Time for compromise at McMobil site

To the Editor:

I support the proposed McMobil site redevelopment. I back Ald. Will Burns (4th) (who has already formally expressed his support for the development), the University of Chicago, and Mesa Development LLC. My support is strong and informed, but it is not unquestioning or unconditional.

Rather than continuing to fightthe development or passively accepting whatever may come, I suggest a third way. I recommend that community groups seek to negotiate aspects of the development with the parties leading the process. For instance, SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation) successfully participated in negotiations that led to the developer agreeing to designate 20 percent of the number of units as affordable housing, including 15 percent of units on-site and 5 percent off-site.

Parking: Though City of Chicago planners at DHED (Department of Housing and Economic Development) have already expressed belief that the amount of parking is too much for this project, fear remains that the site’s parking would be insufficient.

  • Charge for parking such that it motivates tenants not to own cars and/or reduce rents for tenants who don’t own a car. People who place a high priority on parking will not move in here.
  • Give the parking spaces greater flexibility in designation. Rather than assign half for retail and half for residents, perhaps the parking allotment could vary by time of day – more for shoppers during the business day and more for tenants the rest of the time.

Traffic: This site earns 91 out of 100 possible points from walkscore.com, denoting it as a “Walker’s Paradise” where “daily errands do not require a car.” Despite this, nightmares of traffic congestion and dangerous pedestrian crossings – rather than visions of lively sidewalks with people strolling to destinations – seem to persist. A report forecast that the traffic from this site would actually decrease from the current use of gas station/car wash, given how many times customers pull in and out of the station today. Additionally, an enclosed loading dock at the rear will not add to the congestion on 53rd Street and will minimize noise and disruption on the existing alley. A variety of traffic calming measures should receive consideration:

  • Traffic circles, or roundabouts, could help keep traffic flowing better than the all-way stop signs, and simultaneously slow drivers to a safer speed.
  • Sidewalk bump-outs would narrow the distance pedestrians have to cross without reducing the vehicle right-of-way. Enhanced pedestrian crossings with flashing beacons, raised crosswalks, improved signage, and clear pavement markings would improve safety.
  • Police could make a concerted effort to patrol the street and enforce traffic laws to promote safety and security.

Public transportation: Within half-a-mile of the site – the accepted radius for transit-oriented development – are seven CTA bus routes and the Metra Electric line. The University of Chicago operates shuttle service on 53rd Street. Perceptions of inadequate public transportation remain, however.

  • The apartment leases could include public transit passes to incentivize transit over personal vehicles.
  • A neighborhood trolley bus could provide important connectivity between points within and near Hyde Park.

Employment and Retail: Mesa Development has agreed to construction hiring practices that are favorable to minorities, women, Chicago residents and residents of nearby neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that they are requesting no TIF funds or public subsidy and so are under no obligation to follow such practices. Retail tenants have yet to be identified.

  • Community groups should lobby for retail merchants who will meet the needs of the neighborhood.
  • Merchants should institute hiring preference for residents of the neighborhood and the mid-South Side.
  • Local businesses should receive consideration for the space. If not, they should receive preference for other University-owned property.

The Building: The project will achieve LEED Silver certification, in addition to providing location efficiency, forestalling greenfield suburban development, and permitting residential density that fosters neighborhood vibrancy.

  • Residents north of the building will receive shade that would undermine gardening efforts. A community garden in Nichols Park could help compensate.

This development will alter the neighborhood, and it is in our interest to make the outcome as positive as possible. Please consider these suggestions and work together to shape the development into something of which Hyde Park will be proud.

Jason Duba

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