Letters to the Editor

McMobil project will help the neighborhood

To the Editor:

I am writing to support the proposed development on 53rd Street at the Mobil gas station site. My family resides in Hyde Park, my children attend school in the neighborhood and we all participate in numerous cultural and community activities in the area. In short, Hyde Park is our home and we appreciate its rich history and its uniquely diverse culture. However, I strongly believe our area could be further enhanced with the presence of new and additional retail venues — My family spends far too much time driving outside of Hyde Park in order to take care of the needs of our family. Additional retail would be a helpful solution that would add to the character of the neighborhood and provide solutions to residents. In addition, I also think our community would benefit from modern residential housing options. It has been more than 40 years since new apartments were built in Hyde Park which has pushed many potential residents to other neighborhoods such as the South Loop in search of modern amenities. A modern residential and retail development of the current Mobil station site would be consistent with other environmentally and community friendly projects in the neighborhood (University of Chicago, Harper Court). If we could keep these families in Hyde Park we would have a much more dynamic community that would help all residents.

Thanks Ald. Will Burns (4th) for supporting this project.

James Smith

Add me to the “pro- McMobil” roster

To the Editor:

I am writing to add my name to the many neighbors and businesses that support the proposed “McMobil” site project put forward by Mesa Development. It is wonderful to have a developer with such a strong commitment to quality of community life interested in working in our community on this project and hopefully on more ideas for the future. Having attended many visioning meetings about what we as a community wished for 53rd Street, I know that the Mesa Development team also attended. I am pleased to see that their proposal shows that they listened to the concerns and hopes of the community. They heard the strong concern for more affordable housing and have committed to 15 percent on this project. They heard the concern about traffic congestion and have reduced the number of curb cuts out to the street from the current three to just one, will have all truck deliveries to the building done within the building with entry from the alley and not 53rd Street, and will have dedicated car sharing spaces and bicycle parking in their garage. They heard the fear about a tall building overshadowing the street to the north (note to Herald editorial writer — this building will not cast a shadow on the park!), and adjusted their design to pull the eastern part of the building forward, leaving a large portion of the parcel open, in order to minimize the impact on residents. They heard the wishes for a nice pedestrian experience on 53rd Street and designed an interesting, modulated sidewalk level and put active spaces at the front of the building on the parking levels so we would not have to look at a blank, parking garage wall. They heard how important the park is to residents and will now be putting many more watchful eyes in a position to have great views of the park and keep authorities informed of any unwanted activities. They heard local merchants explaining how the only way to support the kinds of businesses we all want to be in our neighborhood is to increase the population density. Thank you to Ald. Will Burns (4th) for supporting this project. I hope that our community can participate in this process in a constructive way, making reasonable suggestions for ways to tweak or improve the design, but appreciating the attention Mesa has already given to very diverse priorities already expressed by the community.

Marcy D. Schlessinger

Ald. Burns, why won’t you fight for Canter?

Dear Ald. Will Burns (4th):

I have so many questions concerning school closings and your part in it.

I want to ask you why you fought so hard to keep all of the schools in your ward open but Canter. Was Canter the sacrificial lamb?

Why are you negotiating plans with CPS before you seek input from the affected communities? Do you really think you know what’s best for us without talking to us?

Why have you determined that Shoesmith should be a K-8 grade school without asking those who work to support it?

Why are you not fighting for your neighbors—isn’t that your job?

Why aren’t you taking a stand? You know that the mayor’s and CPS’s goal is not “utilization” (if it was, then how were you able to help save Reavis and Robinson, which are arguably underutilized?); it’s not “the budget” (If you look at all the money CPS is spending on this process, some are projecting that the savings will be less than 1 percent).

You must know the goal is to close our public schools and open charter schools. Why are you continuing to support the neglect of the South Side?

Victoria Long

I Googled the McMobil project, and I like it

To the Editor:

I recently got curious about what the proposed Mesa development on 53rd Street actually looks like, so I did a little Google search and ended up with forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=6062439.

It’s an interesting website that shows several renderings of the building, as well as photos of the hotel going up at 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue with a shot of the Hyde Park Bank building in the background in one of the photos. Frankly, the Mesa building is the most visually exciting of the lot.

I also Googled the Hyde Park Bank building a while back, found a photo and counted the floors. It seemed to be around 13 stories, give or take one or two. Yet I don’t hear anyone lobbying to raze the bank building, which has stood like a rather lonely Ichabod Crane at the end of the street for lo these many years.

The addition of the hotel and the Mesa building will actually give the street some kind of visual “balance,” which it currently lacks.

But beyond aesthetics, what I care about is safety. I want more people on the street, walking and shopping. I want more people in the park, which I occasionally walk through, never stopping to sit and rest on the benches.

I also want our local businesses to have more customers. Face it, nobody comes from the North Side (or any other side) to shop in Hyde Park. We are a town of around 37,000 people, according to the 2010 census, and the only people who are going make our merchants prosper are us.

How will the building affect me? Well, I will be sorry to lose my mechanics at the Mobil station. Their present location is ideal for me and they have served me well. But I have to keep in mind that whatever inconvenience the loss of the Mobil station will cause me is outweighed by the positives that can come from this building. The greater good, and all that.

One final point: I thought Jason Duba’s letter of April 3 was thoughtful, respectful and nuanced in its suggestions. The fact that he disagrees with some of the opinions expressed on these pages and the fact that he is employed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning does not make him a plant of the Evil Empire, as another correspondent seemed to imply. A little moderation, please.

Carolyn Ulrich

Lots of reasons to keep Canter open

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to a number of Chicago Public Schools officials and local politicians.

As a follow-up to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference’s general resolution to keep all the Chicago Public Schools open, we write to support keeping, in particular, Canter Middle School, as an ongoing school.

We write with the backing and firm determination of parents, students, teachers and residents in the Hyde Park neighborhood as witnessed at the CPS community hearing of April 8, 2013, at Kenwood Academy. The testimony of all those people was profoundly moving and convinced the HP-K CC to speak out.

We argue in favor of keeping the Canter Middle School open for the following reasons:

  1. Canter Middle School has been successful at providing students with a solid curriculum organized departmentally that prepares students for high school.
  2. The school is not under-performing: The faculty is first-class and highly prized by its students.
  3. Middle school students need this kind of transitional preparatory experience and the community fought very hard to secure a middle school in the area.
  4. Capital contributions were made to the school via TIF funds.
  5. A number of families are moving into Hyde Park expecting to send their children there, and a number of families outside the neighborhood count on Canter to provide a safe environment for their children.
  6. The school, said to be “underutilized” by CPS, could be expanded by adding a sixth grade, thus making it conform to standard middle schools throughout the country. For example, Shoesmith School, which goes to the 6th grade and feeds into Canter School, is overcrowded, having two trailers used as classrooms.
  7. The students at Canter, their teachers and their administrators, have formed a community and a bond that has transformed the lives of many students as they move through their school years.
  8. The children going into the fall 2013 7th grade receiving schools may not have the structural and curricular support that is as strong as that now provided by Canter. Students from outside the area may have to attend schools that have no additional supports. For example, it isn’t enough providing algebra without the preparation leading up to it, and success in algebra is critical to success in high school and eventually college. Specialized teachers in math are essential to this success, not teachers specialized in another area but doubling as math teachers (and say, language arts).
  9. To designate the space vacated by Canter to a parent university, while that may be a good thing to have, is a poor substitute for using the building as a school.
  10. The University of Chicago has a strong presence in the Canter School program. This presence should continue as it may not work as well in an elementary environment.
  11. The students who now attend 7th grade who might have gone to Kenwood Academy may well decide to leave Hyde Park or its schools, thus weakening the student body at Kenwood Academy.
  12. There may be other adverse effects in the larger community or certainly a sense of loss in a community that is trying to move ahead.

Please keep Canter open.

Anita R. Hollins
President, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

Making the case for Canter Middle School

To the Editor:

Chicago Public Schools needs to reconsider the pending decision to close Canter Middle School. As a CPS teacher and the wife of a Canter teacher, as well as a parent of future Ray Elementary students, I am appalled that Canter is on the closing list. It does not make educational sense to close this school. The arguments so far, as I have taken away from the press conferences, letters and media accounts, are that the tough decision to close schools is necessary to benefit all students, to improve all school and to help those that are “trapped” in failing schools. This is certainly not the case at Canter. This was proven by the testimonies given at the first community meeting on Monday, April 8. Those students who self-proclaimed that they were “lost souls” and found a family of support at Canter are not trapped.

Canter offers a middle school approach in a neighborhood that has three other public schools that are K (or pre-K) to 6th grade. This specialty focus is best for adolescents and how they learn, since teenagers develop so uniquely. A middle school creates the best transition for high school, as the staff is able to use their professional development and training days to further their expertise on the adolescent mind and to honor a common mission. A middle school offers “practice” for the freedoms and social expectations that students are abruptly confronted with in high school. This often gets overlooked or rejected in the elementary school setting.

Taking away the only middle school in the area, instead of investing in it and making it stronger, will be detrimental to the adolescents that Canter and the other neighborhood schools serve. It will do direct harm to Canter students, as well as negatively affecting the surrounding schools. CPS should be working to make Canter more viable for the future middle school students by adding a 6th grade portion to let the local schools be true elementary schools.

Research shows that middle schools help students more effectively transition to the high school setting. I teach 7th and 8th grade in a K through 8, and our upper grade team is constantly wishing for a setting that is more middle-school focused. eighth graders need to practice having the controlled freedom in the halls like high schools offer, learning about the responsibilities that come with freedom, not waiting in line to use the bathroom as an entire class.

As many parents and teachers can attest to, adolescents are unique, diverse creatures who have extremely different psychological, emotional and social needs than elementary students. They can best be educated in a middle school setting, not a K through 8 setting. CPS requires all teachers who teach 6th to 8th grades to acquire a specialty “middle school endorsement” to educate them on how middle schoolers learn and develop. Any teachers who do not take these classes lose their position in the middle grades.

I strongly urge CPS to reconsider the position to close Canter Middle School. If this decision stays, then CPS is not living up to the argument (and their responsibility!) that these decisions are best for the students. We do not want charter schools in Hyde Park. We want our current neighborhood schools that work to stay open and to be supported. I don’t think that is asking too much from those who are in charge of our schools.

Kristy Ulrich Papczun

McMobil plan will benefit Hyde Park and Kenwood

To the Editor:

I’d like to express my agreement with the Coalition for Equitable Community Development’s letter in the March 27 Herald. Their letter states some of the benefits that the proposed “McMobil site” project will have for Hyde Park-Kenwood. The letter underscores the economic realities that the project’s opponents have ignored or overlooked. Further, the project has not requested public (taxpayer) investment; this is refreshing in Chicago.

Opposition to the project has largely focused on unfounded predictions of traffic gridlock and impossible parking. Sure, any development is likely to produce some increase in traffic levels and parking demand. But if that’s a reason to squelch a project, nothing would ever get built. The project’s mandatory zoning change requires a Planned Development, which takes into consideration impacts on transportation, parking and access.

Instead of being the source of a traffic nightmare, the project is pedestrian friendly and reflects the concept of Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The TOD concept encourages an unobstructed pedestrian pathway to transit, such as 53rd Street, enhanced by retail development along the way. With CTA and Metra transit one-fourth to three-eighths mile away, the new building is well within easy walking distance from buses and trains. Both shopkeepers and residents will benefit from this. That’s good TOD.

The project, led by Mesa Development, will have a physical scale compatible with the Hyde Park Bank and Harper Court, and it will nicely anchor the west end of the 53rd Street commercial area. The development will achieve LEED Silver certification, provide high-quality residences including affordable housing, and will employ and contract with minorities and women. It promises to enhance Hyde Park-Kenwood’s residential and commercial life. I encourage Alderman Burns to give it his support.

Richard R. Gill

McMobil project good for the whole neighborhood

To the Editor:

The development on 53rd Street will encourage new businesses to open in Hyde Park and create the benefits that come with a more vibrant business district. A vibrant business district provides convenient access to much-needed retailers and entertainment. It provides employment opportunities. It provides support and volunteers for local community events. A vibrant business district also provides leaders who volunteer to share their expertise by serving on local community organizations.

Bridging the gap between the Kimbark Shopping Center on the west and the 53rd Street business district on the east provides the opportunity for a continuous, pedestrian-friendly business district that will improve our community.

Michael McGarry

SECC backs McMobil development

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to James Hanson, principal at Mesa Development LLC, the developers of the proposed high-rise at the McMobil site across from Nichols Park

Dear Mr. Hanson:

The South East Chicago Commission has been involved in leading and facilitating visioning workshops in which members of the Hyde Park community have given input on the redevelopment of 53rd Street. Most recently, more than 200 community members met in April 2012 to discuss, among other things, redevelopment of the Mobil site. The building that has been proposed for that site will not address every potential issue that may arise on 53rd Street, nor should it be expected to. What it will do is bring new uses for the site that will benefit the broader community. It will also provide several additions that people said they wanted to see along the corridor, to include more retail options, dedicated green space, and additional parking.

The proposed building will provide more places to live in Hyde Park and, in turn, more people to shop, eat out, work out, and go to movies in Hyde Park — enabling the entire community to enjoy such options within our own neighborhood. It would bring new housing options for people of various means — with a commitment to 15 percent of affordable units in the building and an additional 5 percent elsewhere in the neighborhood. The project would generate new jobs for our community, both temporary construction jobs and long-term jobs in building management and maintenance, and operation of any retail stores components. The building’s design is set back from the street, which serves to offset its height in comparison to the surrounding area. Its proximity to Nichols Park would encourage greater use of the park, potentially making the overall area safer with increased foot traffic and activity.

While it would be more favorable for the proposed building to have an additional floor of parking, or a more sizeable number of parking spaces dedicated specifically for the retail, the South East Chicago Commission believes the proposed plan to redevelop the Mobil site will serve to enhance the ongoing quality of life within Hyde Park, and we heartily support it.

Wendy Walker Williams
Executive Director, SECC

Hyde Parkers too dependent on autos

To the Editor:

Hyde Park led the way on recycling in the seventies, so why can’t we lead the way building homes for people without cars? My wife and I are a young couple wanting to start a family in Hyde Park. It would be nice to have other young families move to 53rd Street. I went to the McMobil site meeting. I was very disappointed that there was no discussion of whether this project is green or not. All the speakers focused on adding more parking. Just as widening an expressway causes more cars to use it, adding parking encourages more dependence on cars. Suppose the critics succeed in drastically reducing the number of people living in the building while increasing the number of cars per unit? Who profits? Ford! Who loses? The environment! Hyde Parkers should not let this happen. Surely the building could be greener. For example, some of the space devoted to parking could be used for I-Go Cars or Zipcars. This would make the building more affordable for younger and less affluent people, many of whom would appreciate a green option at their doorstep. We have to make things green locally and not just expect President Obama do all the work.

Let’s say that the critics’ worst fear happens and traffic on 53rd Street slows down. I am not convinced that’s a bad thing. Since speed kills, we want the traffic to go slowly. I live on 55th Street. Now that the bicycle lanes have slowed the traffic going around the University Apartments, it is easier for me to cross the street. In the past, speeding cars have actually slammed into the townhouses. I hope that is less likely now. We should not be defeatist about reducing everyone’s dependence on cars. We can live in a greener, safer neighborhood.

Aaron Collard

Arguments for McMobil plan don’t add up

To the Editor:

One thing the University of Chicago is justifiably proud of is its ability to teach analytical, logical and rational thinking. There are many U of C students and alums here. Why, then, has there not yet been a rational, analytical and logical argument offered to justify putting this particular proposed building on the McMobil site?

Fact: The proposed structure, 321 feet wide and 155 feet tall, is minimally three times larger than, and drastically out of proportion to, any structures nearby — NOT a justification for that building on this site.

Fact: Affordable housing would be provided regardless of the site on which this building was built (if the powers that be encouraged it) — NOT a justification for that building on this site.

Fact: Any (two bedroom) apartments built there would house some (small) families, though probably not a family of four — NOT a justification for that building on this site.
Fact: Any construction on this site will provide (temporary) construction jobs — NOT a justification for that building on this site.

Fact: Any retail building on this site will provide some (permanent) sales clerk etc. jobs — NOT a justification for that building on this site.

Fact: The Chamber of Commerce and other economic development people appear to support this project because it would bring retail. Any development on this site should include retail — NOT a justification for that building on this site.

Fact: This site is not close enough to transportation to meet the goals of transit oriented development (two and one-half blocks) and would not discourage car use —NOT a justification for that building on this site.

Fact: Any TIF revenue from the project would help to ease the existing TIF deficit, would not actually add spendable TIF funds, and would have the same financial impact anywhere in the TIF district — NOT a justification for that building on this site.

Fact: The change in zoning from B3-2 to B3-5 and the subsequent “Planned Development” designation the developers are seeking would allow a wide latitude to alter or redesign portions of the project without further review — NOT a justification for that building on this site.

If there were a rational, analytical, logical and factual rationale to substantiate why scale is irrelevant, and why that particular building should be built on this specific site, I would love to hear it. Believe it or not, I might even change my mind.

Stephanie Franklin

Mesa weighs in on McMobil project

To the Editor:

On behalf of all of my colleagues at Mesa Development, a family-owned, Chicago-based real estate firm committed to smart development, sustainability and responsible corporate citizenship, I would like to thank the many Hyde Park residents and businesses who have expressed support for our proposed development on 1330 E. 53rd St. I would also like to make sure that the residents of Hyde Park have the opportunity to understand the facts about the project, as a number of misstatements have been recently circulated within the community.

Parking and Traffic Generation — Our location provides superior proximity to public transit — the Metra station, multiple CTA bus stops and University of Chicago shuttle stops located within a half-mile from the site provide more transit options than most locations in Hyde Park or any neighborhood in Chicago. Despite this, the building will provide 218 internal parking spaces, exceeding both the parking ratios required by the City of Chicago and those in comparable developments across Chicago.

Big Box Retail — We are not seeking to place a big box retailer in the community. The retail space within this building will not be big enough to accommodate big box retail, but more importantly, our intention is to create a mix of local and national merchants that will offer goods and services to the community which are currently not available. We have participated in numerous visioning sessions, meetings and discussions in the neighborhood, and are familiar with the frustration of residents who have to drive out of the neighborhood in order to satisfy basic shopping needs. It is our goal to contribute to the vitality of 53rd Street and the creation of a pedestrian friendly shopping district by providing the kinds of local and unique retailers that we have brought to other projects in Chicago.

Community Benefits — We take very seriously our responsibility to the community in which we develop property, and our project will provide direct benefits to the community. We are committed to exceeding city requirements for the participation of minority and woman-owned business enterprises in the project, the inclusion of affordable housing in the project, and sustainability features in the building. And we are not seeking any public subsidy to build the project — to the contrary, we estimate that our project will generate over $7.7 million of funds for the reinvestment in the community through the 53rd Street TIF Committee.

Mesa Development is proud of our Chicago roots and very excited to have the opportunity to develop a world-class building in Hyde Park. We are grateful for all of the support we have received from so many of our neighbors, and look forward to continuing to work with the community to achieve a great outcome for all of Hyde Park.

James M. Hanson
Principal
Mesa Development, LLC

A piece of Ancona School’s early history

To the Editor:

In your recent article about the 50th anniversary of the Ancona School, I saw no mention of some important facts, especially the origin of the student scholarships.

Next door to the Ancona School on 48th Street and Dorchester Avenue was a tenement filled with numerous single mothers of rowdy children. The latter filled the outside of the school with graffiti and harassed the Ancona children. A music professor at the University of Chicago wrote a grant request to the government. Ancona was the only private school in the United States to receive Head Start funds.

The board of directors decided to use the money for a scholarship fund and used it for five or six children in the tenement. The graffiti and the harassment stopped. The mothers next door, who didn’t know each other, got together and had a rent strike. Two of them were chosen to become teacher’s aides, and peace and tranquility reigned!

Dr. Herbert Lerner

In defence of the McMobil project

To the Editor:

In recent weeks there have been many letters in regard to the McMobil site, mostly negative. There are the doomsayers and those who believe “the sky is falling” in regards to traffic and parking. But most predictions of doom are unfulfilled. Years ago there were the same predictions in regard to the redevelopment of the former Osteopathic Hospital site. Although not identical to the McMobil site these predictions did not come about. I have seen no data comparing the current in and out traffic at the gas station and car wash per daily average compared with predictions when the site is developed as planned.

There are concerns about density and scale as expressed in the visioning meetings. I do not however recall anyone in the 60 years I have lived in Hyde Park express concern for example that the Hyde Park Bank Building was until recently out of scale with the surrounding buildings that it had towered over. It is of course commercial and not residential. Are the University Park Condos on 55th Street both too dense and out of scale with their surroundings? And how has the Mobil station and car wash enhanced the character of the neighborhood these many years?

Lastly none of the several articles opposing this project have commented about efforts to enhance affordable housing and diversity in the community which this project supports as noted in a recent letter to the editor from the Committee for Equitable Community Development, a local affordable housing advocacy group. If I recollect correctly the visioning group wanted to maintain a diverse community among its several recommendations.

Joe Marlin

McMobil letter author has hidden agenda

To The Editor:

For the sake of transparency, I’d like to bring it to your attention that the “Time for compromise at McMobil site” letter published in your April 3, 2013 issue, was written by a consultant and intern of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Mr. Jason Duba authored quite a passionate letter in support of all the supposed benefits of the current McMobil project. His comments were full of advice and suggestions about how “community groups” should address their objections to the current plans. And yet he was unwilling to share with the Herald his professional interest as a supporter of the current project.

Mr. Duba and others trying to push through this current project need to listen with an open ear to the concerns of the neighbors in the community. There may be one or two community groups involved in questioning the current development plans, however there are many individuals in the community that are concerned about those plans also. When I attended the recent meeting held at Augustana Lutheran Church to discuss the proposed development, there were more than a hundred individual neighbors that came out to express their views on how the McMobil plans would affect them. The vast majority of those opinions were not supportive of those plans. As a matter of fact, for the hour-plus that I was there, Mr. Duba’s opinion was the lone voice of support. As a professional in city planning, he should know that successful developments require the support of communities. Planned developments should never be advanced in spite of community concerns.

I look forward to a proposal for the McMobil site that gives greater consideration to the concerns of the neighbors in the community. It’s time the Mesa Development LLC, and Ald. Will Burns (4th), who I support as an engaged leader, reconsider the current plans.

Dr. Lawrence A. White