Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Keep Vacant Lots Vacant

Another of the Hyde Park Herald's attempts to drum up support against those who seek to build new housing graces the lead spot in this week's issue (August 15, 2007). "Residents balk at park high rise" shouts this Herald's Chicken winner. This singularly uninformative headline (what is the "park" -- Nichols Park?; is an eight story building a high rise?) is referring to the vacant lot on 53rd street and the Mobil station/car wash. A developer (hiss, hiss) who has on option to purchase this property once proposed an eight story condo for this spot.

"Residents" turns out to be only one Hyde Parker, Ms. Jill White, who is "meeting" and circulating a petition for a different option -- a four story mixed retail and residential property. The Herald could not identify any other Hyde Parkers who support Ms. White's position. No evidence was provided by reporter Yvette Presberry that any meetings had actually taken place.

But let us examine the reality of the situation. The current property is a disgrace to Hyde Park, home to a run-down business and a vacant lot. The developer would, horrors of horrors, provide an attractive and useful building on this spot. It is in the interest of any developer to gauge what sort of building would be economically feasible. Given the large number of vacant storefronts on 53rd street, it is not surprising that the developer's proposal did not include retail.

Ms. White assumes that her alternative, a four story mixed use building, is economically feasible. She believes that current residents are entitled to rights over what is built on vacant or underused land. She neglects the benefits that more, reasonably well-heeled residents will bring to 53rd Street corridor. Instead, she proposes that the developer move his plan to another site he owns at 53rd and Cornell. Bascially, she wants to downsize the proposed developments at both sites.

Housing density in the 53rd Street corridor is not very high to begin with. There is nothing wrong with an eight story building on 53rd street or a 17 story building in East Hyde Park. Lincoln Park is full of eight story apartments and yet remains one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Chicago. The South loop is booming with a host of 25 plus story apartments. These developments have already created a retail environment that puts Hyde Park to shame. One can only imagine how South Michigan or Wabash Avenues will be in five years. But we know that they were a wasteland only ten years ago. Is this the future of Hyde Park?

To cement her position, Ms. White brings up the double bug-a-boo of "congestion" and "parking" problems. She obviously has not parked on 53rd street between Kimbark and Dorchester recently. At the height of the Saturday morning shopping activity, there are many vacant parking places in front of the site. Ms. White is unfamiliar with the Chicago Zoning ordinance that requires that buildings of more than four stories provide parking spaces, one for each apartment.

The coup de grace is the notion that the eight story building would block "sunlight" for residents on 52nd street. We wonder where Ms. White lives!

The Herald goes on to report the results of questioning 4th Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle. Ms. Preckwinkle hasn't heard of these "petitioners" or their complaints. This is an obvious attempt on the part of the Herald to influence the alderman by holding up the specter of community opposition to much needed development.

The Herald reports that developer Leal did not return "repeated calls." Here the reporter is hinting at social irresponsiblity. All we have is an intelligence test. The developer has nothing to gain by talking to the Herald reporter. He knows that information about the development and it's benefits will not reach print. He will be portrayed as an evil profit-monger. What the Herald doesn't understand is that the profit motive incents the developer to build a useful and attractive structure, otherwise he will have no buyers.

It would be a great shame if the Alderman allowed just one person (or even a handful of residents) to block a very positive improvement in our community. Condominium owners at both sites on 53rd would bring foot traffic, pride of ownership, and money to our community. This can only make 53rd Street, in particular, and Hyde Park, in general, a safer and better place to live.


chicago pop said...

One point I would add is that the idea that an 8-story building is somehow not appropriate for this spot is hogwash. There are towers of equal or greater height within mere blocks. They are mostly old, and mostly owned by the University.

Land use in Chicago, but HP in particular, is way too segregated. It has also been far too heavily zoned for retail along its commercial strips. As you say, a few more feet coming and going on 53rd, right by the mall, across from the park and cafe, it makes perfect sense.

Famac said...

The higher, the better. These types of buildings will provide homes for University People who can't find a decent property in Hyde Park.

Its a shame that these developers don't try to buy some of the run down three flat condos and do the same thing there.

Hyde Park's infrastructure and private property is largely delapidated and in need of replacement.

You can't count on most Hyde Parkers to shovel there side walks, let alone maintain their properties.

Tupper said...

Thank you for this incredible blog. I have been looking for this kind of "uprising", if you will, for a very long time.

Hyde Park is simply full of old fuddy duddies. It's almost as if they're holding their neighborhood hostage. I don't even want to know what's going to happen to Antheus' beautiful Studio Gang project.

My friends, there is hope. There is an organization already in existence in Chicago that feels the same way that you do. We have been in existence for about 1 year. It is an existence of (nearly) entirely Chicago residents who are concerned with with the irrational, self-centered NIMBYism and ignorance that threatens Chicago's wonderful rebirth.

From neighborhood to neighborhood, we are looking for more people like us who feel the way we do. We are looking for opportunities to educate people about the benefits of density and transit. We are looking at ways to show support for the kinds of developments that contribute in a positive way to the urban environment. In fact, our organization has already met with Alderman Bob Fioretti, and we plan to meet with him again.

I would like to invite all of you who are interested to meet with us. After all, the power is in numbers.

Please let me know if you're interested.


Tupper said...

Excellent commentary on this particular, post, by the way.

I have one question for our blogger. Have you been in touch with the Alderman, the Herald, other Hyde Park residents, etc?

I ask this because spreading the word is the only feasible way of exercising influence of any kind. It's a great blog, but I have to wonder how many people are actually reading it.

I found out about this blog at

chicago pop said...

HPP thanks Tupper for his/her(?) support and for making her way down to the South Side. Our blogger team is out there: one was just interviewed by the Trib on Harper Court, all of them have recently been in contact with the Herald, and we all are finding more contacts on a local level. Several readers, for example, are considering joining the Co-Op Board, which meets this evening, to see if it can be turned in a more satisfactory direction.

HPP is very local in focus and is building its network and its stock of ideas. Sounds like you're more interested in red meat NOW. What exactly do you have in mind?

chicago pop said...

Tupper: as far as reasonable and WELL-DESIGNED density + transit, with some thought given to preserving a balance of residential incomes, then we are all aboard.