Letters to the Editor

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
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

A closer look at the McMobil project’s density

To the Editor:

Amid all the discussion of the proposed development of the so-called McMobil lot, there are two issues of real substance, and they are the ones that are subject to zoning: the height of the proposed building, and the floor area ratio (FAR). The developer is petitioning for a “planned development,” which essentially means they want permission to build to three times the current height limit and to more than double the current FAR limit. Since zoning requirements are intended to maintain the character of an area, it is worthwhile to consider the parties involved and their interests.

There are at least three major stakeholders here. One is the developer whose interest, no matter how thoughtful they are about urban design, is to turn a profit. Another is the University of Chicago, which wishes to provide the kinds of amenities that it thinks will attract and please its students and employees. (Aligned in interest with the university are the merchants who support any increase in population that might provide potential customers.) The third is the surrounding community that actually lives and spends time on 53rd Street. This group is interested in the quality of life in the immediate neighborhood; part of that interest in quality of life is an interest in maintaining the character of the area. Throughout the visioning process the entire community, not just those who live near the McMobil site, has consistently and strongly spoken in favor of maintaining both the scale and character of the area.

When we consider these three parties and their interests, we actually see little disagreement on the basic points. The surrounding community is largely in favor of the university’s goal of more people living on 53rd Street to support present and future businesses. We assume that both the university and the developer would welcome a project that meets the current zoning restrictions as long as it met their other requirements. Where the groups do not see eye-to-eye is on what trade-offs are acceptable. No one wants a tall building for its own sake, but for the university and the developer it is a price well worth paying to get the things they consider more fundamental. The problem here is that the surrounding community will pay this price, not the developer and university. Let us consider the two issues of size and height separately.

On the issue of size, the developer and university want to install many more residents than current zoning allows. They are confident that these new residents will in general walk on 53rd Street and use public transportation rather than driving, and if the surrounding community shared their confidence there would probably be little if any opposition to allowing these extra residents. However, since the university and developer will derive benefits from the extra residents no matter what, while the surrounding community will bear the costs if it turns out that these residents will drive more and walk less than the university and developer predict, the community is right to be skeptical of the rosy claims about the low-impact lifestyles of these new residents. On the issue of height, the university and the developer are being disingenuous. The community has stated clearly and resoundingly throughout the visioning process that they do not want a tall building on that site, no matter how cleverly workshop organizers tried to present the issue as “density” without any mention of height. If a short building would give the developer a greater return on investment than a tall one (if, for example, there were an appropriate Pigovian tax [ed. note: a tax to offset external costs] on height above the zoned limit), you can be quite sure the proposal would be for a short building. If the university shared the belief of many in the surrounding community that a development in scale with the surrounding area on 53rd Street would be more likely than a high-rise to attract renters who would walk and shop on 53rd Street rather than drive, we would probably see such a proposal.

The height of the building could be substantially reduced by the investment of money – the parking could be buried at a cost, and the developers could be easily induced to have fewer units, and thus fewer stories to the building, if they were given other financial guarantees. We bring this up not because we think it is realistic for the university to front this money, but to point out that there are alternatives to externalizing all costs to the surrounding community.

Discussions of the McMobil development too often focus on parking as if it were the central issue. It is not central, it is simply the most obvious manifestation of the problems attendant upon a development that is out of scale with its surroundings and is in clear violation of current and accepted zoning regulations. Scale and character are the central issues; let us make sure that they are on the table in each discussion and that any proposed trade-offs involving them are presented explicitly and transparently.

Michael Scott
Jack Spicer
George Rumsey
Jay Ammerman
Janet Geovanis

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Cut program needed at Hyde Park Neighborhood Club

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to the board of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.

Dear Hyde Park Neighborhood Club Board:

Like many Hyde Park parents, I value the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club and all that the club and the building tenants offer this very diverse community. However, I am very distressed by the Board’s decision to force Miss Tammie and Children’s House out of the building.

My son has been coming to Miss Tammie’s since 2010 and benefits greatly, as do all her children, from the quality of learning offered. My son is now 4 years old and has grown so much since being with Miss Tammie; it’s been an amazing journey. Enrolling him in her school was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I speak on behalf of all the parents who have children in her school

Her school has been a part of the HPNC for 6 years and is a source of affordable schooling for Hyde Park parents. It’s the diversity of her classroom that keeps the parents and children coming back. Miss Tammie’s school also fills the need for an autism curriculum, after school education for sign language and after school care for kids who come to her from the neighboring schools.

May we remind you, her school is not a daycare center — it is a school, a place of learning and knowledge.

In the wake of all the school closings in the Chicago area, you may have managed to add one more to the list. We are extremely disappointed. Shame on you for putting the interests of others above the interests of all the students and parents affected by your rejection to not renew Ms. Tammie’s lease. Her closing on June 30 during her summer program is extremely disruptive. What are working parents going to do?

Did the board consider this when the decision was made?

Wherever Miss Tammie’s school re-locates, her students and their families will follow. It is a shame that the HPNC chooses to sever a relationship that has been beneficial to so many Hyde Park families. It shows your heart is not fully in the interests of the community or the children.

Marjorie Marshall

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HPNC program should not be cut

To the Editor:

My twin daughters attend the Children’s House of Miss Tammie (CHOMT), which is currently located at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (HPNC). They are both on the autism spectrum and their experience at Miss Tammie’s has been extraordinarily beneficial. We’ve seen our girls make great strides in communication and social awareness over the past seven months and we are so appreciative of the teachers and community of CHOMT. Miss Tammie’s patience, experience and tireless dedication to reaching and engaging our girls has been truly inspiring and energizing for us as a family as we continue to journey with our girls through their own unique growth and development.

The HPNC has decided to end their long-term contract for space with Miss Tammie. While it is certainly within their rights to do so, it is truly unfortunate that they are creating so much uncertainty for this wonderful Montessori school. In a political climate in which an unprecedented number of public schools are in jeopardy of being closed, it is sad to see our neighborhood club limiting educational opportunities rather than encouraging the diversity that is so essential to the development of all of our children. Miss Tammie has created an integrated environment of education that ought to be celebrated. My hope is that Miss Tammie will find a home that allows and encourages her school to grow and reach even more children and families seeking a unique, diverse and nurturing educational environment.

Margaret Guillory

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Program cut at HPNC brings values into question

To the Editor:

Miss Tammie welcomed my son into her school at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club when he was at a very vulnerable place in his development. His transformation, creativity and ability to articulate and interact with the world around him have been shaped by this very special school/alternative daycare. Her Montessori Children’s House was a godsend. The club was a facility that, three years ago, still served seniors and adults, teens and children, really the whole community in grassroots way. It seemed like an ideal location in Hyde Park, the community that I have chosen to raise my son. I love this community’s diversity, social complexity and community culture. What I do not like and am seeing unfold in this particular situation reflects the issues of race, class disparities and privilege that need to be openly discussed and how they relate to this unfortunate decision.

Miss Tammie is a loving, supportive and humble person, and she has shared with me that she does not want to be where she is not wanted. This breaks my heart. What needs to be understood is that our children have not been supported in the process. This is not about the school as a tenant, but our children’s well being. Hopefully the HPNC’s Board of Directors will take the time to hear from the families that are impacted by this SEEMINGLY discriminatory decision. All children and their families who walk through the door of the HPNC should be equally valued and supported.

The unfortunate change in values at HPNC has been painful to experience and witness. The change in values that does not include Children’s House of Miss Tammie’s. I do not understand why a school that occupies the smallest of spaces, and does so much and provided a transformative experience for our children has not been embraced by HPNC. It is counter intuitive. She should have more space to expand, thereby offering an affordable option for parents.

Why has no one from the administration or board of directors interviewed the parents to find out why we value Miss Tammie and her Montessori school?

Perhaps if this had been done she would be signing a long-term lease with additional space to expand at HPNC.

Erika Allen

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Sad to see program go at Neighborhood Club

To the Editor:

We, like many other families in Hyde Park, are very saddened with the recent actions of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (HPNC) to arbitrarily terminate the lease of the Children’s House of Miss Tammie (CHOMT). Our daughter, now 5-years-old and about to graduate to kindergarten, has been attending Miss Tammie’s Montessori School at the HPNC for the past three years. Children’s House of Miss Tammie (CHOMT) is a great place of learning for toddlers and young children with the instruction based on the Montessori system. Miss Tammie welcomes kids of all backgrounds and ethnicities with open arms and heart. The school provides a diverse cultural exposure to children and challenges kids appropriate to their developmental level. The curriculum supplements academic learning with sign language, yoga, music classes and French language to stimulate the emotional quotient of young minds. It also has an excellent summer program for kids of all ages, which is also in jeopardy.

It is very unfortunate that the board of HPNC decided not to extend the lease for the school. The location of Miss Tammie’s school in a communal building like HPNC which also has other daycare/preschool programs, after school programs and other family-friendly activities/classes (e.g., Indian Classical Dance classes by Kalapriya) is ideal for families hailing from Hyde Park many of whom are affiliated with the University of Chicago. The decision of the board to cut ties with this valuable institution deprives the families of the close relationship shared with the neighborhood club. It also unduly forces the school to devote resources to work on relocation when they really want to focus on our children’s learning and development. The actions of the HPNC board seem very restrictive to certain community members. We are frustrated that the board did not deem it necessary to consider the affected families’ views or allow Miss Tammie to negotiate the lease terms. It is entirely legal for the board to terminate the lease but communities do not operate on legal conditions — sympathy and consideration make communities come together and work together.

Keeping this in mind, we would like to appeal to the management of the HPNC to revisit their own manifesto (listed on their website): “… support of youth ages 0-18 in a safe, nurturing environment. We help the neighborhood families and schools to develop healthy well-rounded young people by providing enriching activities, leadership models, a pride of place, and a sense of community” and follow it in their intent by allowing the great work put in by Miss Tammie to continue enriching the community of Hyde Park.

We hope the HPNC board’s actions are brought into the open and made public.

Subhashini Allu and Vineeth Varanasi

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Say no to greed at McMobil site

To the Editor:

We don’t need any more high rise buildings in Hyde Park! Hyde Park can remain a quaint, quiet and diverse neighborhood as it’s always been without the commercialization as with everything else in the country. It’s bad enough that we have that ugly monstrosity looming across the street from the bank building.

We don’t want to be another North Side, hectic, traffic-filled mess! Leave us alone!
Be strong. Don’t give in to the dollar signs thrown in your face. Believe me, it’ll be better in the end without the madness.

Donna Allen

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Time for compromise at McMobil site

To the Editor:

I support the proposed McMobil site redevelopment. I back Ald. Will Burns (4th) (who has already formally expressed his support for the development), the University of Chicago, and Mesa Development LLC. My support is strong and informed, but it is not unquestioning or unconditional.

Rather than continuing to fightthe development or passively accepting whatever may come, I suggest a third way. I recommend that community groups seek to negotiate aspects of the development with the parties leading the process. For instance, SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation) successfully participated in negotiations that led to the developer agreeing to designate 20 percent of the number of units as affordable housing, including 15 percent of units on-site and 5 percent off-site.

Parking: Though City of Chicago planners at DHED (Department of Housing and Economic Development) have already expressed belief that the amount of parking is too much for this project, fear remains that the site’s parking would be insufficient.

  • Charge for parking such that it motivates tenants not to own cars and/or reduce rents for tenants who don’t own a car. People who place a high priority on parking will not move in here.
  • Give the parking spaces greater flexibility in designation. Rather than assign half for retail and half for residents, perhaps the parking allotment could vary by time of day – more for shoppers during the business day and more for tenants the rest of the time.

Traffic: This site earns 91 out of 100 possible points from walkscore.com, denoting it as a “Walker’s Paradise” where “daily errands do not require a car.” Despite this, nightmares of traffic congestion and dangerous pedestrian crossings – rather than visions of lively sidewalks with people strolling to destinations – seem to persist. A report forecast that the traffic from this site would actually decrease from the current use of gas station/car wash, given how many times customers pull in and out of the station today. Additionally, an enclosed loading dock at the rear will not add to the congestion on 53rd Street and will minimize noise and disruption on the existing alley. A variety of traffic calming measures should receive consideration:

  • Traffic circles, or roundabouts, could help keep traffic flowing better than the all-way stop signs, and simultaneously slow drivers to a safer speed.
  • Sidewalk bump-outs would narrow the distance pedestrians have to cross without reducing the vehicle right-of-way. Enhanced pedestrian crossings with flashing beacons, raised crosswalks, improved signage, and clear pavement markings would improve safety.
  • Police could make a concerted effort to patrol the street and enforce traffic laws to promote safety and security.

Public transportation: Within half-a-mile of the site – the accepted radius for transit-oriented development – are seven CTA bus routes and the Metra Electric line. The University of Chicago operates shuttle service on 53rd Street. Perceptions of inadequate public transportation remain, however.

  • The apartment leases could include public transit passes to incentivize transit over personal vehicles.
  • A neighborhood trolley bus could provide important connectivity between points within and near Hyde Park.

Employment and Retail: Mesa Development has agreed to construction hiring practices that are favorable to minorities, women, Chicago residents and residents of nearby neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that they are requesting no TIF funds or public subsidy and so are under no obligation to follow such practices. Retail tenants have yet to be identified.

  • Community groups should lobby for retail merchants who will meet the needs of the neighborhood.
  • Merchants should institute hiring preference for residents of the neighborhood and the mid-South Side.
  • Local businesses should receive consideration for the space. If not, they should receive preference for other University-owned property.

The Building: The project will achieve LEED Silver certification, in addition to providing location efficiency, forestalling greenfield suburban development, and permitting residential density that fosters neighborhood vibrancy.

  • Residents north of the building will receive shade that would undermine gardening efforts. A community garden in Nichols Park could help compensate.

This development will alter the neighborhood, and it is in our interest to make the outcome as positive as possible. Please consider these suggestions and work together to shape the development into something of which Hyde Park will be proud.

Jason Duba

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Blame to share for Canter closure

To the Editor:

As the parents of a recent Canter Middle School graduate, we’re sickened by the news that this excellent school will be closed.
Let us be perfectly clear: Canter is a successful school, and it is not “underutilized.”

We’re sickened, as we say, but not surprised. This is simply the final insult added to a series of injuries, earlier insults and bad breaks the school has endured since its middle-school program was introduced a decade ago.

It started with a piece of bad luck. A promising and energetic young principal who had been brought in to launch the program became ill and had to resign.

There was the building extension CPS promised but never built. Somehow, with all the money coursing through the neighborhood for hotels and glass-and-steel office towers, none could be found for this small school with Black students.

Then, we are sad to say, there were the parents from Canter’s feeder schools who simply refused to send their children to a school with predominantly poor, Black students. The things we heard from neighbors who had never set foot in the school about how bad Canter purportedly was, none of them even remotely true, were appalling. This was racial and class antipathy at its worst, and it revealed a dark side to our putatively enlightened neighborhood.

Despite all this, Dr. Colleen Conlan, Canter’s principal; Mr. Eric Lewis, the assistant principal and a talented staff of teachers have built a program in which kids study, learn and are nurtured in the way children at this age should be nurtured. (And this, by the way, is the essence of a good middle-school program and something the students won’t get when they’re returned to K to 6 schools.) Canter has succeeded against all odds, even if few people know about it.

There is plenty of shame to go around in Canter’s brief story, in the system and in the community. The people who can be proud, however, are the students, parents, teachers and staff of the school, whose loss will be a big one for Hyde Park-Kenwood.

Jane Averill
Tom Panelas

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Local housing group supports McMobil

To the Editor:

The Coalition for Equitable Community Development is an association of Hyde Park & Kenwood residents, businesses, religious communities and civic organizations who are concerned about the loss of affordable housing in our community. The University has shared its plans for the development of the partly-vacant site on 53rd Street commonly called the “McMobil” site. As shown in our recently completed Affordable Rental Housing Market Study, Hyde Park and South Kenwood are in need of more rental housing to meet the needs of its low and moderate income families and seniors. We are grateful to see that this development will result in 57 affordable apartments. These units will serve individuals earning up to $31,000/yr, or a two person household earning up to $35,000/yr. A few of the apartments will be available to individuals earning up to $41,000 or two persons earning up to $47,000.
In order to achieve these numbers, the developer will need to build at a density that is higher than some in our community would prefer. However, we support the proposal because it takes density to provide affordable housing, and it takes affordable housing to maintain the economic diversity Hyde Park values. The new development will allow 57 families to find affordable housing in our community. These are our neighbors who will be priced out of our community if we don’t have the density to finance affordable units.

We applaud the university for choosing a developer who will build these affordable housing units on the site and create a mixed-income development. City ordinances allow the option of paying in lieu of building actual units. But they didn’t go that route. We should all be grateful for that.

CECD Board Members
Pat Wilcoxen
Linda Thisted
John Murphy
Gary Ossewaarde
Bob Despres
Mark Granfors
Joe Marlin
Rahsaan Clark Morris
David Nekimken
Marc Schwertley
Gail Dugas

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McMobil project will make life difficult

To the Editor:

This letter is regarding the development of the property at 1338 E. 53rd St., Chicago. As a nearby resident, it is my opinion that a building of this size and at this location will cause a major increase in area congestion and make street parking extremely difficult.

Fifty-third Street is not an easy street to cross at this time and it will be much more difficult to cross with the added traffic congestion. This will be particularly true for the children attending the Murray Elementary School across the street.
The planned 218 on-site parking spaces for 267 dwelling units and 30,000 square feet of ground floor retail space is totally inadequate. The developers should consider reducing the size of the building and increasing the ratio of building parking spaces to dwelling units and retail space.

James Des Jardins

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Locals are united against McMobil

To the Editor:

The March 18 meeting at Augustana Church, of well over a hundred people, yielded a lively and thoughtful discussion about the proposed development at the McMobil site. The concerns about this development were specific and well argued. Many of the comments embraced the idea of development, but wanted one consistent with the substantive requirements for scale, traffic and parking on 53rd Street as determined by those present at past “Visioning Workshops.”

At the meeting we were told that Ald. WIll Burns (4th) is the person who has the most influence over the decisions regarding zoning that will or will not advance this development. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the meeting. But he did come toward the end and stood in the back of the room for a few minutes before retreating to the lobby until the meeting ended.

I’m not sure why, when Ald. Burns was at the meeting, he didn’t welcome the opportunity to hear directly from so many residents who spoke intelligently and passionately about their neighborhood. He appears to be thinking about the issue of traffic on 53rd Street; he has asked the South East Chicago Commission to do a study of traffic and he has suggested that a shuttle bus traveling up and down 53rd Street might be the solution to our traffic and parking problems. He has also written in the Herald about Hyde Park’s tradition of “open, inclusive and meaningful planning processes.” We know he has heard from the university, the Chamber of Commerce and the Kimbark Plaza Board of Directors, supporting this development.

This community deserves to have an alderman who represents them and, while they can’t necessarily contribute to his campaign fund, they do vote. If the required zoning change receives Ald. Burn’s blessing and this development goes through, these same residents will have ample opportunity to think about who their alderman represents while they are sitting in traffic jams on 53rd Street waiting for people coming in and out of the new building, or driving slowly as they look for parking, or waiting for the shuttle as it stops in our narrow street to let people on and off as it drives up and down 53rd Street.

Nina Helstein

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