighborhoods, not car-centric swaths of sprawl and asphalt.

        1. Evanston and Oak Park have more transit than most suburbs, the el is convenient if you live along it but other than that your mostly limited to low frequency bus routes. Something like Barnes and Noble which has a location in downtown Evanston draws from a radius far beyond “walking distance”. If these downtown areas expect to compete with the malls with free parking then I think providing parking is a necessary evil.

    3. It would take an alderman to craft a bill and a smart organization, company, or staff to design the new zoning laws.

      If anyone’s interested in this topic (parking and its impact on transportation systems) and wants to start reading about it now, check out Donald Shoup’s book: High Cost of Free Parking.

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