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.
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.
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.