Letters to the Editor

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

McMobil foes are not persuasive

To the Editor:

There may be a persuasive case to be made against the 53rd Street/McMobil site development proposed by Mesa Development in partnership with the University of Chicago (from whom I draw a paycheck). The flyer distributed last month by neighbors organizing against the plan, however, doesn’t make it.

Among the claims and implications made by Citizens for Appropriate Retail and Residential Development (CARRD) are that:

  • A “long” shadow will be cast across 53rd St. The same gloom, one presumes, that turns Grant Park and Millennium Park, in the shadow of high-rises, into unloved and unlovely wastelands? Not the last time I looked.
  • The development is not transit-oriented. It lies six apparently unbridgeable blocks from the Metra train. If a 15 minute walk from front door to train door is a deal killer, as CARRD advises, shall we just pull the plug on any further development in Chicago right now?
  • 53rd Street will “snarl” and “choke” with the cars both of new residents and of people flocking here from other neighborhoods to — brace yourself — spend money in our neighborhood. Perhaps some of those expenditures will be at chain retailers, but the employees will be our neighbors.
  • Approval will open the floodgates on more and massive and intrusive new high-rise construction. As it did through the years with high-rises at 56th Street and Dorchester Avenue, 56th Street and Kenwood Avenue, Dorchester Avenue and 52nd Street, Dorchester Avenue and 53rd Street, and all along Hyde Park Boulevard, for example?
    As CARRD notes, the plan has the support of most surrounding businesses and residents: 70 percent of Hyde Park and Kenwood residents say they would be willing to allow more residents and increased density in order to bring new businesses and improvements to 53rd Street, according to a survey commissioned by the South East Chicago Commission.
    Granted, not every element of Mesa’s plan suits me. I wish my friends on the 5200 block of Kenwood could have all the sunshine they wanted, every day, all year round. I’m really sorry, you guys.

There is in fact plenty of deficient development in Chicago. Measured in units of street life and pedestrian traffic, for example, all of the South Loop remains a pretty arid place. And any TIF district that showers largesse on a corporate headquarters instead of a needy neighborhood is an insult to the very idea of community development. Nonetheless, Mesa’s project feels like a good fit for Hyde Park.

Change is unsettling. I get that. But neighbors, let’s keep our powder dry for the battles really worth fighting. This isn’t one of them.

Loren Santow

For the record, Canter is not an underperforming school

To the Editor:

Through reckless school closings set on a fabricated chaos-creating timetable, Mayor Emanuel and his appointed school board have managed to distract us from one important detail about our neighborhood middle school: Canter is not an underperforming school.

On the contrary, Canter has outperformed the CPS district average by nine to 19 percentage points on the cumulative measure of all standardized tests every year of the last decade. In five of the last seven years, it also outperformed the state average, with one year tied and the last year within one percentage point—and still well above the district average. (See graph reprinted from Illinois Interactive Report Card at iirc.niu.edu/School.aspx?schoolid=150162990252845)

Canter’s ISAT cohort data are equally impressive. Comparing the last three years of ISAT scores of incoming 7th graders with the scores of the very same group of students one year later in 8th grade, show consistent gains, all in a single year at Canter. (See chart, below.)

Finally, The University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute developed the evidence-based 5Essentials Survey to evaluate school organization and climate. In their language, “schools strong on at least three out of five Essentials are 10 times more likely to improve student learning” (cps.5-essentials.org/2012/s/610018/). For the record, Canter scored “very strong” on three out of five of these “Essentials” and an overall rating of “well organized for improvement,” the highest possible rating.

Bottom line: Canter is a good school in a safe neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Instead of shutting it down, the mayor and his fleet should be investing in it, sending their people to figure out what exactly this school is doing right. To close it would be to throw away a well-functioning gem of a school with a healthy, nonviolent school culture, so rare in CPS. Don’t shut it down; fill it up!

Jill Petty and Audrey Petty
Louis Wirth (now Canter)

Is the McMobil plan needed in Hyde Park?

To the Editor:

Before going on any further in the McMobil plan, Hyde Park residents need to consider the following:

  1. Is there a demonstrated need for the McMobil Plan?
    Judging from the many Letters to the Editor published in the Hyde Park Herald, the expressed opposition of many community residents at the March 18 meeting at Augustana Lutheran Church and an informal review of community buildings offering apartment rentals at reasonable rates, it is clear that the need for the McMobil Plan has not been adequately demonstrated.
  2. Is there a compelling reason for the McMobil Plan?
    No compelling reason has been offered by proponents of the plan, only vague unsubstantiated arguments for rooming/housing needs, low and middle income housing needs and increased business for the community from potential customers. Instead of offering the community a thoughtful plan which provides a concrete market analysis to demonstrate that the McMobil Plan is viable, it appears that the developers’ main objective is simply to fill up a hole on 53rd Street that will bring them money.
  3. Who stands to profit from the McMobil Plan?
    While developers and supporters are touting community benefits in housing (267 apartments), little thought has been given to many housing alternatives for multiple income levels which already exist in Hyde Park (i.e. the newly renovated Del Prado apartments and the extensive renovation underway at the Shoreland Apartments, where the ambience is superior to a busy 53rd Street location, and many other apartment buildings). The principal beneficiaries of the McMobil Plan are obviously the developers and not the community residents.
  4. Is there a demonstrated awareness on the part of the developers, of the problems likely to be created by the implementation of the McMobil Plan, and is there a plan in place to resolve these problems? The McMobil Plan doesn’t acknowledge that any problems exist; therefore, corrective action is not part of the plan: anticipated traffic and parking nightmares; risk to students from its location across the street from a public school. Insufficient parking (218 spaces for 267 apartments) are met with expressed naive assumptions that the majority of McMobil residents will not own cars, and McMobil customers will be mainly pedestrians.
  5. Are there better alternatives for the McMobil site that would meet demonstrated community needs? Better alternatives which should be considered include: a variety store that sells ordinary things that residents need on an ongoing basis (socks, underwear, sportswear); a bakery/cafe; stores for artisans; and clothing boutiques.

I am concerned about the premature support of Ald. Will Burns (4th) for the McMobil Plan. Burns has apparently made his commitment before he has fully determined his constituents’ needs and preferences.

As so well articulated in the CARRD Fact Sheet, “We Can Do Better Than The McMobil Plan.”

Charlotte Des Jardins

Put the McMobil building on the outskirts of Hyde Park

To the Editor:

I am writing to inform that I am NOT IN SUPPORT of the proposed McMobil plan to build a 267 apartment complex/14 story high-rise on East 53rd Street across from Nichols Park. I understand that this property is owned by University of Chicago. I am really disappointed that U. of C. would want such a structure in the heart of 53rd Street across from Nichols Park. As I go to the current small businesses I hear over and over that rents are being raised and a majority of the businesses cannot stay. Is this part of an overall plan to remove lower socio-economic residents and business from the area? I/we have lived in the area over 30 years and raised three children in the Hyde Park/Kenwood community. One of our sons attended and graduated from the U. of C. undergraduate college. We now have two grandchildren living here.

The University of Chicago should plan such a structure on the outer perimeters of the Hyde Park community where it would not obstruct nor detract from the current surroundings nor contribute to traffic and parking congestion.

Carol Reliford

Smaller building possible at McMobil

To the Editor:

Proponents of the proposed 155-foot, 14-story high-rise on the McMobil site (they describe it as 140 feet and 13 stories, omitting the so-called “penthouse” on the top floor) claim that it would not be economically feasible to build a smaller building that would fit in with the one- to three-story buildings in the immediate vicinity. However, the University of Chicago – the owner of the site —can build low to moderate density buildings when it wants to do so. To the extent the university views its project as an amenity for faculty, students and staff, the following should be considered:

  • Charles M. Harper Center (Booth School of Business), 5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue — height ranges from two to five stories, with ground level green space along the frontage
  • Max Palevsky Commons dormitory, on 56th Street between Greenwood and Ellis avenues —four stories
  • University of Chicago Laboratory Schools — Earl Shapiro Hall at the Early Childhood Campus, 5800 block of Stony Island Avenue (under construction) — three stories
  • Gerald Ratner Athletic Center, on Ellis Avenue between 55th and 56th streets — three stories
  • Joe and Rika Mansueto Library (next to Regenstein Library), on 57th Street and Ellis Avenue — two stories above ground with multiple floors below
    To the extent the university views its project as an improvement for the broader community, the following should be considered:
  • Retail and parking structure (with the Seven Ten bowling alley and restaurant), on 55th Street between Greenwood and Ellis avenues — one story of retail topped with three stories of parking
  • The rehabilitation of the Harper Theater building and shops, at the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue — two stories for the most part, with a three-story theater section
  • North building of the Hyde Park Shopping Center (where Office Depot and adjacent retailers are located) — one story

There is no legitimate reason why the university cannot build a smaller project at the McMobil site that would fit into our neighborhood.

Marc Lipinski

McMobil height meant to set precedent

To the Editor:

McMobil appears to be a stalking horse for the University of Chicago’s plan to begin turning Hyde Park into a community of high-rises. I was sent a link to a brochure which the U. of C. has produced.

If you look at the building’s picture in this brochure, you can see that only a third of the footprint of the building is being built upwards past four stories. It’s a wide (east to west) section and will block the sun for people north of the building and block the view of the sky from our park, but doesn’t provide nearly the density that it could. Instead, it removes material, making it cheaper to go higher. It looks like you could get similar density in eight or nine floors. So why do they want 14?

In the brochure, a graphic implies that fourteen stories is reasonable because there are other high buildings in the area. If this is a reasonable argument, then building this structure is important, because it cripples the “it’s out of place” argument against subsequent buildings. (Note that there is only one building they can point to as higher than their proposed building, except for the horrible eyesore of a hotel being built to blot out Hyde Park Bank. And for that one example, they had to reach for the extreme northeast, past the Metra tracks and into Indian Village.)

This same brochure touts:

  • “Excellent access to public transportation” even though there’s no bus route on 53rd Street.
  • “Building loading/servicing from rear alley” though in order for trucks to get there, they would have to compete for access to Kimbark Plaza’s alley, since by current ordinance it’s the only way they can get through to that alley. This alley is already often blocked. I assume their intention is to blithely go forward, then demand changes in local ordinances.
  • “No changes in traffic control along 53rd Street” and “Proposed development will generate traffic levels comparable to or lower than the existing Mobil station” because apparently the 200-plus cars in the building won’t be used to go to work in the morning or arrive home at night, nor will the 200-plus parking places be used during the day. I believe they make these ridiculous claims for the same reason that in no part of their area diagrams in the brochure do they label Murray School. Why would we want more traffic right across the street from a grade school?
  • “Promotes a relationship with Nichols Park” — I’m not sure what they mean by this, but it bears noticing. Nichols Park is a pleasant park used by the neighborhood. It will become the front lawn of this building. Imagine sitting in the grass of Nichols Park today. When you look north, you see sky. If this building is built, instead you’ll see a cheap, concrete and glass structure like the hotel to the east.

For which the university gets TIF funds.

I would not have a problem with this building at seven stories. They could build it as a seven-story project with much the same density. But they’re not interested in that, because this is not a building. It is a foothold.

Paul Pomerleau

McMobil plan needed for Hyde Park’s growth

To the Editor:

I very much support the high-rise at the McMobil site because I believe the whole city needs to continue to grow up, not out. The suburban lifestyle exists for those who want it, and the urban lifestyle for those who want it. We will not create a vibrant city by shunning development, towers and retail under the dishonest fears of parking and traffic.

For what it’s worth, I live in HP, do not own a car, formerly commuted to work by bus and now work from home.

Tim Friese

Put parking under Nichols Park

To the Editor:

McMobil project limited parking issue? Nichols Park (across the street from McMobile site) safety and modernization issues?

Here’s a possible solution. How about constructing a one or two floor underground parking garage across from the McMobil site. In other words, creating a mini-Millennium Park if you will, minus the cost overruns. A newly landscaped, more user-friendly park on top of an underground parking garage.

This would solve three problems. 1. Provide more off-street parking for McMobil, nearby retail, restaurant, as well as Kimbark Plaza customers. 2. Provide an opportunity to make Nichols Park a better looking, safer, more family-friendly park. 3. This would also get rid of and replace those ridiculous overgrown shrubs that isolate the park from 53rd Street and provide perfect cover for non-children and family friendly activities in the park.

Chicago Park District, McMobil developers, the University of Chicago and others would obviously need to work together to avoid having taxpayers left footing the bill for such a project expansion.

Coming up with fearful reasons for why Hyde Park should never change helps no one and hurts us all in the end.

McMobil will be good for Hyde Park.

Samuel Clark

Verify first, then trust 53rd Street McMobil “community consensus”

To the Editor:

Thank you, again, Hyde Park Herald for opening up your pages to different “voices” on the 53rd St. McMobil project, but again, please, do another investigative story to verify who were included (and NOT) included and who initiated “community consultation,” “surveys /polls/petition signing” and targeted approaches to residents or owners in the University of Chicago’s and specific developers’ properties — and when. “We” (speaking for the total community) cannot all be sorted into binary “towns vs. gowns” or pro-development vs. anti-development activists. We still lack answers to questions about the means and methods for “consulting” the “community,” honesty and transparency in describing all the plans and the boundaries and nature of proposed zoning changes and timelines for making irrevocable decisions. Simply repeating a talking-points litany from a project advocate or anti-project group doesn’t answer the ethics questions of means. I know people who are partly “gowns” (university) but also “towns” (near neighbors) who have questions about ethics, manipulation and “truth in advertising” but hold back from signing an official statement in the Herald or elsewhere. Simply declaring a community consensus won’t work for the many of us who know we were not consulted and have a “right to know.” Verify! That goes for you, too, Alderman Burns!

Louise Kaegi

McMobil project height will start trend

To the Editor:

The University of Chicago is well on its way to realizing its goal of revitalizing 53rd Street. We have a new movie theater, an all-night diner, several new restaurants and a high-end clothing store.

Coming soon will be a music venue, five more new restaurants, a health club, a 130-plus room hotel, a large office building and a yoga studio.

In addition, there are two major projects already approved: City Hyde Park at 51st Street and Lake Park Avenue, with stores and 180 residential units, and Harper Court Phase 2, with 425 residential units approved.

There are several vacant storefronts on 53rd, 51st, and 55th streets waiting for tenants. There are large stores slated on our periphery, Ross Dress for Less at 47th Street and Lake Park Avenue, and a Walmart grocery at 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.
We will have more life and foot traffic on 53rd Street, and lots more retail options. The larger stores that serve a wider area would be on the major streets, with bus routes, and the potential for adding more.

The issue at hand is whether the University of Chicago and Mesa Development should be granted a zoning change to allow the proposed 14-story building with 267 apartments and both a large and a small retail store in a place where only much smaller buildings exist and are allowed.

Traditionally in Chicago, approval of a zoning change or Planned Development rests with the alderman. If Ald. Will Burns (4th) recommends this zoning change so the high rise can be built, other developers can cite this as precedent when asking for more zoning changes, and just as one domino knocks down the next, one high rise sets the stage for the next and the next and the next. One by one, more buildings could go up as developers seek out places to maximize their profits and the University of Chicago seeks to expand and dominate the neighborhood.

The U. of C. should build a smaller building or buildings that fit within the current zoning classification and the low-rise character of the surrounding area to bridge the gap with stores, housing and parking, as is done on the North Side and as proposed at the visioning workshops and by CARRD some years ago. Thus we could have a continuous strip of stores and more pedestrians without threatening the ambience of the area and setting a precedent that will set forces in motion we won’t be able to stop.

Robin Kaufman

McMobil will increase street life on 53rd

Dear Alderman Burns:

I am pleased to lend my support for the Mobil site redevelopment. It is a progressive step in the revitalization of 53rd Street and Hyde Park as a whole. As a resident of Hyde Park for nearly 17 years who lives within two blocks of the proposed development, I must say that I am thrilled to know that the “void“ on 53rd Street will finally be filled with much needed retail space, affordable housing and economic opportunity. It takes affordable housing to maintain diversity in Hyde Park and diversity is one of the reasons that my family planted our roots in this community. I am looking forward to increased sidewalk activity along 53rd Street connecting Lake Park to Woodlawn Avenue. The new site will facilitate an increase in foot traffic along 53rd Street, which will lend itself to a more vibrant and safe environment, improving the quality of life in the area around it. And the new residences will not only help support local retail, but will also increase activity in the neighboring parks such as Nichols Park and Elm Park. It is also wonderful that Mesa Development has agreed to construction hiring practices that are favorable to women, minorities and local residents. The vision for the future of 53rd Street is already in motion with the new movie theater, new restaurants, a new hotel, a new music venue and a variety of retailers to come. This is all very exciting! The addition of the Mobil site development is the icing on the cake. So I hope that you will approve the rezoning required for construction to start.

Thank you for your dedication to the Hyde Park community.

Timika Hoffman-Zoller