Saturday, June 7, 2008
Danger: Alderman at Play!
posted by Peter Rossi
Hyde Park has become the Acropolis of the Midwest, home to many abandoned temples. We first chronicled the sad (and continuing) spectacle of the vandalized St. Stephens Church on Blackstone. We move on to the abandoned Vivekananada Vedanta Society temple/meeting house in the 5400 block of Hyde Park Boulevard.
The Vendata Society is moving into larger and fancier digs outside of Chicago, leaving a vacant and forlorn set of buildings here in HP.
Entrance to the Former Vendata Society
The HP headquarters of the VC is fashioned from two large old mansions. The Society, not too keen on design, built an ugly front end that tries to integrate these two structures.
Shabby Front Addition at the VC
To be sure, this addition has probably seen better days as no maintenance or groundskeeping has been done for some time.
By now, I'm sure you are asking -- what does this have to do with our 5th ward Alderman, Leslie Hairston? Be patient, let me finish with the "background reading." The two blocks between 53rd and 55th on HPB are lined with 3 story brick condos with a few mid-rises thrown in for good measure. The tree-lined street manages some bucolic character above the roar of CTA buses.
The VC property would be the perfect place for an apartment building. The economics of this endeavor probably means an apartment building of more than 3 stories.
In swooped the Alderman. On October 6, 2005, the Alderman sponsored legislation to modify the zoning ordinance to single out this very property and changed the zoning to RM-5 (according to the zoning department website).
Gerrymandered 5th Ward Zoning Map
The black square at the center of this screen shot shows the VC property with the RM 5 designation on it. The zoning arithmetic is complicated, but RM 5 generally means no building to exceed 3.5 to 4 stories. RM 6 allows for mid-rise buildings. You can plainly see that most of east HP is RM 6 (and even RM 6.5) except for the Little House on the Prairie created by Alderman Hairston.
It has been rumored elsewhere that the VC is not too happy with this little bit of social engineering as it makes it much more difficult to sell their property. I have no confirmation of this.
Is Alderman Hairston wearing her preservation hat or her anti-development corsage? Or is she just looking for leverage? It's hard to tell, but the residents of HP sure deserve some answers.
In the end, we are left with yet another eyesore in a prime location. No prospects in sight for development and only continued decline of the property. The best we can hope for in the near term (it's the economy, stupid) is demolition of abandoned buildings.