Parking battle brewing under CTA L tracks

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The CTA is now making people pay for spots underneath the "L" tracks - but some residents say old documents challenge the CTA's right to charge. (WLS)

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
As the historic L tracks turn 125 years old this week, the I-Team is investigating a battle over parking under the tracks.

The CTA is now charging for spots underneath the tracks, in "hot" neighborhoods where parking can be hard to find. In some areas, it's making tempers flare.

The CTA said it has the right to make residents pay for parking under the L, but angry residents are hoping history is on their side, using documents dating back to the 1800s to battle the parking program.

Chicago's elevated train was built in the late 1800s by the city and Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company. Until recently the space under those tracks was a free-for-all. But as property values rose, so did the CTA's interest in renting spaces for parking.

"My husband won't even go grocery shopping because if he moves his car and puts it back here, it's going to be towed," said Mimi Camacho, Wrigleyville homeowner since 1979.

"The new technology such as SpotHero suddenly made this land a special interest to people like CTA, who want to cash in," said Michael Joseph Rashid, Wrigleyville homeowner since 2001.

Residents in the 3500- through 3700-blocks of North Wilton in Wrigleyville said they have always parked behind their homes and under the L. Now the CTA says they have to pay $75 a month as a part of the CTA's "under L parking" program.

"The program is really helpful in neighborhoods where parking is really hard to find," said Tammy Chase, CTA spokesperson.

But residents argue the land is not the CTA's to rent.

"If they want this land, they can buy it from me," Rashid said.

The CTA said title documents from 1895 prove the land belongs to the city and the original railroad company that built the L. Residents counter with another 100-year-old document, this one from 1894, which they said sold only the air rights to build above the land in parts of Wrigleyville and Lakeview.

"We pay taxes up to the alley. The only thing in 1894 we gave the railroad company the right to build over our backyard," said Rashid.

The CTA said the document only provides residents with access to cross CTA property to get to their homes and they point to a Cook County Assessor map showing property lines do not include the land under the L.

"We can't block people's ability to get to and from their homes. Access, however, is not the same as the right to park," Chase said.

"There is money on both sides, some real money," said 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney.

Tunney has tried to mediate the situation, but said the matter may have to be settled in court. If the CTA prevails, Tunney will support the under L parking program for residents on these blocks.

"I held a second meeting to really engage the immediate neighbors, if they want to buy into under L parking for residents only," he said.

But he does not support the other CTA program, where anyone can pay to park through the SpotHero app.

"Not SpotHero, not Cubs fans, just literally the residents who are in dire need of parking," Tunney said.

The under L parking program and SpotHero are already utilized into neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, River North and East Garfield Park.

"We have piloted SpotHero for a couple years," Chase said. "For people visiting the neighborhood, not from the neighborhood, who want to shop."

But other residents are still fighting back.

"I would like to say to the CTA that you don't have the right to do this, legally, morally, ethically, any way shape or form," said Barbara Davis, Wrigleyville homeowner since 1985.

For now, Wrigleyville residents will be towed by the CTA if they park under the L behind their homes without agreeing to a lease just like all the other areas where under L parking exists.

If you have a question about it, or you don't agree with the program, you can reach out to your alderman.
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