By LINDSAY WELBERS
The 53rd Street TIF Advisory Board subcommittee on planning and development meeting moved from Kenwood Academy’s little theater into the large auditorium to accommodate the crowd at Tuesday’s discussion of the proposed high rise development at the McMobil site.
Roughly 150 Hyde Parkers discussed changes to the planned development, now called Vue53, that would take the building’s height down from 144 feet to 135 and increase the number of parking spaces from 218 to 230. The tower was also moved to the southwestern corner of the building to keep shadows from being cast on neighbors’ homes.
Mesa Development principal Jim Hanson took the opportunity to sell the $75 million, 13-story retail and residential building to neighborhood residents. Supporters of the development praised the additional retail and housing in the area while more opposed putting such a tall building in that space.
Mesa has not requested any tax increment financing dollars, a publicly funded tax base used to spur construction. Committee co-chair Chuck Thurow said Ald. Will Burns (4th) suggested the TIF Advisory Board meeting as a venue for the neighborhood to discuss the controversial plan.
“There are a number of changes that have been made to the building as a consequence of the input that we’ve heard. … There are going to be additional meetings on this moving forward as well. The Chicago Planning Commission has to meet. The City Council Zoning Committee has to meet. The City Council has to meet,” Burns said. “This process has been open and transparent. I’m not hiding anything. Everything is available on the Internet. … We want everybody informed about what we’re trying to do.”
Some Hyde Parkers were concerned that putting a building so tall would create a precedent that would allow more tall buildings in the neighborhood in the future.
“I can’t speak to precedent setting, clearly this is a tall building. There were tall buildings built before. There are apartment buildings being planned in Hyde Park that are going to be taller, there will be other tall buildings. What I can tell you is that on 53rd Street the university doesn’t have any plans to build any more buildings of this height,” U. of C. Vice President for Civic Engagement Derek Douglas said.
When Mesa first presented the project in January the rendering of the 30,000 square feet of retail was divided into two large spaces. For this meeting the rendering was divided into five spaces ranging in size from 3,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet.
Laurel Stratford, who owns What the Traveler Saw, 1508 E. 55th St., said she is concerned that having such a large space would be hard for a small business to sustain. Stratford sits on the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Board but not the subcommittee on planning and development.
“Many of us feel that we need more retail, but when I looked at your numbers, and you said it would not be all big box shops, most of the segments that you showed us were larger than what most of the smaller business people in this community could support,” Stratford said. What the Traveler Saw’s store is 1,200 square feet, she said.
Hyde Parker Lawrence White said he was initially opposed to a highly trafficked building so close to Murray Grade School, but eventually came to support the project.
“My son goes to Murray so I am concerned about increased traffic there. I know it is difficult to find parking for any event that takes place at Murray in the first place. I’m concerned that this is going to draw more traffic, White said. “This project is not the type of project that’s going to draw people from Chicago to Hyde Park so the parking should be in line with the already inconvenient parking of Hyde Park.”