Letters to the Editor

Recycling system is doomed to fail

To the Editor:

Hyde Parkers want to recycle. It is in their nature. However, let’s do the math: The recycle bins are picked up every two weeks. A typical household has four times the recyclables in two weeks than food items. I would say that in a two-week period a typical household would have one grocery bag of food items: egg shells, meat bones, carrot tops.
But, in a two-week period, the same household would have four bins of recyclables: newspapers, magazines, cereal boxes, glass jars, water bottles. And, if this household is students, bags and bags of beer bottles and pizza cartons.

I am sorry to say that I cannot hold my two large boxes of newspapers and will have to throw them in the regular trash along with another box of cardboard. Can’t wait two weeks. The math is all wrong here. Recyclable blue bins should outnumber the black bins four-to-one or if that is not feasible, should be picked up EVERY week.

Joan Goodman

Money drives McMobil height

To the Editor:

I have to take exception with the recent spate of orchestrated letters in the Herald touting the “economic” benefits of the McMobil Vue53 development. The debate is not about economic benefits to the neighborhood. It’s really about doing development “on the cheap.”

Ask yourself one question: Why is there no discussion of creating underground parking? Why doesn’t the developer propose putting two to three levels of underground parking into the development (up to 350 parking spaces), thereby reducing the need for such extreme height AND alleviating the parking problem around Kimbark Plaza?

The answer was given in a community meeting held with the University of Chicago, Mesa Development and the Coalition for Equitable Community Development: it costs too much to dig down into the site.

Look at the redevelopment project in Harper Court: 35 to 40 percent of the parking is below ground. Look at the plans of MAC/Antheus Capital for City Hyde Park: 100 percent of the parking (more than 300 parking spaces) will be below ground.

But McMobil will need remediation — it’s been a gas station for almost 50 years. It needs to be cleaned up. And that’s expensive. So the red herring is to talk about economic benefits, the need for density, affordable housing, while the real point is to avoid spending the monies to clean up a potential environmental hazard.

The University of Chicago should put its money where its mouth is, and do what’s right. Fully remediate the McMobil site, put the parking below ground, and build a wonderful building that is great for and in scale with the surrounding neighborhood.

George W. Rumsey

U. of C. would not build Quad McMobil

To the Editor:

The McMobil development promises benefits that few Hyde Park residents would reject: more retail stores, new consumers to patronize them, a lively presence of new residents on 53rd Street and in Nichols Park, unionized employment during the construction period and after and a percentage of low-cost housing units.

I embrace all of those goals. But I oppose the placement of this building at this location. The building is ugly. It has a Babylonian appearance, gigantic, block set upon block, like Lego construction. Its segments seem like parts of a much taller, narrower building that has been dismantled, its base spread out and its upper stories rearranged below in neat lines but no sense of proportion. The street façade will be all glass storefronts. Many new commercial developments and many malls might be proud to have these facades and this entire building. But set on 53rd Street in Hyde Park it is nothing short of grotesque.

The neighborhood at present has integrity and a strong aesthetic and cultural character. It will be compromised and changed by this building. Urban and gritty as it may be, it is worth maintaining. A benevolent developer planning for Hyde Park redevelopment with the good of the community in mind would surely consider this factor. And I don’t doubt that University of Chicago and Mesa Development have the good of the community in mind.

If the U. of C. campus and not Hyde Park were at issue the thinking and planning would be very different. Let’s imagine this case: Mesa Development Co. proposes to set the McMobil building on the campus of University of Chicago in the campus core, say on the quadrangle in front of Swift Hall or between Pick and Eckhart halls. That’s clearly impossible. It would be grotesquely out of place within the perimeter of the old campus. But suppose the developer named the project “Campus Renewal” or “Vue U. of C.” and urged the economic and social benefits of the project, the many new jobs, the growth of residential space for students and the innovative architecture, encouraged the public to practice progressive thinking about change. The university planners would not be indifferent to those benefits, but they would reap them in a location suited for such a building. For instance, south campus. The integrity of the inner campus has aesthetic and historical value, and a McMobil among the three-story neo-gothic buildings would violate its integrity and mar that value. But the proposal would be rejected, of course; the university respects the integrity of its inner campus, and Hyde Park residents cherish it.

I urge the U. of C. and Mesa Development to respect the integrity of the 53rd Street area as well: either scale down the project and make it consistent with the neighborhood architecture; or move it where it’s better placed — or both. When the U. of C. needed a new library, it didn’t set Regenstein or Mansueto in the old campus. An absurd idea. They put it on the edge of north campus, where the innovative architecture could assert its own new ambience without treading on anyone else’s.

McMobil would meet with much less opposition if it fit the neighborhood. It doesn’t and we are being invited to overlook that fact by the thought of economic and social benefits.

The McMobil project would be well placed along Lake Park Avenue, backing up to or facing the railroad tracks, looming above other commercial property, and looming alongside other high rise buildings nearby (like the Harper Court office building, 47th Street and Lake Park Avenue, the east side).

To object that the community around 53rd Street lacks cultural and aesthetic integrity, and that a glistening, huge new building would replace its “urban blight” (the term from the New York Times article), would be a case of big interests muscling into an established neighborhood with crass disregard of its present character.

The university’s track record on redeveloping Hyde Park is not encouraging. I’ll end by quoting some passages from “Reflections on Hyde Park” by Phil Hefner, long-time resident of Hyde Park, distinguished theologian and teacher emeritus at LSTC:

“The redeveloped 55th Street is, from a human point of view, a street of horror. It was changed from an ordinary bustling city street to a major artery connecting Lake Park Avenue to Cottage Grove Avenue and Washington Park. It is more a highway than a street. Even more important, it changed the streetscape by lining it with institutions … The ‘new’ 55th Street contradicts totally what our greatest urban planning writer, Jane Jacobs, called for in her idea of ‘human streets.’ She coined the term ‘ballet of the streets;’ there is no such ballet on 55th Street — it moved to 53rd Street.

“55th Street was a historic street that had evolved with the neighborhood. That history was simply torn up, so as to make the street an effective barrier between the university and the Golden Rectangle on the south and the “other world” to the north. [Fifty-third] Street is also a street with a history — in part an extension of the history of pre-urban renewal 55th Street. In the half-century since urban renewal, the domain of affluence has extended, so that it can now include 53rd Street and move north to Hyde Park Boulevard. It is no surprise that the university and the developer … are now moving to re-write the history of another street.”

The essay will be published soon.

Stephen Jaeger

Let Hyde Park vote on the McMobil Project

To the Editor:

Thank you to everybody who attended the Chicago Plan Commission meeting on May 16, wrote letters to the commission or spoke at the meeting. If nothing else the commission and developer have gotten the idea that there is a lot of opposition to McMobil. This is not over.

Apologists for McMobil talk as if Hyde Park is about to strike oil.

The claims of economic benefits of McMobil are dubious and not backed up by facts. There should be an objective forecast of the economic benefits of McMobil by an organization experienced in doing such forecasts for communities and checking the accuracy of their predictions years later. Meanwhile the McMobil apologists should stop making exaggerated claims.

Hyde Park is home to about 35,000 people. If McMobil is built, about 500 people will occupy the 270 apartments. That is about 1 1/2 percent of the population of Hyde Park. They should increase spending by about 1 1/2 percent. Big deal. That is a minimal economic benefit.

There should be a complete and impartial shadow study and traffic and parking study.
About “filling in the gap in the smile,” that assumes that 53rd Street is full of 13-story buildings all the way to Kimbark Avenue. It’s not. McMobil would fill in the gap with a gold tooth. There could be a four- or five-story building to fill in the gap.

To me McMobil looks like a kid with a Lego set has gone wild.

Wonder why so many people don’t go to public meetings? The May 7 TIF meeting was controlled by the developers and their allies. It was more of an advertisement than an honest discussion of the pros and cons of McMobil. Ald. Will Burns (4th) stood at the back, hiding behind a taller member of support staff. At the March 18 meeting at the Augustana Lutheran Church, Ald. Burns stayed in the lobby and wouldn’t come in to talk to the meeting.

There should be an advisory referendum where Hyde Park residents can vote on McMobil. The city’s decision on McMobil should be put on hold until after the advisory referendum.

Mark Graham

New McMobil development will be overall benefit

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Ald. Will Burns (4th)

Alderman Burns:

I am comforted to know that you are supportive of the current development plans of the McMobil site. After reading all the articles in the Herald and having my cars and homes blanketed with opposition flyers, I decided to write you. Many of my neighbors also support this development but quite frankly lack the time or desire to write letters and attend countless meetings to have our voices heard. It seems intuitive to us that the development is needed and that many of us want more from our neighborhood. I have lived here as a homeowner for nearly 18 years, plus another two as a renter during graduate school. In all these years, I have never once walked down 53rd street to shop! I would love to have lunch and stroll through the neighborhood much like I do in other neighborhoods. I have seen this done quite tastefully in other urban areas with a university presence. My husband and I have wondered why this neighborhood has not been attractive to developers as we certainly have the income base to support more retail. Over the years, it has become clear to us that the neighborhood is divided into those that want more upscale development and those that want it to remain the same or change under their tightly defined ideas. It is very frustrating.

The only point of the opposition to which I will concede is that it will bring more traffic and congestion. Am I to understand that the opposition only wants shoppers and residents that will walk rather than use a car? What about people from other neighborhoods that will want to drive here to shop? Don’t the retailers want as much traffic as possible? Yes, the traffic will be an inconvenience to all of us, but traffic is a natural by-product of development. This one development cannot solve all the parking problems in Hyde Park. We live in a major city and nearly everywhere we go there is traffic. People adjust; they will drive and be prepared to walk a few blocks just like we do in other neighborhoods.

Yes, the project will be one of the largest in the area. However, it is clearly not a “skyscraper” or the only project of this size. The project is attractive and will enhance a lot that has been an eye sore for a very long time. The flyers say the retail spaces are for big box stores. Big box to me is a Walmart and clearly the space is too small for such a retailer. The largest space appears to be in the same range as the Treasure Island or the old Co-op (new Ross Store) on 47th Street or the planned Whole Foods development. I also heard that the height of the project will cast a shadow over the park. While this “seems” unlikely, even if it is, should the entire neighborhood be held hostage based on this point? Are the owners of adjacent buildings entitled to limit the use of neighboring sites because they will have less sun?

Are we willing to overlook the fact that the project will add TIF dollars and contribute to the current deficit? In theory, we “could” do better, but it’s the best project for the site that I have seen in my 20 years in the area. Must we wait another 20 years for a developer to do it exactly the way “we” want it?

Alderman Burns, please have the courage to do what you know is best for the growth and development of our neighborhood — approve the deal!

Evonne Taylor

In solidarity with students on climate change vote

To the Editor:

I stand with the 2,183 University of Chicago students who voted on the student government election ballot in favor of the fossil fuel divestment referendum, as reported by Lindsay Welbers in the May 8 issue. My wife attends the University of Chicago, earning a Ph.D. in Theology, and she voted in favor of the referendum. In the two-and-a-half years we’ve lived here, my opinion of the U. of C. administration has changed greatly. When we moved to Hyde Park, I was under the assumption that the administration was progressive, transparent and responsive to their students. Ha! I’ve learned better.

The administration shows no sign of acting on this referendum: “[T]he university routinely rejects efforts to tie its portfolio to social justice considerations, citing the university’s tradition of insulating decisions from political pressure of any kind. This position has led to rejection of efforts to compel the university to divest from Sudan and South Africa, among other politically charged areas.” Quite a tradition. The U. of C. administration failed to use their huge pile of money to help South Africans struggling under the oppression of apartheid. Maybe they can use some of that money to take a course in ethics from their own institution.

If the U. of C. administration remains recalcitrant, I urge the UChicago Climate Action Network (UCAN) and anyone else concerned to escalate their efforts and increase their action. In the 1980s, Harvard was reluctant to divest from South Africa, too. Activists there set up an escrow account to which alumni and other donors could make contributions to Harvard. The money would only be released after Harvard divested, however. Such a tactic can work again.

George Abitante, U. of C. student and UCAN member, put it best, “As a member of the global community the university has a moral obligation to do its part and avoid any investments or actions that are detrimental to its students in general or the world as a whole and we think we can do this without doing harm to the university or the student population.”

Jason Duba

Do Mobil detractors use the gas station?

To the Editor:

As a U. of C. alum (received an A.B. in geography, winter 1977), I remind the fine, outstanding citizens who today call Hyde Park home that:

During the decade of the 1950s with some spillover into the 1960s, the University of Chicago not only threatened but also endeavored to leave Hyde Park. It was only through the gentle persuasion of certain Hyde Park visionaries that the U. of C. remained where it is today.

Had I been alive and of age at that time, I would have said directly to the U. of C.: “If you want to go, do just that; you’re free to go! I, for one, have great confidence that Hyde Park will not go to hell in a handbasket!”

Now, fast forward — Hyde Park will soon not be known as Hyde Park, but as “University of Chicagoland,” because, for a number of years, the U. of C. has quietly taken over so much of Hyde Park, it is as if it were boldly and brazenly executing a hostile takeover of Hyde Park!

This leads me to comment on “McMobil.” For all the sins Exxon-Mobil has, or is, committing (depending on your point of view), at least it is an American company. Let’s just allow Mobil to stay right where it is. Let’s just allow its corresponding car wash to stay right where it is.

I kindly urge those of you who do not go to this particular Mobil and car wash and have a set of wheels to do just that and maybe you’ll learn something!

Gregory Simonic Peter Papesh

U. of C. road closure will harm local treasures

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th)

Dear Alderman Hairston:

I am writing to express concern about the University of Chicago’s plans to close 58th Street between Woodlawn Avenue and University Avenue in order to create a pedestrian area between the Oriental Institute and the Becker-Friedman Institute. Although I am usually a pedestrian myself when getting around Hyde Park, I think that this plan creates a very bad precedent of taking public property for private use. I am also concerned about the loss of parking for people attending the Oriental Institute Museum and related programs as well as those who attend programs at nearby Rockefeller Chapel, Robie House and the Booth School, not to mention the soon-to-be-opened Becker-Friedman Institute.

Please stand up for the rights of all citizens of Hyde Park and oppose this street closing! Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Alice Newman Mulberry

Why celebrating reading in school is important

To the Editor:

As principal of St. Thomas the Apostle School, I invite everyone in the community to share in our students’ celebration of Children’s Book Week May 13 to 17. Why are we participating in this national literacy initiative? Because at St. Thomas the Apostle School, we know “Readers are Leaders.”

Reading opens doors for our children. Reading allows children to enter into a world that is not their own, removing any barriers society may have placed in their way and enabling them to enjoy a world of creativity and imagination. When St. Thomas students read the biography of Fredrick Douglass in third grade, they feel the strength and tremendous will of a man who would not allow our nation’s corrupt laws to stand against his freedom. When the fifth graders at St. Thomas read “The Wright 3,” they explore Hyde Park in search of clues to solve mysteries. When the first graders read “Dear Mr. Blueberry,” they write letters to their teacher explaining how a whale truly could exist in their back yard. And when the sixth graders read “The Outsiders,” they enter the tragic world of Pony Boy and predict what his next decision will be.

Our students do not read just to escape the confines of their own world, however. They also read to learn how they can better themselves and ultimately better the world around them. Reading the histories of FDR, the moon landing and Native American tribes not only teaches them about the past, but inspires ideas about how to change the future. Inspiration from books creates laughter, tears, sighs and attentive ears, all within the comforting walls of our classrooms at 55th Street and Woodlawn Avenue.

From the youngest in pre-school to the oldest in 8th grade, our students are rewarded every day by the books they read. Reading is the greatest reward we can give them. For this reason, we have invited leaders from the community to come read to our students this week. We will also welcome former Hyde Park resident and St. Thomas teacher Patrick Ryan who is now an internationally acclaimed storyteller. Please join them and St. Thomas the Apostle in celebrating Children’s Book Week and help us promote literacy among our children. Let them see us all as leaders who are readers.

Candace M. Scheidt, Principal
St. Thomas the Apostle School

Hyde Park can do more in climate change fight

To the Editor:

The University’s McMobil building will increase our parking problems, and I salute that. Instead of asking for more places to put our cars, we should learn from the greenest town in America – New York – that density means less parking, fewer cars – and less carbon dioxide. Last week the world set a 3 million year record for atmospheric CO2 and our efforts to add more are unwelcome.

Though we can’t very well build a New York style subway under 53rd Street, there are ways to get around the area with fewer cars. Walking and biking can be encouraged; pedicabs and trolleys would be nice. If the number 6 bus were re-routed to go down Lake Park, and 53rd were made a Metra “all train” stop, our new shopping corridor would attract more riders and fewer drivers. Then again, we could increase parking rates to purchase carbon offset credits.

My suggestions are amateurish if not worse. But there are people who really do know how to plan for sustainable urban development. The city itself has done an enormous amount of such planning and provides tax incentives for others to do so. And the university, having created this problem/opportunity for us, should be pitching in, too.

Seasons are changing, oceans are rising, Arctic ice is melting away; earth, air, fire and water have become increasingly deadly and costly enemies. Hyde Park has a history of action for the common good, and in its “Book of Hours” not a word is written about parking. We shouldn’t need Paul Douglas, or Leon Despres or Barack Obama to tell us that it is not the issue of our day, either.

Jay Mulberry

Vue53 is what Hyde Park wants

To the Editor:

In recent weeks, members of the Hyde Park community have shared their opinions about Mesa Development’s proposed project for 1330 E. 53rd St. in various ways — including in letters to this newspaper. In my role as the University of Chicago’s vice president for civic engagement, I have heard directly from individuals who like the proposal and those who don’t. The majority have expressed enthusiasm for all that the project would bring to Hyde Park.

This community feedback underscores the importance of the project and how Mesa’s current proposal came to be. The University of Chicago is committed to partnering with our neighbors to enhance quality of life and economic development on the South Side. For several years, in partnership with the Fourth Ward office and the City of Chicago, the university has been leading efforts to boost economic activity in the 53rd Street corridor and bring new amenities to the area. From the university’s perspective, a vibrant retail corridor enlivens the whole neighborhood while also helping to attract top faculty, students and staff. So, community input has been integral to these efforts from the beginning.

Since 2007, four visioning workshops and dozens of meetings with community members have helped form Mesa’s approach to this development.

Community members said they wanted affordable housing. Mesa’s proposal would add affordable housing units, on-site and off-site, equal to 20 percent of the units at Vue53.

The community asked for new retail options. Vue53 would house up to six new retailers.

Residents said local jobs had to be a priority. Vue53 would create 300 construction jobs, with a focus on hiring from mid-South Side neighborhoods and engaging minority and women contractors. It would create dozens of permanent jobs in retail and building management.

Community members wanted dedicated parking and environmentally sustainable features. Vue53 would include 230 parking spaces and target LEED Silver certification.

Importantly, taxpayers said they did not want to subsidize the project. Vue53 would use no public tax dollars to build and, in fact, would contribute an estimated $7.7 million back to the community through additional revenues for the 53rd Street TIF district.

Members of the community spoke, and Mesa listened — outlining its latest plans at the May 6th TIF Advisory Council meeting. The resulting project is one that many people I’ve heard from think will support the long-term success and vitality of Hyde Park. As an anchor institution in the neighborhood, the University of Chicago shares this view.

Derek Douglas
Vice President for Civic Engagement

Opposed to the McMobil development

To the Editor:

I oppose the current plan for the development at the McMobil lot on 53rd Street. I am in favor of development at that site in scale with that end of 53rd Street, an area of Hyde Park in which many of us have chosen to live in because we value the scale of the surrounding neighborhood. It seems that our alderman and the university make plans for our community taking input only from those in the community who agree with them, rather than engaging in an authentic, inclusive process. For example, the SECC (a group funded by the University of Chicago) is given an inordinate amount of say and in fact is used by the university, the developer and the alderman, to oversee biased surveys, studies and visioning workshops. Any development of this site will involve trade-offs. The community should be given an honest chance to discuss the trade-offs, decide which they are willing to make, and require that the university and the developer also absorb some of the costs.

Joy Clendenning

McMobil project represents progress

To the Editor:

As a resident, property owner and business owner in Hyde Park for more than 15 years, I support the proposed 14-story development (i.e., mixed-used development) on the Mobil gas station site. Clearly, I understand the trade-offs associated with aesthetic appeal and return on investment. However, economic development in Hyde Park is far too slow and protracted.

Progress is not always optimal and in most instances, a bad decision is better than a prolonged period of stagnation (i.e., no decision at all) … which is what has occurred over the past 10 years on the proposed site (i.e., Mobil gas station). In short, human nature is to make the best of any given situation. Hyde Park residents will evolve with the new development. Let’s move forward and end the stagnation.

R. Lee

McMobil building is a bad idea

To the Editor:

I have been a resident of Hyde Park/Kenwood for 50 years, and I have seen many changes both good and bad. The proposal for the McMobil development is one of the worst. The developers say that by not providing enough parking they will encourage residents of the apartment building to “walk or take public transportation.” That’s ridiculous. It will encourage residents to park on the street, and make parking impossible for everyone else who lives in the area.

In addition to the parking, the height of the building is a serious problem. It is simply out of proportion to the rest of the area. We certainly need more foot traffic on 53rd street, and that space needs to be developed. But we don’t need a 14-story monstrosity.

I supported Ald. Will Burns (4th) in the last election, but he has let all of us down. Without waiting to learn what the views of his constituents were, he has jumped on the bandwagon of development at all costs. I hope he will come to his senses and reverse his position.

Tom Heagy

Theories on McMobil project are all wrong

To the Editor:

It has been interesting, and somewhat disheartening, to read and hear the resistance to the proposed redevelopment on the McMobil site. To be clear, I am in full support of what has been proposed. I thank and applaud Ald. Will Burns for giving his support for this transformative project, especially in the face of unreasonable opposition that is based on uneducated opinions, misinformation and a series of uninformed “theories” from a vocal few that are being passed of as facts.

The first is what I call the “Shadow Theory,” which was addressed in the “Shadow Across 53rd street” editorial on February 20 where it stated that a “long shadow cast across 53rd Street covering Nichols Park’s northern end in darkness.” The proposed building will not cast ANY shadow on the park. Chicago is in the Northern Hemisphere where all buildings casts their shadows to the north, east, and west … not south. One only needs to go to the long, twin residential buildings at 55th Street & Blackstone to see the “shadow” impact it has on its neighbors to the south, which is none.

The editor’s assessment would indeed be true, if we lived south of the equator. I challenge the developers and their architect to develop a series of shadow studies and present them at the next public meeting. It will be the only way to do away with the “Shadow Theory.”

Second, is the “Big Box Retail Theory.” According to the International Council of Shopping Center, an organization that sets the standard of retail size, “big box retail” is defined as a single tenant of 150,000 to 350,000 square feet or more. Think Target, Best Buy or most of the “big box” stores you would see on Roosevelt Road or on North Avenue. The proposed 30,000 square feet of retail occupied by several tenants hardly qualifies as “big-box,” as some opponents have strongly claimed. It is clear that the scale of the retail will be neighborhood serving retail, not regional, “big-box” retail that is auto oriented, which causes potential traffic issues. Although the program has yet to be defined, based on the developer’s track record I am optimistic that they will deliver.

This leads us to the third theory, the “Traffic Congestion Theory.” I am not a traffic engineer, but can safely assume that the number of cars that go to and from the current Mobil Station will be equal or more than the number of trips that the new residents (coupled with future shoppers) take. The proposed development, I argue, may actually REDUCE the amount of traffic, not increase it. Besides, which of the two has less of an impact from an environmental standpoint? Which would you rather have as your neighbor, or a neighbor to Nichols Park? I ask that the developer, if they have not already done so, hire a traffic/parking consultant to conduct a traffic study and present their findings to the community.

Regarding the proposed parking, typical residential rental buildings are parked at 50 percent or a half a parking space per unit. The current proposal is parked at 40 percent, well below the average.

Given the net population loss that Hyde Park has been experiencing over the last 13 years (a net loss of 5,000 since 2000); this neighborhood needs density, especially if we want to attract and retain the local amenities that make our community unique and special.

The developer and their architect have done a good job of eroding the size of the building by essentially splitting it in half and stepping it back off of 53rd Street. It is a clever design trick. I could go on about the architecture, which is clearly going in the right direction, but at this point I am more concerned how public opinion is being shaped against this development. And it is being shaped by misinformation and outright lies. As a proud resident of Hyde Park, I find this recent trend disturbing and extremely disappointing. To borrow from a title from a recent community flier against the proposed building, “We Can Do Better” as Hyde Park residents. Opposition to this development should be based on facts, not uninformed untruths that distort what is actually being proposed.

Andre Brumfield