Suit filed over Vue53 site

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Assistant to the Editor

LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

Four Hyde Park residents announced on Wednesday, Sept. 25, that they filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for its decision earlier this year to rezone 53rd Street’s so-called “McMobil” site.

The lawsuit was filed in late August with the Circuit Court of Cook County to “challenge the City of Chicago’s re-zoning of property located at 1330 E. 53rd Street,” where a McDonald’s restaurant and Mobil gas station once stood and a 13-story mixed-use apartment building, Vue53, is scheduled to begin construction next year. The site was demolished in August and is currently fenced off.

The residents will be represented by lawyer Adam Kingsley, an attorney at O’Donnell and Associates Ltd. Kingsley assisted the Woodlawn Home Owners Association in 2011 in the preservation of the 5700 block of South Woodlawn Avenue by helping to develop a subsection of Planned Development No. 43. The document provides a framework for University of Chicago development, with protections for the street.

According to plaintiff Michael Scott, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who lives on the 5200 block of Kenwood Avenue, the development would block his view of Nichols Park. But he says his concerns about the development are far greater.

Scott calls the project “inappropriate and illegal.” He said: “The absolutely most important thing here is the building is the wrong building for the site because it is so huge and out of scale.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Chicago City Council’s decision to rezone the property earlier this year, first to B3-5 and then Planned Development No. 1218 — allowing for Mesa Development’s $75 million project to reach a planned height of 154 feet — was “arbitrary and capricious.”

A statement Scott helped to draft on save53rdstreet.org, a website run by a group of Hyde Park residents opposed to the construction of Vue53, says that “Illinois law provides a basis for challenging ‘arbitrary and capricious’” rezoning, a reference to the LaSalle Factors. The series of eight guidelines, established by two mid-20th century Illinois court cases, provides a framework for judging the legitimacy of zoning changes.

According to Scott, two of the plaintiffs are members of Citizens for Appropriate Retail and Residential Development, a neighborhood organization supporting their cause. He emphasized, however, that the plaintiffs are filing the suit independently.

“It’s not surprising that four of us who live relatively close to it have stepped out to be plaintiffs,” Scott said. “We are doing this because we care about the character of the neighborhood and the life on the street.”

Earlier this year, proposed zoning changes to the McMobil site easily passed with the support of the U. of C. and Ald. Will Burns (4th).

The City Council approved in June the zoning changes that allowed for a 13-story to be constructed on that site. The City Council passed it with a vote of 49 to 0. Ald. Ed Burke (14th) recused himself.

The new zoning code allows for a mixed-use building and up to 160 feet in height.
When the issue came before the Plan Commission in May, the building’s architect Joe Valerio said “We really think the building is as low as it can go.”

Valerio told the Plan Commission, who approved the project with only one dissenting vote, that to lower the height of the building the z-shaped tower would need to become an h-shaped tower, and that would put neighbors facing each other only 16 feet apart.

Calmetta Coleman, director of communications for Civic Engagement at the university, described the project as the outgrowth of a long process of deliberation with the community and characterized it as in keeping with the new developments along 53rd Street.

“The zoning change for Vue53 came after years of discussion about development along 53rd Street with local residents and community leaders, including a series of community workshops that began in 2007, and public meetings earlier this year where the majority of people voiced their support for this particular project,” Coleman said in an email response to a request for comment. “In response to concerns raised at some of those meetings, the developer made several changes to its original proposal for Vue53, including reducing the height of the building and increasing parking spaces.

“Along with bringing new, high-quality rental housing to the neighborhood, Vue53 will add to the vibrant retail scene that is making it easier for residents to shop or dine out in Hyde Park. It will also continue the economic momentum begun by other developments along 53rd Street—such as the hotel, movie theater, and new retail shops—that are keeping local dollars in the neighborhood and providing jobs for members of the community.”

The $75 million project is being funded entirely by private developers. Mesa Development, which would own the building but not the land, has not requested any tax increment financing (TIF) dollars, publicly funded tax money used to spur construction.

After the project was first introduced at the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council a flurry of letters both in support and opposition to a project of its size were printed in the Herald.

The most vocal arguments in support of the building, which would have 230 parking spaces, 30,000 square feet of retail and 267 apartments, say more people on 53rd Street would create a safer environment.

The most vocal arguments against it say it would crowd traffic, block sunlight from neighboring homes and that the height is out of character for the area.

News of the lawsuit was first reported on by chicagorealestatedaily.com. To read the press release for the suit, visit save53rdstreet.org/lawsuit.

j.bishku@hpherald.com
l.welbers@hpherald.com