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.