BUCKTOWN — A plan to replace the Vienna Beef Factory along the North Branch of the Chicago River with a $40 million riverfront driving range cleared a major city hurdle Thursday.
In a unanimous vote, members of the city’s Plan Commission approved the creation of a waterway planned development agreement for Drive Shack, Inc.
City leaders were required to approve this plan because the project is within 100 feet of the Chicago River.
Noah Szafraniec, a planning examiner with the Department of Planning and Development, said on Thursday the driving range aligns with the city’s goal for the area, which is to replace industrial sites along the river with commercial and mixed-use developments.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said that he was “skeptical” of Drive Shack’s proposal at first, but that the developer had been “proactive” about solutions to traffic concerns.
He also said he was impressed with the company’s decision to consult with the Audobon Society to ensure netting used for the range will not hurt birds.
The plan still needs to be approved by the City Council Zoning Committee before it moves forward.
Last fall, the team behind Drive Shack Inc. met with Waguespack and neighbors to present plans for a 102-bay, climate-controlled driving range at 2501 N. Damen Ave.
Louis Altamiranda, Drive Shack’s real estate development manager, told neighbors the project would create 250 construction jobs for a 12-14 month period.
During operation, he said, the company will hire about 400 people; 80 percent of whom will work part-time.
If all goes to plan, Drive Shack will open Labor Day weekend of 2021, attorney Paul Shadle said.
The community meeting drew a crowd of a few dozen neighbors from Bucktown, Hamlin Park and other nearby neighborhoods.
Several neighbors expressed concerns about the project adding traffic to an already congested intersection. Especially with Chick-fil-A and Panera slated to join the busy intersection.
The long-dreaded Damen-Fullerton-Elston intersection finally underwent a $22.5 million reconfiguration in 2017, neighbors pointed out. They don’t want the nightmare traffic scenario to return.
The team behind Drive Shack told neighbors the company hired an engineer at Kimley-Horn, a nationwide consulting group with a Chicago office, to perform a traffic study.
As a result of the study, Drive Shack’s only entry way point will be on Elston Avenue (Vienna’s existing access point on Damen Avenue would be eliminated).
But traffic wasn’t the only concern among neighbors, some of whom pressed the Drive Shack team about noise, light, bird safety and river banks.
Altamiranda, of Drive Shack, said the site’s year-round polyester netting would be netted so tightly that birds would be unable to get stuck or fly through; they’d “bounce off” the netting.
The company went on to contact the Audobon Society and swear off loudspeakers. They said an outdoor garden will be enclosed.
Architect JJ Kazynski told neighbors the range itself would be at the corner of Damen and Fullerton; golfers would hit balls into an outfield facing the river and the Chicago skyline.
Landscaping plans include rows of canopy trees, ornamental fencing with shrubs and a 10-foot riverwalk that will be publicly accessible to walkers, runners and cyclists.
Lighting, which will be “voltage-controlled” and confined to the driving bays, will end when the facility closes, Altamiranda said.
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