Letters to the Editor

McMobil threatens our village

To the Editor:

Some time ago, upon meeting a young New Yorker, he asked why I had not been to New York in decades. In response to my comment that I don’t like to visit large cities, he then asked me why I live in Chicago, a large city. I told him that I live in a village, Hyde Park. Living in Hyde Park, we can live in a neighborhood that is part of the city of Chicago.

When articles in The Herald change “McMobil” to “Vue53,” that does not change the fact that the proposed building is vastly inappropriate for that site. The question remains whether that design is appropriate for any site.

Recently, we, residents of Montgomery Place, a retirement community, saw slides along with a talk about changes being made in Hyde Park. I had begun to think that if people wanted to see just what a 14-story building looks like, they could look at our building at 5550 South Shore Drive. Our building is appropriate for the site, similar in appearance to other buildings near us; we have indoor parking. The parking on the street is tight; however, nothing like how difficult it is now to park on Kenwood Avenue and/or 53rd Street.

When the slide of the proposed building was shown, it is a monstrosity of design, going along with nothing in Hyde Park, specifically at the location of 53rd Street and Kenwood Avenue. Seeing the design of McMobil’s proposed building and hearing about the other buildings being planned for 53rd Street was disturbing to anyone who loves Hyde Park.

On March 20th, Amanda Englert’s letter spoke of what a 13- or 14-story building would do to this neighborhood where she has lived for 13 years since she was a student at the University of Chicago. No one close to that proposed building would have sunlight because a building of that size would block the sun that those people have enjoyed.

The Herald of May 1 had a letter by Marc Lipinski that told about other University of Chicago-built buildings that conform to the vicinity in which they were built. Why not use this common sense in planning a new building for this site? This is a prime location for the proper building.

Driving west on 53rd Street from Lake Park Avenue is already a challenge due to the traffic. When people write about how Hyde Park needs more density, we know that they are interested in possible profit to be gained, not for the convenience of residents. Looking at the large building that was built for a new bookstore on the southwest corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue and what has become of it is a sign that we don’t need huge buildings. The Hyde Park Herald of June 26 has an article about the fact that we are losing yet another local “Mom and Pop” book store because they are moving to Indiana — O’Gara and Wilson, 1448 E. 57th St.

What will Ald. Will Burns (4th) get from his approval of this planned controversial building as well as other plans on the books that do not take into consideration the wishes of many Hyde Park residents?

Donna Graham

Thanks to supporters of school of dance

To the Editor:

On behalf of Hyde Park School of Dance, I want to thank all of the neighborhood families, friends and community partners who helped make En Avant, HPSD’s 20th Anniversary celebration, a major success. More than 900 people filled the audience for our two performances on June 14 and June 15 in the fabulous performance hall at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

In celebrating what makes HPSD unique, En Avant brought together multiple generations of dancers, teachers, choreographers and visionaries to share our story and raise awareness of the transformative power of dance. My heartfelt thank you goes to everyone involved in the planning and realization of this celebration: HPSD’s artistic team, faculty, staff, board and 20th Anniversary committee; our legion of volunteers, including so many alumni and parents, and our generous community sponsors and benefactors. Together we were able to raise funds which will allow HPSD to continue to underwrite its commitment to offer dance instruction to anyone who wants to dance regardless of their ability to pay.

En Avant means “Moving Forward.” With great pride and joy HPSD looks forward to continuing to serve Hyde Park and the greater South Side by providing high quality training, neighborhood performances and a safe, inclusive and nurturing community for our students and their families.

Thank you for your support.

August Tye, Artistic Director
Hyde Park School of Dance

Still supporting U. of C. — but with caveat

To the Editor:

Several weeks ago in these pages I voiced support for the University of Chicago and Mesa Development’s proposal for construction on the so-called 53rd St. McMobil site. While I still believe that that apartment building will be a net asset to the neighborhood, I also wish to join my neighbors in adopting a stance of measured skepticism to all claims by developers that their efforts are sure to beautify the streetscape. 

Case in point: the university and its partners in the development of the 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue are soon to open the doors of their new office building at that intersection. Could be quite lovely inside. Outside? Not so much. 

Consider this photo (below). Were the designers of the new sidewalk planters concerned that there wasn’t enough unadorned and badly-finished concrete in the vicinity? The planters appear to have sprung fully-formed from the curb. This gulag-inspired design does little to soften the stark appearance of the corner. Perhaps it’s just an architect’s wry nod to the brutalist character of the intersection — or perhaps it’s just plain old ugly. 

I could find no drawings of the planters in any of the pre-construction renderings available online. The developers can thus truthfully claim that they’ve delivered what they promised —nothing. In any event, I would ask the university, Vermilion Development and JFJ Development: is that all you got?

Loren Santow

Hyde Park, stand behind Kenwood

To the Editor:

As the chair of the Kenwood Academy local school council, I had the privilege of congratulating and shaking the hands of every graduate that crossed the stage at the school’s recent commencement ceremony. As I looked into their eyes, listened to the cheers of their family members and watched them hug their teachers and counselors, the sense of pride and accomplishment was palpable. Students were heading to colleges around the country, many of them with scholarships in hand.

Kenwood Academy is Hyde Park’s neighborhood school and, as such, it opens its doors to area students and provides a well-rounded college preparatory education. You will find Kenwood students taking classes at the University of Chicago, patronizing businesses on 53rd street, playing instruments at the Fourth of July parade and volunteering at Hyde Park festivals. They are a part of the Hyde Park community, and we need you to be a part of our school community.

Whether a business, one of our neighbors or an alum, I invite you to get connected to Kenwood. Join an LSC committee, mentor or hire our students or, in this season of school budget cuts, there are many ways you can contribute to ensuring the success of our students. Hyde Park is a great neighborhood, and it has a terrific neighborhood high school. This will be reinforced with the students as they interact with the community around them.

Juliana Stratton
Chair, Kenwood Local School Council
Class of ‘83

The ins and outs of delivery at Vue53

To the Editor:

According to the Herald, at the recent Chicago Plan Commission meeting, one of the supporters of  Vue53, Richard Gill (of the South East Chicago Commission), encouraged the commission “not to allow fear of traffic congestion to deter their vote.” Gill said, “This project is too important to the neighborhood to be derailed by something like that.”

This sounds suspiciously like the view of someone who lives far enough away to be unaffected by the problem, and so doesn’t care about anyone who will be affected — GITBY (Great In Their Back Yard) as opposed to NIMBY. To paraphrase his comment, yes, this project is important to the neighborhood — too important to be sold on the basis of inaccuracies, omissions, inconsistencies, disinformation, self-interest and off-handed dismissal of opposing views.

As someone who drives a delivery van for a living and has lived less than a block north of the site of the proposed development for more than 30 years, and who owns a vacant lot on 52nd Street where I plan to begin construction of a new single family home this year, I read the Traffic and Parking Study commissioned by the developer first with interest, then with concern and finally with alarm at its defects and inadequacies. While I am just as concerned as most of my neighbors about the sheer out-of-scale size of the building, the out-of-character design, the loss of our view of the sky in general and sunlight in particular (especially in the winter when we need it most) and the precedent-setting nature of this project that will allow future claims that any proposed large buildings would be “in character” with this one, I also have some particular concerns about traffic that I haven’t yet seen addressed:

• The “existing traffic” part of the study only shows traffic using one of the driveways into Kimbark Plaza (the one on 53rd Street at the east end of the shopping plaza) even though Kimbark Plaza has three access driveways: two on 53rd Street and one on Woodlawn Avenue; “projected traffic volume” doesn’t show these other two driveways either. So the actual in-and-out traffic for Kimbark Plaza parking lot is probably something on the order of twice what the traffic study shows. This alone should raise questions concerning the study’s accuracy.

• Vue53 will have only one driveway, and projected traffic volume for the whole development is estimated as much less than the one Kimbark Plaza driveway they counted, despite the fact that Vue53 will add approximately 500 residents and an amount of retail space roughly comparable to Kimbark Plaza. It seems to me that the retail component alone would generate roughly the same amount of traffic as Kimbark Plaza, before adding even more traffic for the residential units. The traffic study predicts that only 47 percent of the building’s parking spaces will be rented by tenants, leaving the rest for employee and retail customer parking — but projected traffic volume into and out of the new building seems to be based only on tenant usage of the driveway and this 47 percent figure.

• Where traffic from the parking levels exits onto 53rd Street from inside the building, drivers will not be able to see approaching pedestrians or bicycles until they actually cross the sidewalk, and pedestrians and bicyclists will not be able to see approaching vehicles until they actually emerge from the building.

• The alley behind the building is not wide enough for two trucks to pass each other (at its narrowest point it is 16ft., 8 in. wide, and at several other points it is 17 ft., 6 in. wide) and thus will have to be one way (which direction?) and frequently blocked by delivery trucks. (See the alley behind Kimbark Plaza from Woodlawn to Kimbark avenues for proof.) I also question whether it’s wide enough to allow a semi (“multi-unit truck” in the study’s terminology) to back into the dock from the existing alley — if it’s even possible, certainly any time this happens it will be cumbersome and time-consuming, completely blocking the alley for a time. From the plans it also looks like whenever there is a semi in the dock it will reduce or eliminate the space available to other trucks, and the cab of any parked semi will probably stick out of the dock and block the alley until it leaves.

• No matter whether the alley becomes one-way eastbound or westbound, all truck traffic into and out of the loading dock will have to either enter or leave the alley by driving two blocks on smaller residential streets, and possibly also on Hyde Park Boulevard, on which commercial traffic is prohibited. Also, according to the study, “Parcel/package deliveries (i.e., FedEx, UPS, USPS) are likely to occur through the front lobby on E. 53rd Street” — which in the real world means that these trucks would likely be double-parked on 53rd Street, blocking traffic and forcing vehicles behind them into oncoming traffic to go around. The proposed future addition of a bike lane would only make this situation worse.

• More traffic congestion and more demand for parking always generate a certain amount of traffic that is just driving around the block looking for parking spaces, and due to its sheer size this building will be no exception. (This could be tenants who have chosen not to rent a parking space due to the expense, people coming to visit residents in the building, retail customers, delivery vehicles or people living in or visiting residences on the adjacent residential streets.) This location is especially ill-suited for this around-the-block traffic, with most of the nearby streets one-way and with cul-de-sacs on 52nd Street, 54th Street and Kimbark Avenue — which will lead vehicles to try to escape through an alley, which might well be blocked by trucks. Backing out of an alley and/or turning around at the end of a cul-de-sac and going in the opposite direction amounts to even more traffic than simply driving around the block. Add in an occasional lost or confused truck driver and it gets downright dangerous.

Most of the goals stated for the development are worthy ones with which I agree. But you simply cannot accomplish all those goals by stacking them all together in one enormous building — and then still maintain the existing character of the surrounding neighborhood. At least not at 53rd Street and Kenwood Avenue you can’t. The University of Chicago and its minions know full well that this building would not be suitable on its own inner campus, five or six blocks to the south. How can they be so insulated from the surrounding neighborhood that they don’t realize that it also isn’t suitable among the three-story buildings on this part of 53rd Street? Yes, there needs to be something there. Probably there could be some parts of this project and its worthy goals that would fit. But not everything in one place, all in one monstrous, oversized building.

Michael Domina

Many causes for a lack of trees in cities

To the Editor:

Mary Fano Giacomoni in her letter of June 5 states that Hyde Park is losing trees. This is correct, although the reasons are not primarily due to building development. Trees in our urban environment have a difficult time even under ideal circumstances. They have suffered greatly from alien pests/diseases such as Dutch elm disease, which wiped out the near monoculture of elms, and now the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) which is rapidly destroying the green ashes found on many parkways. Trees also die from old age and from damage by vehicles. The current problem is that they are not being replaced. The current City administration has essentially eliminated parkway tree planting and the U. of C. does nothing about tree planting on parkways adjacent to their existing buildings, both campus and the many properties that they own in the neighborhood. The Chicago Park District is also unconcerned with replacing the many trees lost in our parks due to storms, as well as disease and old age. Hyde Park Kenwood residents need to contact the Mayor and their aldermen to urge parkway tree plantings, in a wide variety of species, as well as the Park District.

Joshua Telser

Miss Tammie finds a new home

To the Editor:

Since my move out of the Hyde Park neighborhood club, I have now found a new home at the United Church of Hyde Park, 1448 E. 53rd St., at Blackstone Avenue.
The move was made possible by all the wonderful parents whose children I teach every day.

I appreciate the trust they instill in me. I value their input on the school and I appreciate their time and effort they put in the move. Their help and dedication I appreciate immensely. If it was not for them, the move would not have been possible.

From the bottom of my heart I thank them ever so kindly.

I also wish to thank the Rev. Larry E. Turpin, pastor at United Church of Hyde Park, the board members and secretary for opening their doors to the Montessori school.
The relaunch, as we are opened, of the school at the new location will be revealed at a fundraiser at a later date.

I again want to thank everyone who has lent a hand: Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, Ms. Allen, Mr. and Mrs. Pope, Mr. and Mrs. Read, Mr. and Mrs. Srinivasan, Mr. and Mrs. Srivastava, Mr. Varanasi and Mrs. Allu, Mr. and Mrs. Guillory, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Maria, Mr. and Mrs. Patton, Mr. and Mrs. Penwell, Mr. and Mrs. My-Noc Tran, Mr. and Mrs. Witherspoon, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, Mr. and Mrs. O’Bannan, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, Mr. and Mrs. Gowder and Mr. Paul Sanders. 

Miss Tammie Crutcher
The Childrens House

Thanks to all who supported Drop-In

To the Editor:

Chicago Hyde Park Village thanks everyone who came to and supported our pilot Drop-In program at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave. The third Drop-In last Friday, June 7, was the best of all. We had some lively discussions, delicious focaccia sandwiches prepared for us by Hyde Park Produce and “stress baked” (it’s exam time!) scones prepared for us by student bakers from Burton Judson dorm.

Sadly, that was the last of the pilot Drop-Ins. There will not be a Drop-in this coming Friday. The University of Chicago student group, spearheaded by Andrew Holzman, is hoping to join forces with us again in the fall to resume the program. In the meantime, we are exploring ways to bring a few Drop-Ins to you over the summer. Watch for notices.

Again, thanks to all who joined us these past three Fridays and for your thoughts and suggestions.

Susan Alitto
President, Chicago Hyde Park Village

McMobil supporters are still not convincing

To the Editor:

Well, after several letters of “support” for the McMobil project, still not one has attempted to put forth a rational argument for erecting That Specific Building on That Specific Site. That’s of course because there is no rational way to support construction of any building so out of scale with its surroundings.

And “scale” is not “aesthetics.” If you create a toy train layout in HO scale, you can’t use an N scale engine — it won’t fit. All the trees, animals, people and buildings in your layout must also be HO scale or they won’t fit. Your landscape would look mighty strange with N scale buildings in an HO scale environment, regardless of “aesthetic” choices such as color. The same is true for a scale model airplane or dollhouse. That’s one of the reasons why Colleen Moore’s Dollhouse is such a marvel — everything is in scale, from the tiny candlesticks and oriental carpet patterns to the light bulbs.

All of us use our sense of scale in our daily lives. You use it to choose the furniture for your home. You might long to have a canopy bed, but you probably would not try to stuff a king-size, four-poster canopy bed into an eight-by-10 bedroom with an eight-foot ceiling. One also tries to have all the chairs, tables, lamps, pictures, sofas and rugs in scale with the size of the room. The same is true outdoors. Nature has a scale — little three-inch plants don’t often have huge, peony-sized flowers.

Cityscapes should have a unifying scale as well. New buildings should fit their site and be in proportion to those near them “to knit up holes and tatters in a city neighborhood so that the mending is all but invisible,” as per Jane Jacobs.

So please quit using the “retail, residents, jobs, affordable rentals, parking” mantra as excuses, since any building on that site likely should/would include those features. Instead, support the idea of a “hold” on the McMobil plans, so that we as a community can discuss a comprehensive, public, community-directed process for establishing an overall, specific development plan for 53rd Street. If we care about the future of Hyde Park, we should not blandly accept this piecemeal, parcel-by-parcel, developer-oriented scattershot approach, which has resulted in trying to convince us that an out-of-scale behemoth is necessary to solve 53rd Street’s problems.

Stephanie Franklin

Check out the Village Drop-In

To the Editor:

Seniors in Hyde Park will not want to miss the opportunity to drop in and hang out with University of Chicago students this Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the meeting room of Augustana Lutheran Church at 55th Street and Woodlawn Avenue. This will be the third such Drop-In, sponsored by the Hyde Park Village, at the instigation of Andrew Lee Holzman, a freshman philosophy major from Cape Cod. I have enjoyed both prior Drop-Ins. Each one offered something different. At the first, an informal discussion of the McMobil plans got our temperatures rising. At the second, three tables — a poetry table, a tech table and a third were set up. Hadley, a freshman in international studies who plans to spend next year in Kyoto, led the poetry table in a lively discussion of three of her favorite poems. A poem by Billy Collins got us all talking about our memory lapses. At the Tech table, Andrew was answering questions from seniors who had brought their computers. Students circulated among the tables and answered our questions about where they were from, what they were studying, what they hoped to do with their lives and how they liked the university and the community.
There are also refreshments — drinks, sandwiches and munchies — and while we enjoyed them, we also circulated and met other students, all of whom seem to be friends of Andrew, or friends of friends.

Come and see for yourself this Friday. It’s like hanging out with your own grandchildren at the university.

Mary Rose Shaughnessy

Drop-In is great service for seniors

To the Editor:

My husband and I recently visited the Hyde Park Village’s drop-in center for seniors. The Village tried the program out to gauge interest, and may start it up again in the fall if the number of attendees is high enough. The Drop-In, which includes discussions, socialization and lunch, is not to be missed. I recommend it to my neighbors and urge them to support it by attending the final session next Friday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Stop by!

Carroll Giocondo

In support of Mesa’s Vue53 development

To the Editor:

I’m writing this letter in support of Mesa Development’s plans for the Vue53 project. As a somewhat newer resident to the neighborhood, I have become acutely aware of the need for additional providers of goods and services throughout the community. My family has become far too accustomed to making the trek north to Roosevelt Road for many of life’s most basic needs. I believe that continued development on 53rd Street and elsewhere in Hyde Park by firms of Mesa’s pedigree will help to stimulate jobs, sales taxes, property values and overall quality of life for all neighborhood residents. I am very confident that memories of the gas station, car wash and ugly asphalt parking lot will vanish in a minute upon this development’s completion.

Hyde Park is a wonderful, unique, tight knit neighborhood which is the reason my family chose to relocate here from the North Side. However, embracing positive change will only enhance these attributes and ensure they continue indefinitely. Please join in support of Mesa.

Meredith Oliver and family.

University, McMobil ruining Hyde Park

To the Editor:

When my family and I moved to Hyde Park from Washington, D.C., in the mid 1960s, we noted a number of very positive similarities in the two communities. Lots of green: trees and grass were plentiful. A sense of space: buildings were, for the most part, low with parkways and lawns. The sky was easily visible without getting a crick in one’s neck. Moving about either by foot or by car was easy: congestion was minimal. There were lots of interesting “Mom and Pop” stores.

In the past 10 or more years, the university seems to be taking great pleasure in destroying all that is positive about Hyde Park. Trees are coming down. Buildings are becoming sidewalk to sidewalk. Where are the grass and trees? Buildings are becoming taller. Where is the sky?

The McMobil site is a perfect example of all that is becoming bad in Hyde Park. Vue53 is too tall and encroaching for the community. It will add far more traffic than the community can support. Where will the new arrivals park?

I will not pretend that the following is my original idea, but I would strongly urge the community and university to seriously consider moving the planned Vue53 project to where the Plant Department currently stands, on Stony Island just south of 56th Street. The advantages are plentiful. The first and most obvious is that this piece of land is larger so that the new building need not be 14 stories high and a parking garage could be included or added to the roof. The current building already extends to the sidewalk, so no grass nor trees would be sacrificed in building out. Stony Island is wider than 53rd Street, so additional traffic could flow more freely. The occupants of the apartments would have Metra within half a block and several bus lines within a block – unlike at the current proposed site where the closest bus line is more than four blocks away. In addition, a major economic reason for not building as tall as planned on 53rd Street is the city’s mandated regular critical façade inspections. These are expensive!

I have heard that the university is planning to build a new dormitory on the Plant Department site. This could and should be placed on the McMobil site. Most dormitory students do not have cars and therefore walk, easing traffic congestion. The McMobil site is closer to the quads than is the Plant Department site, ergo more student friendly. Students get tired of “dorm food” and will willingly go to the many new eateries on 53rd Street.

Mary Fano Giacomoni

Vue53 part of positive Hyde Park trends

To the Editor:

I fully support the proposed redevelopment of the “McMobil” site (Vue53). I have lived in Hyde Park for a decade with my wife and three kids. We could live anywhere in Chicago but we decided to raise our family here in Hyde Park. With confidence, I can say that there is no other place in America like Hyde Park. We love it because of the diversity, access to the lake, proximity to the downtown, strong housing stock and the association with one of the most prestigious universities in the country. However, Hyde Park has one glaring weakness in the form of limited retail and restaurant options. While we have the basic services, we can do better!
Clear progress has been made with the current redevelopment of Harper Court, but we can’t stop there. The proposed Mobil site redevelopment will further enhance the west portion of the 53rd Streetcommercial corridor. This new state-of-the-art apartment building will house over 300 new residents, which will bring more patrons and spending to support the existing businesses and entice other retailers to set-up shop in Hyde Park. The size and density of the new building is precisely what we need to create demand for more retail offerings. The building will include parking and retail space on the ground level, filling in the current open gap in the streetscape. Furthermore, the proposed development will not utilize any public subsidy but, in fact, will help to replenish the tax increment that has been depleted by the Harper Court development.

Lastly, I want to keep my family’s spending in Hyde Park to support the neighborhood that we love. We look forward to the day when we can stroll down 53rd Street and discover all of the new shopping options from Harper Court to Kimbark Plaza. To make this vision a reality we need to support Vue53 and make it happen.

Alderman Burns, I thank you for your support of this project!

Charles Young

Mesa development has many advantages

To the Editor:

I fully support the efforts of Mesa Development LLC to revitalize 53rd Street with its high-rise and leased commercial space. As a long-time resident, I welcome the opportunity to secure more stores and restaurants with quality options for Hyde Park residents.
Our family has decided to live in Hyde Park all of these years because of its cultural diversity, its proximity to the Loop, our business and because we have made many friends in the neighborhood. After many years, we’re beginning to see commercial changes. The steady stream of new options in Hyde Park is welcoming to say the least.

The Mesa development will clearly help define that goal and will surely bring more vibrant and exciting pedestrian retail to 53rd Street. While creating jobs and tax revenue, it will also give additional retail options for national and local merchants.
Steve Thomas