Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Solstice on the Park Update: Community Meeting

On Wednesday, November 15th, a community meeting was held on the proposed Solstice on the Park development at 56th and Cornell. More than 70 people turned up to hear presentations from the developer, architect, and traffic consultant. After these presentations, the developer took questions and comments for more than one hour.

Solstice on the Park would replace the largely empty Windemere parking lot with a 26 story condominium building and a 500 car parking garage. The tower would be located on the south end of the lot with a circular drive facing 56th street. Behind the tower would be a garage covered with a garden and swimming pool. To provide affordable housing, the developer, Antheus Capital, has acquired the rental apt building at 5528 S. Cornell (directly north of the garage) and has agreed to keep these 53 units as rental in perpetuity.

Architectural Rendering of South and East Elevations

The architect, Jeanne Gang, made a presentation on the details of the building and how she sees it fitting into the architecture of Hyde Park. One of the strengths of Hyde Park is the diversity of high quality architecture. Mies van der Rohe's Promontory Apartments made of glass and concrete with a "glass box" lobby sit right next to the red brick Baroque Flamingo Apartments. Raphael Vinoly's Graduate School of Business complements its classic neighbor, the Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright (both feature cantilevered building sections). Modern architecture should relate to its surroundings but does not have to be a bad copy of them either in design or materials. Solstice features a deep setback with circular drive just as its neighbor, Windemere House, does.

Ms. Gang emphasized that Solstice is also compatible with the height of other buildings in East Hyde Park. A panoramic view of 56th showing Solstice and other buildings shows how correct Ms. Gang's assertion is. Solstice is by no means very tall. 1700 E. 56th is about 20 per cent taller. The Windermere House is about 30 per cent shorter at just under 200 ft (it has much higher ceilings so that you can't simply compute a multiple of stores - 14 vs 26). Shadow studies show that the Solstice tower will not shade another building except 5528 S. Cornell and then only in the early morning and late afternoon on Winter days.

Solstice has an unusual design in several respects. The building can be thought of four story modules stacked on top of each other. This gives the South elevation of the building its dramatic "sawtooth" look. The purpose of this is to use the building to shade itself in the summer, while letting natural light in in the winter. The East and West elevations are not sheer walls like so many buildings of this type in Chicago. A seemingly random pattern of cut-outs are filed with windows. These and many other features make Solstice an unusual design with also an unusual level of energy efficiency. The building will be featured in a television program on energy efficient architecture as the Midwest representative.

The Solstice developers have also tackled the traffic flow problems at this site in a thoughtful way. The existing condition has two bad features: 1. there is two-way traffic for about 150' of Cornell Ave; 2. there is a dangerous situation as buses and parents attempt to pickup or drop off their children in front of Bret Harte school. With a land swap and some good design, the new development will correct both problems. Parents will be able to drop off their children in a new dedicated alley just to the east of the school. Parkers will enter the garage on 56th street allowing Cornell to be restored to one way northbound. In addition, teachers will have a larger and relocated parking lot that does not pose a safety threat to children playing around the school.

Site Plan

As a result, the development has received wide support from it neighbors and neighborhood groups. Gary Ossewarde of the Hyde Park Community Conference spoke up in favor of the development, praising the willingness of the developer to listen and respond positively to community input. John Murphy of the Coalition for Equitable Community Development also endorsed the development and praised the developer for their efforts to promote affordable housing. Robert Mason of the Southeast Chicago Commission also supported the development, warning of the dramatic decline in population of Hyde Park in the last 50 years. A neighbor who lives in a single family house directly across from the development welcomed it after "looking at a parking lot all my life." The Bret Harte School Council is an enthusiastic supporter.

Numerous residents praised the development and were met with thunderous applause. A few residents asked informational questions. Rebecca Moore, a neighbor on Cornell, asked about potential for problems for pedestrians crossing the entrance to the garage. The traffic consultant responded that there are good sightlines to avoid conflict. Jerry Pryor from the U of C medical facility at Windemere House asked about parking during construction. The developer replied that parking arrangements and shuttles would be provided but stated that any major construction project would involve inconvenience for the residents. All current users of the lot would have access to parking in the new structure (note: the developer also owns Windemere House so there is no reason to design a development which reduces the value of their adjacent property). A resident of 5528 S. Cornell asked numerous questions about how the development would affect those apartments.

Four local residents, calling themselves "Cornell Neighbors," circulated a document in the neighborhood prior the meeting. This bulletin opposes the development and urged those of like mind to attend the meeting. The memo was signed by Diana Jiang, Robert Greenspoon (who lives on Cornell directly across the street from the proposed parking garage), Rebecca Moore, and Kathy Newhouse. Mr. Greenspoon graciously provided more details regarding the positions discussed in the document.

The bulletin makes two basic arguments against the development: 1. the architecture is "incompatible" in the sense that it does not contain "shapes or patterns" or materials found in neighboring buildings and 2. the tower is too tall. The very same argument of "incompatibility" could have been raised to block the construction of the Robie House or any of Mies's buildings. In my opinion, this shows remarkably little appreciation for the evolution of architecture that has made Chicago so great.

The argument against the size is specious as there are other buildings in East Hyde Park that are larger and the building fits well in the street scape of 56th street. "Cornell Neighbors" don't specify what the maximum size that would be acceptable to them is. In addition, Cornell neighbors feel that the garage to the north of the main tower is too tall at 50' high. Here we have two alternatives: reduce the amount of parking (a Hyde Park No No) or go underground. Underground parking is expensive and the developer apparently does not feel they can recoup the expense of underground parking in higher condominium prices.

The document contains other curious arguments such as the development violated the Lakefront Protection Ordinance or that the development is priced badly by the developer or that the developer has designed something that makes service access to his own Windemere House impossible. The idea appears to be that the Lakefront Protection Ordinance applies to a property located 5 blocks from the Lake but fronting a park which connects with the lake By this same reasoning, much of the Jackson Park Highlands violates the Lakefront Protection Ordinance.

The memo goes on to praise Antheus Capital for being so responsive to the community. Here the argument is: they have been so accommodating in the past, let's press them for even more (but unspecified) concessions.

The most curious sentence in the letter is on page 3 as part of set of bullet points providing the reader with a list of possible actions. The memo urges you to write letters to the Hyde Park Herald and "avoid calling for no development at all." Given that the memo starts out with the statement "it can be stopped," this sentence is puzzling to say the least. Perhaps, the authors mean that we don't like this building but we might like some other building. Since the authors do not specify what they would find acceptable, the developer is faced with an impossible task of guessing what would be acceptable. This has the net effect of discouraging any development, no matter how thoughtful. There will always be someone who doesn't like it.

Mr. Greenspoon has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education and the developer regarding the purchase of Board of Education land to allow for the new alleyway. The essence of the complaint is that there was a no-bid sale and that this contravenes normal operating procedures. Mr. Greenspoon shared correspondence from the Board of Education which indicated that the Board as rescinded it's earlier decision, but "the board remains interested in improvements to Bret Harte School. Therefore, the board directs the Chief Administrative Officer and the general counsel ... to further consider this project and present recommendations to the board regarding its implementation." While it is always hard to intrepret these sort of messages, it appears that the Solstice proposal for improvements at Bret Harte is considered desirable. It may be just a matter of time. A land swap for the purpose of improving both parties is not some sort of under-handed deal.

It is clear that Mr. Greenspoon does not want to look out from his house on Solstice as currently conceived. The community meeting was one referendum on this building. It is clear from this meeting that Mr. Greenspoon's views are not shared by others. It will be incumbent on him to show that there are more than just a handful of people who agree with him. Mr. Greenspoon reported to me that he has a petition against the development signed by about 60 of his neighbors.

Mr. Greenspoon also contends that Solstice will not be able to get a zoning amendment approved. He believes that the building will not comply with the RM6.5 designation as he contends it is too tall in relationship to the site. Why a developer would make such an substantial investment of time and funds without an expectation of success is not clear. In the interest of promoting development, Antheus should be given a chance to convince municipal authorities to give the go ahead for this development.

31 comments:

Robert Greenspoon said...

We of Cornell Neighbors see ourselves as watchdogs, not NIMBY’s. We do not believe that Antheus is exempt from rules that apply to every other developer in the city regarding government land transfers and zoning limits. We only want a project that complies with the rules, and anything more should be stopped. I provided HPP with supporting documents and a 1 1/2 hour interview to explain why Solstice on the Park as currently designed exceeds those limits. I had hoped HPP would represent the facts more faithfully.

The HPP discussion of Cornell Neighbors’ opposition to Solstice on the Park contains factual errors. This post is necessarily limited by its format, so I can share further details and ideas with anyone who emails me: c76307@yahoo.com.

1. Our bulletin’s arguments against the development were actually explanations why the project fails several zoning requirements. Antheus will have to convince the zoning bodies that its project (including its cheese-grater-like structure) is compatible with the character of the neighborhood, and meets standards like no dramatic height differences among adjacent buildings. 1700 E. 56th Street is the only taller building around. However, that building was designed in a different zoning era, before the major zoning overhaul of 1994. The true touchstones for height compatibility are the Windermere House and the Bret Harte School – both much shorter than Solstice’s 299 feet. Antheus will also have obstacles getting approval of a 50’ high parking garage because even towers like 1700 E. 56th cap such heights at around 20’.

2. The underlying zoning for the site is (at most) RM6.5. This is the maximum bulk and density residential zoning designation possible outside the downtown area. The Solstice proposal seeks more than the maximum. Under RM6.5, the math regarding what is known as “floor area ratio” (FAR) precludes zoning approval for Solstice. The maximum FAR permitted under RM6.5 is 6.6. Antheus admitted in February 2007 that its project requires an increase on the development site in the maximum FAR to 8.02. Even that calculation was questionable, and it is more likely closer to 9 or 10. Why is this math important? Because getting Solstice down to its permitted FAR (6.6 on the development site, but maybe lower since part of the site only allows 4.4) will probably have the effect of eliminating a significant number of impermissible floors. HPP asks rhetorically, why would Antheus devote such efforts if it won’t get approval for its project? Only Antheus knows the answer, but consider two things: (1) it probably did not expect the scrutiny of a watchdog group, and (2) it probably has sufficient financial motivation to see how far it can push the limits.

3. HPP states it to be a “curious argument” that Solstice is in the Lakefront Protection Zone. However, even Antheus’s zoning application (previously submitted to HPP, and available to anyone on request to me) admits this to be true.

4. HPP criticizes Cornell Neighbors for not proposing an alternative. But we did. A whole section of our bulletin explained that the site south of the current alley will fit an aggressively contemporary multifamily structure whose bulk and height are on a par with the Windermere House, and the site north of the alley will fit four single family detached homes. We know a contemporary structure can be compatible, because the Graduate School of Business building proved this to be so (with shape and pattern references both to the Robie House and to nearby gothic structures). Indeed we remain surprised that Antheus does not tell the neighborhood what its “Plan B” is, given that “Plan A” is unworkable.

5. I did file a taxpayer lawsuit against the Board of Education, because it was preparing a no-bid sale to Antheus of a 1400 square foot strip of land, presently containing 8 parking spaces, for only $80,000. HPP omits to mention that Antheus announced at the November 15 meeting that it wants the air rights to this land to build 40 more parking spaces overhead. Nothing is wrong with a sale per se, but come on -- $2,000 per parking space in Hyde Park (or even $10,000 depending on how you count) is just too little to pay for such commercial opportunities. A sale without sealed bids is a public funds giveaway, not a “land swap” as characterized in the HPP post. The law requires sealed bids to make sure public funds are not misappropriated, and to guarantee that the schools maximize revenue. The Board’s retreat after the lawsuit was filed (it rescinded the proposed sale) should communicate well enough that I was right.

I like Eli Ungar and believe he has good intentions. In my meetings with him and his staff he has been open-minded, and (to a point) flexible. I believe many of the positive aspects of the current plan (green bands, Bret Harte traffic programming, affordable housing) arose in part out of our discussions. However, even the most well intentioned can overreach sometimes. I know that HPP readers (like myself) are pro-development in Hyde Park, but just because a developer flatters us by taking substantial risks to build something meaningful does not mean we turn a blind eye to his excesses.

Peter said...

Mr. Greenspoon's bulletin points do not actually specify (for the most part) factual errors but simply elaborate his position.

We are against rhetoric here at HPP so I think phrases such as "factual errors" are not correct.

There are a number of mistatemetns in his points

1. There is no question but Mr. Greenspoon is against this development. That is the essense of his "bulletin." He did not make his zoing arguments just to be altruistic but becuase he doesn't like this proposal.

2. This is an elaboration of what I stated in my piece that he doesn't believe the project adheres to rm6.5 designation

3. This is a mistatement. Mr. Greenspoon argued that this development VIOLATES the lakefront protection ordinace. This is what I was calling into question.

5. Mr. Greenspoon has admited to me that he DOES NOT have nor has ever proposed an alternative. His bulletin DOES NOT say that he would support a building that meets RM6.5 zoing. He says that he doesn't like the design of this building and wants a more "compatible" design.

more than 1/3 of this post was devoted to a discussion of a document signed by 4 people.

Again, Mr. Greenspoon says "I had hoped... " but doesn't really show anything was not "represented faithfully."

There is one and only one "fact" here: Mr. Greenspoon is opposed to this development.

Tupper said...

I applaud Antheus and I applaud the Alderman in supporting this project. There are always going to be a few "Mr. Greenspoons" for any project proposed anywhere. We need to be able to compromise and look at the big picture, and in this case Antheus has clearly done its part.

I look forward to this striking development getting built and breathing much-needed life back into a dying part of town.

chicago pop said...

Mr. Greenspoon may be right that his is not NIMBY opposition. The Solstice project would sit in his front, not back yard. We may have to invent a new acronym: the NIMFY.

Let's start with the simple facts about why a big, tall building -- as opposed to townhomes, and especially the default option of a parking lot -- is what is needed on this site.

First of all, it is steps from a Metra station that goes directly downtown. If you build a big building anywhere, this is the place for it, and nothing in any of Mr. Greenspoon's activity shows any recognition of this. Any urban planner will tell you that this site should be part of a TOD, or transit-oriented development, in which a muncipality gives density bonuses, lowered parking requirements, or other incentives for a developer to build greater densities -- meaning greater heights, in order to promote greater use of transit and the entailed congestion reduction.

That means more people doing less driving, folks, and that's good for neighbors, for congestion, and for the planet.

Hyde Park needs more people. For its retail, for its safety, for the viability of its transit service. Anyone can see that there aren't too many places left to put them in HP itself. So if you want more pocketbooks doing more shopping, more people on the streets to keep an eye on things, and more families to support local schools, you want to make sure that you go for density when you get the chance. Because we don't have too many chances left in this neighborhood. Townhomes at a TOD site as Greenspoon proposes are *themselves* a waste of valuable urban land, and are out of character in a City that builds its towers along the lake and its parks.

No one should be fooled by wizardry with the algebra of FAR. Projects get downzoned all the time on the North Side. Upzoning is also possible. Preckwinkle is pushing to re(up)zone on 53rd. It is entirely possible, and can legally be done here.

Zoning regulations are not the equivalent of Church dogma, written down once by the Church Fathers and inalterable except on pain of death (Chicago's code was overhauled in 2004, not 1994 as Greenspoon states). Being a "watchdog" for a code that is essentially a set of guidelines that is waived as often as upheld simply disguises what is really in this case local, particular opposition as general, principled opposition -- to a project that would benefit all of us.

This argument centers around an inherently subjective notion of what is "appropriate" to a neighborhood. The Lakefront Protection Ordinance only for "harmony" along the boundary of lakefront parks and neighborhoods, and excludes building east of LSD. If Greenspoon is looking to the LPO for his legal beef, he's going to go hungry.

If high-rises in Chicago have a historical precedent of going anywhere, it's along the lake, on the fringes of the parks. Many of these buildings, as Peter Rossi correctly observes, "don't go" with each other. Vista Homes and Drs Hosptial are cases in point, as are the Mies that sits next to the Flamingo.

Unfortunately, Mr. Greenspoon's aesthetic tastes are not backed up anywhere in an unchanging code of law, but must be weighed against all of the factors above by an alderman and a wide spectrum of community members.

chicago pop said...

Cornell Neighbors really love parking lots. Especially neighbor Kathie Newhouse. Keep that in mind when they talk about "Plan B":

"The open, airy space, of the two existing parking lots offers relief and offsets the over-built density of this area."
HP Herald Nov. 1 2006

We recommend a camping trip in front of open, airy Home Depot.

chicago pop said...

It's worth pointing out that local NIMBYs seem to moonlight as clinical psychologists, inventing new "conditions" along the way: you may remember Jack Spicer's "urban claustrophobia." Sometime back at the beginning of his opposition to Ungar's project, Mr. Greenspoon declared it an "unhealthy density."

Type either of those into WebMD and see what you get.

Peter Rossi said...

I love the phrase urban claustrophobia.

I'm told, however, that Jack has written a letter of support for the SOTP development. This has to be some sort of first. However, he did not see fit to make any public statements in favor of the development at the community meeting.

Perhaps, Mr. Spicer is resting on his laurels in halting any postive progress at the Point and at Doctor's Hospital not to mention at the McMobil site. Turning down more than 30 million to improve aging Hyde Park is an impressive feat. Even gods need rest.

SR said...

Disclosure: I had the latest of many Thanksgiving dinners this week at the home of Rob’s (“Mr. Greenspoon’s”) law partner, and have had the pleasure of knowing Rob and Jen as friends for several years.

Zoning regulations are not the equivalent of Church dogma, written down once by the Church Fathers and inalterable except on pain of death (Chicago's code was overhauled in 2004, not 1994 as Greenspoon states). Being a "watchdog" for a code that is essentially a set of guidelines that is waived as often as upheld simply disguises what is really in this case local, particular opposition as general, principled opposition -- to a project that would benefit all of us.

I think what we all know but aren’t saying here is that in practice zoning regulations exist to give individual aldermen complete control over development in their wards; if they don’t want a particular project, they will assert zoning regulations against it, but if they do, those regulations will be waived more or less automatically. And this arbitrary treatment towards what is after all an allegedly democratically-determined set of regulations is part of the Way Things Work in Chicago that leaves so many doors open to corruption and sweetheart deals. I personally think that Preckwinkle is an honest public official and is supporting the Solstice project because she thinks it will be good for Hyde Park, but I know people in other wards who are not so fortunate, and the basic fact that this IS the process in Chicago rankles. Local, particular support for a given development in defiance of city zoning regulations is no more principled than local, particular opposition, if you think the law is actually the law or anything.

And all of the above goes for doing a no-bid sale on public land as well. I don’t think there was anything particularly underhanded going on here either, but the law on that exists for a reason, and whether or not a no-bid deal undertaken for the “mutual benefit” of both parties is usually in the public interest really depends on the parties, doesn’t it?

I suppose my point is, if we want to re-zone Hyde Park for denser development, then let’s do that through an open, democratic process rather than doing all these piecemeal exceptions. It’s not actually a good thing in itself that it’s so easy to get around just about any rule or regulation if the Alderman wants a particular development to happen. Antheus has obviously gone to a great deal of trouble to accommodate all sorts of interests in designing its project. What does it say about our city that the one thing they knew they DIDN’T have to worry about much was the actual law?

Elizabeth Fama said...

I have a slightly off-topic comment to famac, who complained about the appearance of the windows on the side of the Soltice building: I watched Empire Strikes Back again this weekend, and I noticed that the windows are reminiscent of the windows in the command room of an Imperial Star Destroyer! (And, hey, Jean Gang is young enough to have that sort of influence.) That was enough to get me to like them.

chicago pop said...

Hey, maybe Imperial Star Destroyers are LEED-Certified, green technology, like Solstice.

chicago pop said...

I think what we all know but aren’t saying here is that in practice zoning regulations exist to give individual aldermen complete control over development in their wards.

I would disagree with this; zoning regulations don't exist to give power to alderman, even if aldermen have assumed this power. The Chicago tradition of allowing aldermen last say in development decisions has nothing to do with zoning per se.

Arguing for a more comprehensive approach to zoning for density, which I agree with, also supports an argument for a comprehensive approach to affordable housing, which is also approached piecemeal.

But until either ideas become reality, each case is dealt with individually, and the Solstice project merits realization based on its transit-oriented nature alone.

SR said...

I would disagree with this; zoning regulations don't exist to give power to alderman, even if aldermen have assumed this power.

Oh, I completely agree that they aren’t supposed to work this way; that was actually my point. A better wording might have been “in practice ... serve to” rather than “in practice ... exist to.”

Arguing for a more comprehensive approach to zoning for density, which I agree with

Seriously, from your point of view, why? If zoning regulations can and should be ignored at will and contribute nothing at all to the corruptibility of public officials by mismatching changing needs and economic trends or anything, what is the point of bothering to change them?

chicago pop said...

SR, how do your arguments apply to this project and this instance?

Can you present evidence supporting your argument that A) a zoning change in the case of Solstice is linked to any corruption on the part of the 4th Ward Alderman, or similar zoning changes have done so in any other instances; B)that zoning variances *have not* allowed citizen's groups to negotiate with developers on the nature of certain projects; and C) present evidence or any specifics as to how the process of obtaining a zoning variance is *more* open to corruption by its very nature than any other process involving City bureaucracy, or engenders corruption more than the absence of zoning in other cities?

If Mr. Greenspoon and Cornell Neighbors are serious about tackling the abuse of zoning variances that you discuss, then there is plenty to keep them busy in Hyde Park and throughout the City. (Why has Jack SPicer not signed on as an ally with them, I wonder?) Yet this rather lofty discussion of principle among these individuals seems to apply to only this building.

chicago pop said...

zoning regulations can and should be ignored at will and contribute nothing at all to the corruptibility of public officials by mismatching changing needs and economic trends or anything, what is the point of bothering to change them?

Because land use ordinances are a set of guidelines, which is better than nothing at all, for which there is an established procedure for obtaining variations that requires both bureaucratic and City Council approval.

You may have luck advocating for reform of that *process*, but I doubt you'll have much luck trying to transform land use ordinances into criminal law, to the advantage of attorneys who want to put their skills to use.

SR said...

Can you present evidence supporting your argument that A) a zoning change in the case of Solstice is linked to any corruption on the part of the 4th Ward Alderman, or similar zoning changes have done so in any other instances; B)that zoning variances *have not* allowed citizen's groups to negotiate with developers on the nature of certain projects; and C) present evidence or any specifics as to how the process of obtaining a zoning variance is *more* open to corruption by its very nature than any other process involving City bureaucracy, or engenders corruption more than the absence of zoning in other cities?

I specifically said I didn’t suspect any corruption lurking behind this particular deal. As to the rest of the “evidence” I’m now supposed to produce to bolster my rather simple and obvious point: While moving the goalposts is a time-honored debating technique, I’m afraid I won’t be biting. Your original post and subsequent comments state and restate your (in my opinion, superfluous) contention that Cornell Neighbors cannot possibly be acting from principle in opposing a project you happen to support. We are supposed to accept that, implicitly, you are because you have so many excellent reasons for thinking this is a good project. I find this a curious argument coming from the party that is on the wrong side of every law and regulation cited by Cornell Neighbors, and apparently completely indifferent to that fact.

You may have luck advocating for reform of that *process*, but I doubt you'll have much luck trying to transform land use ordinances into criminal law, to the advantage of attorneys who want to put their skills to use.

I don’t even understand what you’re trying to imply I said with this, so I guess I’ll just leave it unless you’d like to explain.

SR said...

Also, I suppose I should belatedly admit, I’m finding it difficult to think overmuch about the cost/benefit upshot of all these zoning and density issues per se with respect to this particular project, because I am almost hypnotized by its spectacular ugliness every time I look at the drawings.

It’s interesting to hear about the Star Wars influence; I’ve been visualizing it with a good twenty years of car exhaust streaking the white space-tat affixed to the sides, and thinking more along the lines of a pod from the living quarters of the realistically-shabby Nostromo that maybe fell to earth after Ripley nuked the ship. Are the white thingies cast concrete? If so, add the eventual network of concrete patching on all the cracks and crumbles (plus the inevitable anti-pigeon spikes for all the nooks and crannies in the facade), and you’ve got what is in my opinion the saddest archictectural sight in the world: The crumbling and dated “futuristic” building from a bygone iteration of science fiction aesthetic. (I find the Gold Dome in Oklahoma City particularly dispiriting; enlarge the picture to see the lovely tumbling rust stains. Trust me, it looks much worse in person). Plain old brick may be “boring”, but it’s a popular building material in Chicago because it ages well under our very harsh environmental conditions.

What makes the Solstice design truly sad from my perspective is the sheer folly of it. At some point probably not too far in the future, energy efficiency in new buildings is going to become a real market demand rather than a faddish frill for self-identified “greens”, and architects are going to have to get serious about incorporating that requirement into buildings that average people with mainstream taste actually want to work and live in. My guess is that a lot of “green” design will end up being enhancements of old archictectural solutions to heating/cooling problems from before the era of central heating & a/c with modern building materials and more precise engineering, within pretty much any style of archictecture that is in vogue when the shift happens. For example, I was impressed when touring the state capitol building in Austin, TX to learn about the passive cooling system that had been originally built into this marble neo-Classical 1880s-era building, through the careful placement of vents using natural convection and whatnot. They just closed all the vents when they put in the central a/c; if they were doing that same renovation today or 20 years from now, they might find a way to make the vent system work with the a/c instead.

My point being, there’s actually probably no reason at all that “green” design has to look like it fell off a space ship, except that apparently we want it to because it seems all futurey and stuff. It’s how you can tell the green is working! It reminds me a lot of a (possibly apocryphal) story I heard about Nyquil once, that they’d found a way to make it taste better, but when they test-marketed the new version, people didn’t think it was working as well because it didn’t taste like “medicine,” so they never marketed the not-disgusting version. When eventually “green” design is just normal design, buildings like Solstice are going to look like quaint relics of earlier naivete about the utterly prosaic ways in which energy-efficiency would eventually be incorporated into any style of architecture.

chicago pop said...

I think frankly stated aesthetic objections to Solstice, as SR outlined in a previous comment, will probably get more traction with potential allies than an insistence on understanding land use zoning as "the law" which cannot be altered without criminal implications. If that's the strategy the Cornell Neighbors is taking in this instance, then strategically and legally, there's not much for supporters of this plan to worry about.

Again, there are many quite legal and above-board pathways (such as planned developments, which is probably what will happen here)to build something that is at odds with the land use zoning in a district. These procedures are built into the permitting process, so an absolutist conception of "zoning as law" is inapplicable. Although Mr. Greenspoon is free to try.

chicago pop said...

If SR "won't be biting," then I'm afraid I have no way to assess the merits of SR's principled argument that there's something rotten and unprincipled in Denmark (the original moving of the goalposts here) re: zoning and variances and lots of corrupt aldermen (but not the ones approving the Solstice project!) But it was our opponent's point, so I'm happy to see it dropped.

If SR is really opposed to this project on the ground of the sanctity of land use zoning, then it unfortunately contradicts SR's stated support in an earlier comment for Preckwinkle's upzoning of the McMobil lot on 53rd, which is too bad, because SR seemed pretty committed to blocking the NIMBY's in that case.

It also displays an indifference to the way that land use zoning actually works, which is fine with me, but not helpful for Cornell Neighbors. Zoning gets changed all the time for projects: Harper Court, which was a planned development, was a case in point. Will Mr. Greenspoon be suing the Harper Court Foundation for being on the wrong side of the law? Should Eli Ungar be arrested for proposing a building at variance with existing code? I supppose if Mr. Greenspoon's understanding of land use zoning were valid, he could call the police and solve all of these problems in short order.

Peter Rossi said...

let's be clear here-

Mr. Greenspoon is not a "watchdog" but someone who doesn't want to look out on Solstice tower and parking lot. He had decided to fight a holding action by suggesting that AC's applications for a zoning amendmetn can't pass.

Certainly, he is within his rights to do so. However, it appears few people agree with him on this. So what he is doing is increasing the costs of development. This will go thru.

The long-term consequences is to discourage development in our neighborhood.

If Solstice were one of dozens of developments inthe works, this might not be SO bad but, right now, Solstice is the ONLY development pending in HP.

We won't see any action at Harper Court, McMobil, 53rd and Cornell or Village Center for some years if ever.

SR said...

I'm afraid I have no way to assess the merits of SR's principled argument that there's something rotten and unprincipled in Denmark

Well, you could always try reading the local newspapers. Searching the Tribune’s online archives on “zoning + corruption” turns up 273 hits, all of which I would have to pay to read because the stories are more than thirty days old, except this one. I’m not “dropping” the point, I just don’t see any reason to provide evidence to support arguments it doesn’t require. I stated that the malleability of zoning regulations according to aldermanic whim is A source of corruption in Chicago; that doesn’t require me to prove that “zoning variances *have not* allowed citizen's groups to negotiate with developers on the nature of certain projects” or that “the process of obtaining a zoning variance is *more* open to corruption by its very nature than any other process involving City bureaucracy, or engenders corruption more than the absence of zoning in other cities.”

If SR is really opposed to this project on the ground of the sanctity of land use zoning,

You will search my comments in vain for any statement that I think the project should be stopped on this basis. I do however object pretty strenuously to your dismissal of any possibility of genuine watchdog motives on the part of people who are objecting to the project on the basis of its multiple violations of zoning regulations and bidding rules on public land. My comments have been meant to demonstrate how objections on that basis might be perfectly sincere and legitimate, and indeed ought to be presumed to be so.

The tendency on this blog to caricature and impugn the motives of people who happen to disagree with what the blog authors support is always disappointing, but was particularly offensive to me since I happen to know and respect the person whose statements you’re just dismissing here. If Rob says he opposes this project for violating too many rules and regulations at once, I believe him, and I don’t see why it’s so important NOT to in order to maintain one’s own support of the project, if it truly is worthwhile on its own merits.

Elizabeth Fama said...

As a Star Wars fan I must interrupt SR and Chicago Pop with a technicality: if Jean Gang is imitating the windows of an Imperial Star Destroyer, she's not getting "all futurey and stuff," she's reaching back in time -- a long time ago, far, far away.

Just a little levity to break the tension...

SR said...

if Jean Gang is imitating the windows of an Imperial Star Destroyer, she's not getting "all futurey and stuff," she's reaching back in time -- a long time ago, far, far away.

Ah, true. (Bad geek, no biscuit).

chicago pop said...

The Solstice project would only "violate too many rules and regulations at once" if it were actually built without permit approval.

As it is, it is in violation of nothing.

The permitting process would sort out what the City would allow, and what it would refuse, and where zoning would or would not be changed accordingly.

But to object that the building is in violation of zoning when it is in the planning stages, suggests that nothing can be done about it.

That is not true.

chicago pop said...

"The tendency on this blog to caricature and impugn the motives of people who happen to disagree with what the blog authors support is always disappointing"

Sorry to hear that. If it's offensive to label Mr. Greenspoon a NIMFY -- which is the extent of the caricature and impugning that has gone on in this very factually oriented debate, then we're probably not for you.

"If Rob says he opposes this project for violating too many rules and regulations at once, I believe him, and I don’t see why it’s so important NOT to in order to maintain one’s own support of the project, if it truly is worthwhile on its own merits."

As I said before, the aesthetic argument against the project is unassailable. The zoning arguments are not. And the argument from aldermanic corruption is not likely to work in this particular instance.

SR said...

Sorry to hear that. If it's offensive to label Mr. Greenspoon a NIMFY -- which is the extent of the caricature and impugning that has gone on in this very factually oriented debate, then we're probably not for you.

Impugning:
"He did not make his zoing arguments just to be altruistic but becuase he doesn't like this proposal."

"Yet this rather lofty discussion of principle among these individuals seems to apply to only this building."

Caricature:
"Cornell Neighbors really love parking lots."

"It's worth pointing out that local NIMBYs seem to moonlight as clinical psychologists,"

Can you honestly not hear yourself or something?

chicago pop said...

If this level of sarcasm, satire, mockery, and the highlighting of inconsistencies -- all based on comments made public and so far not defended by anyone -- then as I said, we're probably not for you.

Humor, like taste in architecture, is, after all, entirely subjective.

SR said...

So now it's not that you didn't say anything that wasn't completely dispassionately "factual", it's that I can't take a joke, eh?

Inviting people to leave because you can't handle mild criticism is a terrific organizing strategy, I hope that works out for you.

chicago pop said...

I've stated before that this blog combines humor, satire, and sarcasm with analysis -- it's not one or the other. And in this string, the jokes and sarcasm has been milder than anything you'll see on the Jon Stewart Show, or anyplace else in the culture other than the very serious neighborhood of Hyde Park.

chicago pop said...

And for the record, no one is being banned or asked to leave here: if you don't like the humor, you don't have to read it.

SR said...

Use humor all you want, just don't pretend it somehow magically doesn't mean anything because it is humor. You did impugn Rob's motives, and I was indeed reponding to that meaning.

I'm pretty sure Jon Stewart wouldn't agree that comedy is not a powerful means of criticism, btw.

Another possible difference between you and Jon Stewart is that most of Stewart's audience probably doesn't live down the block from Dick Cheney and run into him at the supermarket and whatnot.

I didn't mean to sound so "pack up my toys and go home" earlier, I just on some level don't understand why you don't see how pointlessly alienating the personal comments about people are. But whatever, your blog, your rules, you never said you were organizing anything, yada yada yada.

Carl said...

I live in the area and I think the building is totally fugly. It's also not (as claimed) affordable housing; starting price is half a million. wtf? Unless the prices come back to earth it won't matter - who's buying ultra expensive condos in a neighborhood surrounded by the three most violent the city has to offer?