Letters to the Editor

Drop-In is great service for seniors

To the Editor:

My husband and I recently visited the Hyde Park Village’s drop-in center for seniors. The Village tried the program out to gauge interest, and may start it up again in the fall if the number of attendees is high enough. The Drop-In, which includes discussions, socialization and lunch, is not to be missed. I recommend it to my neighbors and urge them to support it by attending the final session next Friday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Stop by!

Carroll Giocondo

In support of Mesa’s Vue53 development

To the Editor:

I’m writing this letter in support of Mesa Development’s plans for the Vue53 project. As a somewhat newer resident to the neighborhood, I have become acutely aware of the need for additional providers of goods and services throughout the community. My family has become far too accustomed to making the trek north to Roosevelt Road for many of life’s most basic needs. I believe that continued development on 53rd Street and elsewhere in Hyde Park by firms of Mesa’s pedigree will help to stimulate jobs, sales taxes, property values and overall quality of life for all neighborhood residents. I am very confident that memories of the gas station, car wash and ugly asphalt parking lot will vanish in a minute upon this development’s completion.

Hyde Park is a wonderful, unique, tight knit neighborhood which is the reason my family chose to relocate here from the North Side. However, embracing positive change will only enhance these attributes and ensure they continue indefinitely. Please join in support of Mesa.

Meredith Oliver and family.

University, McMobil ruining Hyde Park

To the Editor:

When my family and I moved to Hyde Park from Washington, D.C., in the mid 1960s, we noted a number of very positive similarities in the two communities. Lots of green: trees and grass were plentiful. A sense of space: buildings were, for the most part, low with parkways and lawns. The sky was easily visible without getting a crick in one’s neck. Moving about either by foot or by car was easy: congestion was minimal. There were lots of interesting “Mom and Pop” stores.

In the past 10 or more years, the university seems to be taking great pleasure in destroying all that is positive about Hyde Park. Trees are coming down. Buildings are becoming sidewalk to sidewalk. Where are the grass and trees? Buildings are becoming taller. Where is the sky?

The McMobil site is a perfect example of all that is becoming bad in Hyde Park. Vue53 is too tall and encroaching for the community. It will add far more traffic than the community can support. Where will the new arrivals park?

I will not pretend that the following is my original idea, but I would strongly urge the community and university to seriously consider moving the planned Vue53 project to where the Plant Department currently stands, on Stony Island just south of 56th Street. The advantages are plentiful. The first and most obvious is that this piece of land is larger so that the new building need not be 14 stories high and a parking garage could be included or added to the roof. The current building already extends to the sidewalk, so no grass nor trees would be sacrificed in building out. Stony Island is wider than 53rd Street, so additional traffic could flow more freely. The occupants of the apartments would have Metra within half a block and several bus lines within a block – unlike at the current proposed site where the closest bus line is more than four blocks away. In addition, a major economic reason for not building as tall as planned on 53rd Street is the city’s mandated regular critical façade inspections. These are expensive!

I have heard that the university is planning to build a new dormitory on the Plant Department site. This could and should be placed on the McMobil site. Most dormitory students do not have cars and therefore walk, easing traffic congestion. The McMobil site is closer to the quads than is the Plant Department site, ergo more student friendly. Students get tired of “dorm food” and will willingly go to the many new eateries on 53rd Street.

Mary Fano Giacomoni

Vue53 part of positive Hyde Park trends

To the Editor:

I fully support the proposed redevelopment of the “McMobil” site (Vue53). I have lived in Hyde Park for a decade with my wife and three kids. We could live anywhere in Chicago but we decided to raise our family here in Hyde Park. With confidence, I can say that there is no other place in America like Hyde Park. We love it because of the diversity, access to the lake, proximity to the downtown, strong housing stock and the association with one of the most prestigious universities in the country. However, Hyde Park has one glaring weakness in the form of limited retail and restaurant options. While we have the basic services, we can do better!
Clear progress has been made with the current redevelopment of Harper Court, but we can’t stop there. The proposed Mobil site redevelopment will further enhance the west portion of the 53rd Streetcommercial corridor. This new state-of-the-art apartment building will house over 300 new residents, which will bring more patrons and spending to support the existing businesses and entice other retailers to set-up shop in Hyde Park. The size and density of the new building is precisely what we need to create demand for more retail offerings. The building will include parking and retail space on the ground level, filling in the current open gap in the streetscape. Furthermore, the proposed development will not utilize any public subsidy but, in fact, will help to replenish the tax increment that has been depleted by the Harper Court development.

Lastly, I want to keep my family’s spending in Hyde Park to support the neighborhood that we love. We look forward to the day when we can stroll down 53rd Street and discover all of the new shopping options from Harper Court to Kimbark Plaza. To make this vision a reality we need to support Vue53 and make it happen.

Alderman Burns, I thank you for your support of this project!

Charles Young

Thanks to supporters of Kenwood student

To the Editor:

Eva Lewis, 8th grader at Kenwood Academy High School Academic Center, and I, Valerie Andrews-Lewis, Eva’s mother, would like to thank all of our supporters for their very generous contributions in making it possible for Eva to represent Illinois and Kenwood Academy as a participant in the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day competition at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. We also appreciate the coverage that the Hyde Park Herald gave to our efforts to raise the necessary funds to underwrite Eva’s trip in the article by Daschell Phillips in the May 15, 2013 issue.

Eva Lewis will present her website, “The South Shore Country Club and the Proposed Demolition: A Turning Point that Sparked the Voice of the People,” along with another Kenwood Academy High School Academic Center winner, Hope Rogers. Hope will also present her research paper, “Return of Tradition: Chicago’s Role in the Folk Music Revival,” at the National History Day competition.

We wish to acknowledge the following organizations and a number of individuals who were very instrumental in helping us exceed our fundraising goal of $2,000:

  • Dr. Brazier, Pastor of Apostolic Church of God, and members of his congregation
  • Kathy Huff for her fundraising efforts and to additional members of the Hyde Park Historical Society
  • Pastor Corey Brooks, New Beginning Church, and founder of Project Helping Others Obtain Destiny (H.O.O.D.)
  • Mrs. Geraldine de Haas, former member of the Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club Park
  • Erma Tranter and Friends of the Park
  • Catherine Celimene and Children’s Rendez-vous Inc.
  • Pamela Flowers and the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana Council

We would also like to thank Dr. Gregory Jones, Principal of Kenwood Academy High School, and Tanya Towns, Business Manager, for receiving and accounting for the donations that were sent to the school.

Valerie Lewis-Andrews

Happy to see Vue53 has city support

To the Editor:

I was happy to see the Chicago Plan Commission passed the plan to build Vue 53.

I think it is an improvement for Hyde Park. When I walk down 53rd Street from Lake Park to Ellis avenues, I notice how underdeveloped Ellis to Kenwood avenues is. The building is in scale for the neighborhood.

Mark Mandle

Restore our historical density with McMobil plan

To the Editor:

I am writing in support of the Vue53 development. Many letters have already been written in favor (and against) this development. I wanted to take a historical prospective.

Hyde Park used to be a more urban neighborhood that had a denser population and several thriving commercial districts. During Urban Renewal, the population of Hyde Park was reduced by about 50 percent and the new model was a more suburban, car-friendly neighborhood with very limited retail. I think most Hyde Parkers would agree that we are a lousy suburb but have the potential to be good, possibly great, urban neighborhood.

To get there we need to restore the lost density. That will have good and bad consequences. There is concern that Vue53 will create a “traffic nightmare on 53rd Street.” The issue of traffic is debatable (gas stations generate a lot of traffic), but I suspect street parking will get harder as population density increases.

Most buildings in Hyde Park provide no parking for their residents; Vue53 will provide some. If we aspire to have a suburban neighborhood, then traffic and parking should be our highest aspirations. But many of us would welcome a more urban landscape, even if it makes Hyde Park less car friendly.

Walking along 53rd street will be much nicer once Vue53 replaces the gas station and vacant lot that once housed a fast food restaurant. That is a trade I’m happy to make. In summary, I am very glad that the developers of Vue53 are willing in risking their money to help Hyde Park regain what it once had. I hope there is more of the same in our future.

Abraham A. Palmer

Mesa’s McMobil parking numbers are all wrong

To the Editor:

At the May 7 meeting of the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, Mesa Development claimed that it was providing 230 parking spaces for the McMobil development, which exceeded the 200 parking spaces required under existing zoning. This claim is contradicted by the traffic study prepared by Mesa’s consultant, KLOA.

The traffic study notes a zoning requirement of 200 parking spaces for residential use, and no required parking for commercial. At the TIF Advisory Council meeting, Mesa said that 100 of the 230 parking spaces for the McMobil development are to be reserved for commercial. This leaves 130 for residential, which is a deficit of 70.

The bottom line — even from Mesa’s consultant — is that the McMobil development will exacerbate existing parking problems in central Hyde Park.

Marc Lipinski

Money drives McMobil height

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

George W. Rumsey

U. of C. would not build Quad McMobil

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The essay will be published soon.

Stephen Jaeger

Let Hyde Park vote on the McMobil Project

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Graham

Medical center not up to its reputation

To the Editor:

For some time now the University of Chicago Medical Center has been loudly proclaiming that it is “at the forefront of medicine.” If the UCMC were actually at the forefront, the following would have occurred or would be occurring, besides the process of finding advanced methods to treat its patients:

• My mother, Elizabeth, faithful U. of C. comptroller’s office employee for more than two decades, plus a crucial part of the “U. of C. family” would have been walked to and from the bathroom and bed during what turned out to be her last stay at “Mitchell” or else “Mitchell” staff would have kindly advised me ahead of time that “the walking part” was my responsibility!
• A medical mistake would not have taken the life of the former publisher of the Chicago Sun Times.
• The UCMC would still have a trauma center (despite its cost)!
• The UCMC, just like so many others, would not overcharge our government for treating patients with Medicare or Medicaid.

Gregory Simonic Peter Papesh

Recycling system is doomed to fail

To the Editor:

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

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

Joan Goodman

New McMobil development will be overall benefit

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

Alderman Burns:

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

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

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

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

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

Evonne Taylor

In solidarity with students on climate change vote

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Jason Duba