Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Word on 53rd: Don't be Jack

posted by chicago pop

You may remember this ill-fated and short-lived ad campaign run by the CTA a few years ago to discourage vandalism. We don't know if they want it anymore, but we think it might be usefully recycled here in Hyde Park, where "being Jack" is starting to get a bit wearisome, among other places on troubled 53rd St.

You may also remember the late-summer outbreak of classic NIMBY-ism that centered on what to do with the vacant lot at 53rd and Kenwood, the McMobil site. As we detailed in a post of September 19, a group of neighbors petitioned Alderman Preckwinkle with a list of restrictions they felt should be applied to any future development. This included building at variance with Chicago City Code by raising the number of off-street residential parking spaces per unit to 1.5 from 1.1.

The petition also called for a restriction on the height of the building to 4 stories, so as to not breach an unspecified level of "population density," although the site sits immediately to the south of a 6-story building at 5220 S. Kenwood, and is down the street from an 8 story building at 5254 S. Dorchester. This would mean fewer units in the development, which would make each individual unit more expensive.

The petitioners supported these demands with assertions that a larger building with less parking for fewer cars, as originally proposed, would increase congestion, threaten children, block light, and impose other ills for which they could provide no empirical evidence based on concrete site studies or comparable examples.

It turns out that Alderman Preckwinkle agrees with us. It's not hard to see why. The South Side is not the North Side. Given the geography of her ward, she recognizes that the problems north of 47th are not that different from the problems south of 47th: lack of critical mass, too small of a market area to attract retail, support small business, and provide the larger population of solid homes that underlie high-achieving schools. In this context, blocking much-needed development in neighborhoods that have been stagnant for decades seems like the height of lunacy.

But that's just what Jack Spicer is doing with this project.

Jack Spicer obviously doesn't like being told what to do. That comes across pretty clearly in his letter to the Herald (October 31, 2007) in reference to a closed-door meeting between Preckwinkle and the signees of the above-mentioned petition.

At the meeting, the Alderman told us her zoning change would benefit the whole neighborhood, not just a few isolated neighbors. She instructed us to learn to accept change.

That last part was the part Jack didn't like. Here's why.

Whereas Jack has no problem changing the zoning to allow for more parking, he seems offended that a building taller than 4 stories could be allowed there, even though several similar buildings exist within blocks and it would allow for the sale of more affordable units. But, rather than addressing the issues of parking or affordable housing, he makes a different case, that "This "planned development" zoning change would be unilateral and outside of our community's planning history."

How would allowing a building taller than 4 stories, behind one that is 6, and steps away from one that is 8, be "outside of our community's planning history?"

...there are only two buildings on the street taller than four stories is the Versailles at Dorchester Avenue and the Hyde Park Bank building ... They are both more than seventy five years old and zoning law, for good reason, has not allowed tall buildings on 53rd Street since 1957.

What that "good reason" is, is not specified, and there are plenty of things in the '57 code that would freak Jack out if he were held to them -- like its projection of a population of 5 million people living within City limits.

But most interesting given Jack's historical bent is the argument that nearby tall buildings are no precedent because they are so old. We wish he were so easily relieved of attachment to the past in the case of Doctors Hospital; we may remind him of that when it comes in handy.

But what gets to the heart of the matter is the attitude towards development, which speaks for itself. An "outsized" building (no definition of "outsized" being given) "benefits only two individuals [the property owner and the developer]" and "takes public value and transfers it to a private property owner without compensation to the public."

With an attitude like this towards developers, it's no wonder we all have to do our shopping half-an-hour away. What is the public value that is being transferred, and how is a private property owner who provides homes for people to live in, new residents to walk, shop, eat, fill the street and pay taxes in the neighborhood, equate to a lack of compensation to the public?

Jack makes a lot of hay about the sanctity of zoning, but ignores it when it comes to parking; he pays a lot of attention to the history of Doctors Hospital, but ignores historical precedent when it applies to 53rd Street. Distracted by a contempt for developers, he ignores the multiple benefits of greater density and having more households living in the neighborhood.

If you're tired of driving everywhere to do your shopping, you'll agree that it's time to Stop Being Jack.


curtsy said...

And what of Jack's now stated support for the Antheus projects (at 56th/Cornell and 51st/Lake Park) and the Leal development at 53rd/Cornell? I guess this doesn't fit your well-established "narrative" for Mr. Spice as lead NIMBY obstructionist. Perhaps if you were to have acknowledged that J-Spice was not, in fact, utterly opposed to development in HP, you then would have had to go with the lead "I Don't Know Jack"?

chicago pop said...

I'm saving the "I Don't Know Jack" lead for when we do a feature on your contributions to the issues, curtsy, because it that's when that phrase generally tends to apply. I really liked your insights on the Co-Op, the Medici, and parking, for example, where you really took a lead in the discussion.

Spicer doesn't have to oppose every development in HP to be the lead NIMBY (which he is, unless you'd like to replace him). That statement of support comes years after these projects became known. In fact, he opposes so much, for contradictory reasons, that he probably had to unload a few projects, and there are plenty of folks that will pick up the slack, as the good people at HPK-CC will tell you vis-a-vis Unger and 56th/Cornell.

J/tati said...

Has someone here already linked to the photos for the 56th/Cornell "Solstice" building? If not, here they are. I walk by this intersection every day and would love to see it built...

chicago pop said...

So would I; but just wait. Some neighbors prefer surface parking lots.

Famac said...

I found Jack's letter rather encouraging for one reason: an Alderman actually told him to go stew!! Finally!

How anyone can oppose residential development on 53rd Street confounds me.

Jack is right that this project will benefit the seller of the property and the developer, but he forgot about all the people that will benefit from moving into a modern building in Hyde Park.

chicago pop said...

...and the businesses that will benefit from the patronage of those new residents, and the tax dollars that this will send into the 53rd St. TIF, etc. etc. etc.

Peter Rossi said...

curtys raises an interesting point.

Jack DOES NOT support those developments. If you read the letter, he actually doesn't come out to support them. He said "we need tall transit-oriented buildings ... LIKE" This is a throw-away -- his letter is another letter opposing change. It also gives him the option of backing away when convenient.

He has NEVER come out in support of ANY development in Hyde Park.

If Jack writes a letter or circulates a petition in exclusively in FAVOR of any positive progress in HP, I will go the corner of 55th and Lake Park and publically eat my old pair of fly-fishing waders!!

Peter Rossi said...

Note that Mr. Spicer does not actually explain why this development is objectionable -- other than the process and that it is "tall."

If you oppose something, aren't you obligated to explain why you oppose it?

What is wrong with a 10 story building across from a public park (don't bring your "congestion" arguments here!)?

Don't you have to actually look at the building that is proposed before you oppose it?

The real reason he doesn't not tell us why he opposes it is the same reason why he is opposed to the Point plan. If you defined acceptable criteria for development, someone might meet those criteria.

By being vague, Mr. Spicer is trying to be the gatekeeper!

Toni has told to go soak his ego. She is the elected representative. If Jack doesn't like it, let him campaign against her re-election.

Peter Rossi said...

May I also point out the Mr. Spicer was one of many who wanted the Hyde Park Theatre on Harper kept in tact. He wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald talking about how significant this building is. This is not a positive force for change.

Peter Rossi said...

Mr.Spicer begins his letter with "I was honored to be one of the thoughtful and articulate Hyde Parkers who" had a private closed-door meeting with the Alderman.

This is from the person who has been a vocal spokesman for transparency and community involvement. I guess he really is only in favor of his involvment. Don't you think?

chicago pop said...

Zoning is not sacrosanct. In fact, zoning is what makes suburbia suburbia and what has done a lot to make cities more like suburbs. Zoning is only as good as the designs behind it.

What Spicer zeroes in on in the 2004 code are provisions -- many NIMBY-driven -- that were inserted into the code in reaction to the poorly planned and poorly managed building boom of the mid-90s. We all know what that looks like -- lots of tall skinny townhomes looming above their neighbors, buildings that don't fit with the others on the block, with no yards, street-facing driveways, blank walls, strip malls, etc. -- all basically because no one at City Planning was paying attention for some odd reason.

So now the code has added some pedestrian friendly design requirements, but is weak on TOD, parking, and well-designed density. There's no good reason -- certainly none other than Spicer's "our ancestors have said it should be thus" -- why that building can't go more than 4 stories. Hell, it's next to a mini-mall with an acre or so of parking -- does that define the character of the neighborhood?

That mall is not going to be there forever, and something taller on that corner would be good, and would give the 53rd St. commercial district some harmony from one end to the other.

Famac said...

Rossi said "If Jack doesn't like it, let him campaign against her re-election."

Hopefully Spicer isn't reading this blog.

I still think it would be fun to find Spicer's gardening trucks and put "Weed the Point" bumper stickers on them.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I like the "Don't Be Jack" expression mostly on a metaphorical level: there are a lot of well-meaning, busy Hyde Parkers who take their political cues from people like Jack, whom they assume will represent their interests well.

But that's knee-jerk activism, not well-researched activism, and it has completely stalled progress at the Point, alienated the City and Park District, and (so far) junked a really great Compromise Plan.

I think Jack IS reading this blog. (Hi, Jack.)

SR said...

It's a relief to know Preckwinkle isn't buckling to the NIMBYs on this. Thanks for the update.