Letters to the Editor

McMobil project will leave us lost in the dark

To the Editor:

I’m a new “McMobil” activist but a long-term near neighbor/homeowner (5305 S. Greenwood Ave. since 1973) with a long historical memory and also experience behind the scenes here in Hyde Park and with the city in land-use proposals (back to 1989 aborted efforts to appease marginalized locals in building a new Bears stadium on the West Side). As such, I’d like to focus on what is being left out.

Beware developers’ blandishments with Trojan Horse zoning changes and distorted optics. Demand full disclosure and “transparency” from those who call the shots and the snapshots — Mesa Development LLC, the University of Chicago and Ald. William Burns (4th) and their confederates (Chamber of Commerce, etc. ). Thank you Hyde Park Herald for airing so many voices, but also consider assigning another investigative article on the whole picture. Most disheartening to me is what I heard from first-person testimonies and draftsman-worthy drawings with full-frontal strollers’ sidewalk and current home owners’ and renters’ “backyard” profiles at CARRD’s March 18 public meeting (my first). It’s the ethics of the way the project is being advanced. First, the Trojan Horse zoning changes proposed to citizens and affected residents versus those actually implemented. For example, a proposed variance to accommodate an appealing new restaurant or some such in the place of the closed Third World Café at the corner of 53rd Street and Kimbark Avenue becomes a zoning change of whole blocks around both sides of the corner, which have been turned from “dry” to “wet.” Yes, “wet zoning” improves the profitability of restaurants, but is that all that should be considered? Birds’ eye views — drawings or photos — give nothing of what residents and strollers see in front of them or behind them. “Right to light” court cases have stopped contested skyscraper development in the past.

Finally, the faceless statistics on automobile emissions flunk the sniff test. Pro-development people sum up the total number of odorous puffs from automobiles, comparing the total number of cars going through the Mobil station (that includes me — regularly) with the total number of cars after carrying out the skyscraper-big box (sorta) development plan. But that fails to account for the number of cars in the Mobil at one time compared to the total number of odorous puffs emitted by the snails-pace virtual parking lot traffic of automobiles along 53rd Street post-skyscraper commercial development. Take this sniff test yourself. I have been IN the Mobil car wash as well as at the pumps with no respiratory exacerbations (I have asthma and borderline emphysema). Finally, look beyond the near neighbors and consider the whole community — and consider the far neighbors northeast, on the other side of “the tracks,” those middle class and more marginalized residents without cars in a veritable food desert after the closing of Village Foods and the late Michael’s as well as the former Co-Op (which, by the way, never got the adequate marketing to and polling of near residents it deserved).

Hyde Parkers and Kenwooders, hold the alderman’s, university’s and developer’s feet to the fire. And Hyde Park Herald, please bring some more sunlight on “the project” and continue the dialogue you have supported.

Louise Kaegi

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McHugh excited to join McMobil development

To the Editor:

James McHugh Construction Co. has proudly called the South Side of Chicago home for more than 100 years. As a general contractor, we have had the good fortune to work in Hyde Park on the Harper Court development that will be completed later this summer. We also have been selected by Mesa Development to construct the proposed project at 1330 E. 53rd St. An aspect of this project which has been overlooked by many in the community is the economic benefit such a project creates for the community. Especially in these uncertain times, the jobs supported by major construction projects are critical to a wide section of the population.

We estimate that the Mesa project will generate 300 well-paying, union construction jobs. This is equal to 275,000 hours of labor. Mesa has committed, on a voluntary basis, to achieve 25 percent minority-owned business hiring and 5 percent woman-owned business hiring for the project. This will allow our company to continue working with many of the firms with which we have worked so hard to build the Harper Court project. Mesa has also asked that we continue our program of local community outreach in order to employ people on the project from the local Hyde Park community. We look forward to working with the alderman’s office, the community groups and the faith-based institutions with whom we successfully partnered at Harper Court to make this commitment a reality.

Bruce Lake
James McHugh Construction Co.

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U. of C. students’ activism hopeful sign

To the Editor:

In the fight against climate change, the student-led campaign encouraging colleges and universities to end their fossil-fuel investments is a genuinely hopeful sign. While financial analyses have shown that divestiture won’t negatively impact institutional portfolios, doing the right thing shouldn’t require a fiscal rationale.

Education is based on the principle that knowledge can be transmitted across boundaries of age and culture, thereby ensuring a future of steadily increasing wisdom. Such a future is gravely imperiled by climate change, a planetary crisis precipitated by industrial civilization’s rapid introduction of millions of years’ accumulated carbon into the atmosphere in a geological instant, and exacerbated by the destructive business practices of big oil and coal companies.

Continued support of fossil fuels may be profitable in the short run, but it is a betrayal of our societal commitment to a better future. In striving to change UChicago’s investment policies, these students demonstrate a profound commitment to the true ideals of education: fostering responsibility to and for the greater social good.

Warren Senders

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McMobil project scale bad for Hyde Park

To the Editor:

Since the building currently proposed for the “McMobil” site on 53rd Street would be directly across from Nichols Park, the Nichols Park Advisory Council feels it is appropriate for us to express our concerns.

We believe the primary benefit of a mixed-use development on that site will be to fill in the unfortunate gap on that block, which could add substantially to the retail diversity Hyde Park needs. However, perhaps several smaller stores might add to our shopping options better than the two stores now proposed.

We also think more people living across the street could both benefit the neighborhood and would be good for the park. We anticipate that new residents would increase the use of the park, even by just walking through it at various times. The developer also agreed to designate (on site) 15 percent of the apartments as affordable housing. We applaud their recognition of this desperate need.

Our biggest concern is the building’s proposed size. A massive structure, 100 feet taller than any of its neighbors, is not the sensitive, seamless blending of the old with the new that we think is most appropriate for this section of 53rd Street. The building would loom above the tallest trees and block the view of northern sky from even the 55th Street border of the park.

We sincerely hope the plans for this site will be reconsidered.

Members and friends of the Nichols Park Advisory Council
Mimi Asbury
Van Bistrow
Ron Chafetz
George Davis
Robin Kaufman
Bam Postell
Carol Schneider
Jane Averill
Lesley Bloch
Jane Comiskey
Stephanie Franklin
Gary Ossewaarde
George Rumsey
Laura Shaeffer

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Quality of life harmed by McMobil project

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

In my third year as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I moved out of the dorms and into a beautiful privately-owned building at 5221 S. Kenwood Ave. I chose it because it was an older building seeping with character and charm, all odd angles and beautiful light, on the only curvy street in Hyde Park. It was my first apartment and, 13 years later, I’m still here. I have come to treasure the sense of community even among the largely itinerant student population, and have grown close to many of my neighbors — most of them long-term homeowners — on my block. I write this letter as much for them as for myself, out of a desire to prevent what I feel is a very unwise development proposal on the so-called McMobil site on 53rd Street.

By this time you have no doubt received countless communications from folks opposed to the project, as well as reassurances from those in support of it. I understand that as an alderman and civil servant it is impossible to please everyone; however, I strongly believe there is a solution that can please many people without making many other people miserable. I ask you to think very carefully before rezoning this space and to seriously consider the original rationale for its current zoning status.

Many of us who oppose development in Hyde Park are often dismissed as nay-sayers who object to change in general. And some of us are. I, for one, am very happy about some of the recent additions to Hyde Park, such as Harper Theater and Kilwins. I am not a big fan of others — chain pop-ups like Akira, Five Guys and Clark’s — but I recognize that while it’s not my taste, many people apparently enjoy these businesses, so I resign myself to the greater good. Other plans I believe have been made in error, such as leveling a place like Village Foods — an affordable grocery, open 18 hours a day, very near public transportation, in favor of Whole Foods — a more upscale affair which caters to a very similar clientele as Treasure Island. While I agree Hyde Park needed a decent hotel, I think there were other proposed sites that made more sense than the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue. I shudder and mourn, but accept that in a world of competing desires, I will not always have my way.

In speaking to many of the people in my immediate community, however, I have been hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks building a modern 13-story structure at the so-called McMobil site is a good idea. You once held a meeting to discuss your constituents’ concerns, and this proposal flies in the face of all of them. First, while some might find the design modern and elegant, it becomes ghastly in the surrounding context of single-family homes and 3 story-apartment buildings. It would dwarf even the highest buildings among us — the red-stuccoed Versailles on the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue and the classical Grosvenor on the 5200 block of Kenwood. While I think we can all agree McDonalds needed to go, and something needs to go in its place, these towers would be grossly out of proportion and clash with the surrounding aesthetic.

Secondly, I understand that the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, among other groups, is in favor of density. But Hyde Park Produce, CVS and the surrounding restaurants never seem to lack in patrons, so much so that parking at the Kimbark shopping center at peak hours is scarce. If anyone actually believes that building a 13-story structure this far from public transportation will not create unreasonable amounts of traffic along 53rd Street, not to mention along the many narrow one-way streets leading off of it, that person’s reasoning is at best clogged, and at worst tainted by competing ambitions. As for residential parking, which is already difficult and has only grown worse since the city’s long-term lease of meters to a private company (which has changed the start time to 8 a.m. and now charges on Sunday), the claim that this structure will not exponentially contribute to the problem reveals either a gross miscalculation or a willing ignorance with intent to deceive. I will not insult your intelligence by laying out the math.

Most importantly to me, as an artist and really just as a human, is the quality of life and light. The proposed structure would cast cold, solid shadows over the entirety of many of my neighbors’ properties, blocking the lovely afternoon light in my studio and potentially dooming the rooftop garden I have built and cultivated for years. This kind of value is measured in different currency than economic interest, but I argue it is priceless in comparison. It is plain for many of us to see that the preferences of certain entities are being prioritized over the needs and desires of local residents, and that is unfair and unjust. Please consider the essential characteristics that make this site worthy of a more holistic, community-minded approach: the young graffiti artists constantly at work on the wall behind the site; the hawks, ravens and even a falcon I have seen basking in the dawn light in the mammoth tree across the alley; and the many residents who love our neighborhood enough to take the time out of our busy lives to fight it becoming another choked and gasping over-urbanized space.

We can all agree that a barren gravel lot along an otherwise vibrant stretch of 53rd Street is not a good use of space. Most of us agree that a set of modern 13-story towers protruding from our otherwise lovely block is an outrage. But there are common interests and common ground, and I urge you to start from there and work outward, utilizing the citizens group 53rd CARRD, or Citizens for Appropriate Retail and Residential Development, as a barometer and sounding board to help develop a better plan. It has never been easier to discern what a community wants than when it takes it upon itself to mobilize and ask for dialogue.

I plan to attend the March 18 meeting at the Augustana Lutheran Church, and I hope to see you there. We once met outside of Hyde Park Produce; you shook my hand and pledged to work hard for me and to honor my voice. I hope that is a promise you plan to keep.

Amanda Englert

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Hyde Park needs McMobil development

To the Editor:

I fully support the efforts of Mesa Development LLC to revitalize 53rd Street with its high-rise and leased commercial space where the Mobil gas station is now located. As a parent with a full-time job and very busy children, I welcome the opportunity to secure more stores and restaurants with quality options for Hyde Parkers, so that my hard-earned dollars can stay in the community. I also want us to attract neighboring patrons as well.

When my husband and I first moved to Hyde Park more than 15 years ago, we lamented that we had to travel back downtown for entertainment, for a healthy meal or just to have some variety of meal options. We admired the boutiques and brand name stores and watering-holes in Lincoln Park; admired its residents for their ability to walk to those options in their neighborhood. Once we started having children, we then desired a nearby clothing or shoe store with variety of name brands for the whole family. But we found ourselves driving to the South Loop or downtown, once again — just to pick up a pair of toddler socks or a quick gift. We, of course, stayed in Hyde Park all of these years because of its cultural diversity, its proximity to the Loop and because we have made many friends in the neighborhood over the years. So, finally, after many years, we’re beginning to see commercial changes, and we love it. We have already seen a revitalization of the South Loop area and now, a steady stream of new options in Hyde Park. Restaurants where you can meet friends, find healthier meals and fresh grocery items and, hopefully, experience less crime. Yes — less crime — because active communities, communities with lots of eyes and ears, are less attractive to those seeking to harm others or property.

I refuse to believe that Hyde Park residents would prefer to retain a gas station, with the massive real estate it demands and all of the pollutants it brings, over a new bustling and thriving residential and commercial center. I also refuse to believe Hyde Parkers are afraid of a little construction for a duration of time. We are all living through the construction at Harper Court and, while inconvenient, we will be better for it — property values will rise, increased shopping and dining options for our residents, and less wear-and-tear on all of us driving elsewhere to buy goods and services.

A world-class city and a world-class neighborhood in that city, housing one of the most prestigious universities in the world, should have more variety, more options, both retail and bargain, and for all kinds of goods and services we need for our families. Mesa Development’s 53rd Street plans help achieve this.

Adrienne Pitts

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Deeper meaning in our recurring worries

To the Editor:

After a thorough reading of the letters about Harper Court and McMobil, do we recognize an underlying concern? After thoughts about the view, scale, anonymity, traffic and parking and transportation, is there a common angst?

Hyde Park-Kenwood has its identity. We are an active, broadly interested community with a right to think of itself as an original.

Robert Borja

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Condemning McMobil monstrosity

To the Editor:

This is to express my agreement with the opinion of the Hyde Park Herald, and of Franklin, Kaufman, Lipinski, Pamelas and White, and of Ratcliffe, as well as that of every Hyde Parker with whom I have spoken, condemning the planned McMobil monstrosity. I also express my dismay about the letter by Paul Marks.

It reads like a commercial advertisement, appealing to emotion. Consider Marks’ rhetorical superlatives: architecturally pleasing, well designed, higher quality, exceptional, impressive, legendary, hearty, vibrant and exciting.

Is Paul Marks a paid agent of the developers, or a naive person, completely unaware of, and unconcerned with, the values, comfort and health and safety of Hyde Parkers? He attempts to tempt and seduce us with retail items that are low on our priorities. How badly do you need a scarf or a tie? He tempts us with the very foods that all health and nutrition counselors condemn as the causes of the obesity epidemic, which leads to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. He specifically promotes cheeseburgers, ribs, and pastry.

In appealing to socially irresponsible people, he neglects the needs of seniors and the disabled, who must use a car to go shopping. Neglect is a form of abuse. The traffic congestion produced by the monstrosity will force such neighbors to travel to South Loop, which has huge parking lots and in-house garages. All this driving will further increase environmental pollution, traffic congestion, and harmful stress. He dismisses Chicago’s often deadly snow and cold as “a bit chilly.”

I urge you to write to Ald. Burns to halt the rezoning. A similar scheme for Lincoln Square was defeated by aldermanic action. We can do it here, but only if you take action.

Dr. George Kagan

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Send McMobil plan back to drawing board

To the Editor:

There is a plan before our political leaders to build a monstrous 13-story high-rise structure at the so-called McMobil site on 53rd Street across from Nichols Park. This building should not be built. The proposed structure is grossly out of proportion with its surroundings and would degrade the quality of life for everyone living, working and shopping within a wide radius around it. We add our voices to the growing chorus of Hyde Parkers who oppose the plan by Mesa Development LLC and call on Ald. Will Burns (4th) to prevent it from going any further.

Our reasons for opposing the plan are several and correspond closely with those raised in the Herald editorial of Feb 20:
The building would dwarf everything around it and destroy the view from Nichols Park. Today, people in the park gazing northward see sky; if this building goes up they’ll see only skyscraper.

The building would create added population density where we need it least, namely, several blocks from any public transportation. This is contrary to the sentiment expressed in many community meetings. Being far from buses and trains, residents of the building would have strong incentives to own cars, which would add to the traffic congestion on 53rd Street. It would also make it easy for these mobile Hyde Parkers to leave the neighborhood to shop, exactly the opposite of what we’re supposed to be trying to accomplish with neighborhood development.

Perhaps most ominous of all, it would set a new precedent for outsized structures on that stretch of 53rd Street, which was neither designed for nor can handle high-volume traffic. The result, down the line, could be not the density we desire but the congestion we can live without.

Before the Mesa plan can proceed, the site has to be rezoned, and the decision on this lies with Ald. Burns. For the good of the neighborhood, we urge him to halt the rezoning and bring all of the parties back to the table to design a sane alternative, this time with the community input and consensus the current proposal lacks.

Stephanie Franklin
Robin Kaufman
Marc Lipinski
Tom Panelas
David White

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McMobil plan is a needed development

To the Editor:

In response to Ms. Franklin’s “alternative to the McMobil plan” (letters, Feb. 27, p.4), it is equally important to hear the voices of those who support this architecturally pleasing and well-designed building on 53rd Street. This building will provide the most needed yet currently absent element to 53rd Street, additional market rate residents that will support the retail businesses and create greater demand for higher quality shops and restaurants that are badly needed in our wonderful neighborhood. The starting point is the University of Chicago’s exceptional investment in seeking to bring positive change to 53rd Street, with the rehabilitation of the movie theater, the catalyst for implementing the new development at Harper Court with pedestrian-friendly retail, hotel and an office building and now a bold new approach to bringing more residents to this ever-changing street. Safety of those who walk and shop on 53rd Street has historically been a major concern. Since the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, 53rd Street has seen many ebbs and flows in its perceived safety. Without a substantial density of residents living, shopping and strolling on the street, the retail corridor has struggled to define its position in the neighborhood. The last two shopping centers built on 53rd Street, Kimbark Plaza and Dorchester Commons, were designed to accommodate vehicles first, pedestrians second. It was a common design in the past, often mandated by local ordinances to require a minimum amount of parking to relieve the pressure on street parking and in Hyde Park’s case, to draw more shoppers further west along 53rd Street. Not only does this design provide convenience to the car shopper, it also offers a sense of security to shop only in the designated shopping center and not to stroll along 53rd Street. The result has been an inconsistent, often struggling mix of retail and dining options that have existed and changed over the years on 53rd Street since Kimbark Plaza was built. Yet, our community has always strived for better shopping options. We want places to buy clothing and small boutique shops. Might I remind Ms. Franklin that if she walks a short four blocks east from Nichols Park, she will be able to find “a scarf, a belt …” at the impressive new Akira shop? I’m not sure about finding a zipper or a tie, certainly two items that are not a top priority for shoppers in Hyde Park. We also want better dining choices, although a $3 cheeseburger at Nathans and the legendary “see your food” at Valois will hopefully remain as part of an eclectic mix of dining options. The Mesa development will be a long-needed plug in the western corridor of 53 Street. It smartly provides adequate parking inside the building and out of sight for its tenants and the public while presenting its street level retail directly in front of the pedestrian. With the increase in the number of residents at this location, Nichols Park will be active with more residents and more eyes for added safety and interest in maintaining the park and likely joining Ms. Franklin’s Nichols Park Advisory Council. More cars will add to the mix, however 53rd Street has never been a fast moving street such as the western section 55th Street past the train tracks. The benefit of already being a “slow moving street” is to discourage car use, and encourage pedestrian use. It is true the new residents might find a four-block (Ms. Franklin counts six blocks) walk along 53rd Street to the Metra train a bit chilly in the winter. However a nice walk encourages retail spending; a warm cup of coffee at Starbucks and hearty cheeseburger at Nathans or Five Guys or a slab of ribs at Ribs ‘n Bibs. It might also offer a fresh croissant or baguette at a future pastry shop. Or a place to pick up flowers on the way home from work. Ms. Franklin’s suggestion for a four-story retail complex would put far greater traffic pressure on the street, especially with the idea of an upper-level department store or mini Ikea. The last I checked, Ikea prefers about 350,000 square feet of space to operate their store successfully in the USA, far more space than any location for them in Hyde Park. Let’s not ignore the market reality of retail. Stores prefer to follow a community’s shopping needs and make certain the economic realities make sense. The Mesa development will clearly help define that goal and will assuredly bring more vibrant and exciting pedestrian retail to 53rd Street. Show your support and welcome this development.

Paul Marks

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Trauma center at U. of C. is a moral necessity

To the Editor:

Should not our self-interest, as well as our sense both of compassion and of honor, move us to make available, in all urban neighborhoods in this country, at least the level of medical services routinely provided throughout the larger cities in those European countries which are privileged to enjoy a level of economic development comparable to our own?

George Anastaplo

Taste of Hyde Park returns next month

To the Editor:

The annual Taste of Hyde Park will take place on Saturday, March 2, between 6 and 9 p.m. This year the location is Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, 4945 S. Dorchester Ave. The event is the major annual fundraiser for the Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project. With food and drink donated by more than 20 Hyde Park and Kenwood restaurants and other food establishments, including some new ones, the evening is a great opportunity to sample food from a wide range of Hyde Park and Kenwood eating establishments in exchange for an admission contribution that goes to a great cause. Adult tickets cost $35, if ticket purchased in advance, or $40 at the door, with lower costs for students with ID and children. Attendees also get to listen to music from local jazz legend Willie Pickens while dining. In addition, there is a silent auction, where attendees can bid on professional services, tickets, gift certificates and more, with opening bids well below the value of the item and all funds going to the Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project. So readers can come to the Taste of Hyde Park and have fun doing good. For further information, folks may write to hpthp@yahoo.com or call Allan at 773-595-4921.

Allan Lindrup, Chair
Taste of Hyde Park

Bring Artisans 21 back to 53rd Street

To the Editor:

I think it would be great to have Artisans 21 on 53rd Street, as suggested by Rob Borja’s Feb. 6 letter. Artisans 21 has a wide variety of attractive, moderately priced items. It would add class to the retail shops in the hotel building in Harper Court. It could provide original, distinctive gifts for purchase by hotel guests. If space isn’t available there, it would also be appropriate to the McMobil location.

Ellie Hall

McMobil high-rise in the wrong location

To the Editor:

The well-known real estate mantra, “Location, Location, Location!” clearly applies to the potential new high-rise on the McMobil site. The proposed building, three floors higher than the University Apartments on 55th Street and almost as wide, would engulf the buildings on either side — and loom over Nichols Park — without achieving the desired goal of transit-oriented development favored by the participants in the various 53rd Street “planning” workshops. It is inaccurate to claim, as some have, that the consensus of the participants favored high-rises on 53rd Street without qualification. Every participant I know consistently added that the acceptance of high-rise development depended on its location.

What this community seriously needs, before any more mistakes are made, is comprehensive, overall neighborhood planning, to ensure desirable density in appropriate locations. “Appropriate locations” is the key to successful development. The previous lack of adequate planning resulted in 53rd Street’s current woes: large amounts of retail crowded onto a street ten feet narrower than 55th Street with no alleys for garbage pickup or merchandise deliveries.

An essential part of intelligent planning is the determination of desirable limits for density. If density measurements studies were ever done for Hyde Park, where is the report? How much density do we actually need and want to have a thriving retail sector? Achieving the density we want is not just a matter of building apartments: Location, location, location is of paramount importance to a successful neighborhood plan.

Additionally, the intensity of land use should not be so great as to cause congestion. High-rises within two blocks of transportation encourage walking to the bus or train rather than driving. The proposed McMobil structure, out of scale with all its surroundings, would be more than six blocks from Lake Park bus lines or the Metra, and almost eight blocks to Hyde Park Boulevard — an uncomfortable walk in the winter. This fact alone is reason enough to pause and reconsider whether putting this building somewhere else is actually more beneficial to Hyde Park’s development goals. The university already owns the former taxi garage at 56th Street and Stony Island Avenue. Why not build the huge building there, and a four-story apartment/retail building on the McMobil site? We would get more retail, more density, all of it in scale and all in sync with transit oriented development.

Stephanie Franklin