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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Weed Dispensary Planned For Old Bucktown Emissions Testing Site Aims To Put The ‘Park Back In Parking Lot’

Once the center of a traffic nightmare, a developer aims to swap parking at the Webster Avenue facility for new trees.

A rendering of a proposed weed dispensary planned for 1858 W. Webster Ave.
Baker Development/City of Chicago
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BUCKTOWN — After years of sitting idle, a former vehicle emissions test facility on the city’s North Side is one step closer to a new life as a weed dispensary.

On Thursday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved a zoning amendment clearing a path for Baker Development Corporation to repurpose the single-story building at 1858 W. Webster Ave. and bring landscaping to the surrounding parking lot. 

Under the $3 million adaptive reuse plan, the existing 9,000-square-foot building would be rehabbed with new exterior cladding. The rows of garage doors that once led to the testing bays will be replaced with new windows and a storefront-style entrance. 

Closed in 2016, the old emissions facility was known to draw long lines and would back up traffic on Webster and Lister avenues. But because the weed shop is expected to draw far fewer cars, developers and city planners looked at the project as an opportunity to reduce the size of the parking lot and incorporate new landscaping. 

Proposed improvements include planting roughly 30 trees on a new 7-foot-wide landscaped setback running along the property’s edge. The change will result in a double row of trees that will serve as a buffer between the site and the residential buildings on Lister. Meanwhile, parking will be reduced from 70-plus spaces down to 29, according to the development team. 

“It’s basically a sea of asphalt today, we hope to dramatically improve that condition as we redevelop the property,” said Rolando Acosta, an attorney representing Baker Development, at Thursday’s meeting. 

Chicago Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox praised the landscape plan as a model to be followed in other parts of the city in future redevelopment plans. 

“In ways big and small, we are going to put the ‘park’ back in parking lots, throughout Chicago,” Cox said. “This serves as an example that if you are willing to go beyond the minimum requirements for parking lots, you can create an environment that gives something back to the neighborhood, whether you go to the dispensary or not.” 

Under plans, the existing Webster Street building will receive new cladding, windows and entranceway.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said he supports the project.

“Although we’ve had some other iterations come forward for this site, this is, to me, the best proposal that we’ve seen so far,” Waguespack said. “The addition of many more trees and trying to remove as much asphalt as possible put an additional cost onto the development team, but these are improvements that will last for decades and has the support of the neighbors.”

After acquiring the shuttered Bucktown site, Baker Development Corporation initially sought to rezone the land in 2017 to construct a 100,000-square-foot office building designed for medical use, Crain’s reported. More recently — and with some irony — the former emissions test facility was used to temporarily store a fleet of zero-emission Tesla electric vehicles. 

The proposed Webster Avenue weed dispensary required the Chicago Plan Commission to sign off on a zoning amendment due to the site’s location within the North Branch Industrial Corridor. The project will need to go before the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals to acquire a special use permit, per the city’s cannabis ordinance

Baker Development also revealed plans to bring a craft marijuana growing facility to a building it owns at nearby 2015 N. Mendell St.

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