Letters to the Editor

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

Do Mobil detractors use the gas station?

To the Editor:

As a U. of C. alum (received an A.B. in geography, winter 1977), I remind the fine, outstanding citizens who today call Hyde Park home that:

During the decade of the 1950s with some spillover into the 1960s, the University of Chicago not only threatened but also endeavored to leave Hyde Park. It was only through the gentle persuasion of certain Hyde Park visionaries that the U. of C. remained where it is today.

Had I been alive and of age at that time, I would have said directly to the U. of C.: “If you want to go, do just that; you’re free to go! I, for one, have great confidence that Hyde Park will not go to hell in a handbasket!”

Now, fast forward — Hyde Park will soon not be known as Hyde Park, but as “University of Chicagoland,” because, for a number of years, the U. of C. has quietly taken over so much of Hyde Park, it is as if it were boldly and brazenly executing a hostile takeover of Hyde Park!

This leads me to comment on “McMobil.” For all the sins Exxon-Mobil has, or is, committing (depending on your point of view), at least it is an American company. Let’s just allow Mobil to stay right where it is. Let’s just allow its corresponding car wash to stay right where it is.

I kindly urge those of you who do not go to this particular Mobil and car wash and have a set of wheels to do just that and maybe you’ll learn something!

Gregory Simonic Peter Papesh

U. of C. road closure will harm local treasures

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th)

Dear Alderman Hairston:

I am writing to express concern about the University of Chicago’s plans to close 58th Street between Woodlawn Avenue and University Avenue in order to create a pedestrian area between the Oriental Institute and the Becker-Friedman Institute. Although I am usually a pedestrian myself when getting around Hyde Park, I think that this plan creates a very bad precedent of taking public property for private use. I am also concerned about the loss of parking for people attending the Oriental Institute Museum and related programs as well as those who attend programs at nearby Rockefeller Chapel, Robie House and the Booth School, not to mention the soon-to-be-opened Becker-Friedman Institute.

Please stand up for the rights of all citizens of Hyde Park and oppose this street closing! Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Alice Newman Mulberry

Why celebrating reading in school is important

To the Editor:

As principal of St. Thomas the Apostle School, I invite everyone in the community to share in our students’ celebration of Children’s Book Week May 13 to 17. Why are we participating in this national literacy initiative? Because at St. Thomas the Apostle School, we know “Readers are Leaders.”

Reading opens doors for our children. Reading allows children to enter into a world that is not their own, removing any barriers society may have placed in their way and enabling them to enjoy a world of creativity and imagination. When St. Thomas students read the biography of Fredrick Douglass in third grade, they feel the strength and tremendous will of a man who would not allow our nation’s corrupt laws to stand against his freedom. When the fifth graders at St. Thomas read “The Wright 3,” they explore Hyde Park in search of clues to solve mysteries. When the first graders read “Dear Mr. Blueberry,” they write letters to their teacher explaining how a whale truly could exist in their back yard. And when the sixth graders read “The Outsiders,” they enter the tragic world of Pony Boy and predict what his next decision will be.

Our students do not read just to escape the confines of their own world, however. They also read to learn how they can better themselves and ultimately better the world around them. Reading the histories of FDR, the moon landing and Native American tribes not only teaches them about the past, but inspires ideas about how to change the future. Inspiration from books creates laughter, tears, sighs and attentive ears, all within the comforting walls of our classrooms at 55th Street and Woodlawn Avenue.

From the youngest in pre-school to the oldest in 8th grade, our students are rewarded every day by the books they read. Reading is the greatest reward we can give them. For this reason, we have invited leaders from the community to come read to our students this week. We will also welcome former Hyde Park resident and St. Thomas teacher Patrick Ryan who is now an internationally acclaimed storyteller. Please join them and St. Thomas the Apostle in celebrating Children’s Book Week and help us promote literacy among our children. Let them see us all as leaders who are readers.

Candace M. Scheidt, Principal
St. Thomas the Apostle School

Hyde Park can do more in climate change fight

To the Editor:

The University’s McMobil building will increase our parking problems, and I salute that. Instead of asking for more places to put our cars, we should learn from the greenest town in America – New York – that density means less parking, fewer cars – and less carbon dioxide. Last week the world set a 3 million year record for atmospheric CO2 and our efforts to add more are unwelcome.

Though we can’t very well build a New York style subway under 53rd Street, there are ways to get around the area with fewer cars. Walking and biking can be encouraged; pedicabs and trolleys would be nice. If the number 6 bus were re-routed to go down Lake Park, and 53rd were made a Metra “all train” stop, our new shopping corridor would attract more riders and fewer drivers. Then again, we could increase parking rates to purchase carbon offset credits.

My suggestions are amateurish if not worse. But there are people who really do know how to plan for sustainable urban development. The city itself has done an enormous amount of such planning and provides tax incentives for others to do so. And the university, having created this problem/opportunity for us, should be pitching in, too.

Seasons are changing, oceans are rising, Arctic ice is melting away; earth, air, fire and water have become increasingly deadly and costly enemies. Hyde Park has a history of action for the common good, and in its “Book of Hours” not a word is written about parking. We shouldn’t need Paul Douglas, or Leon Despres or Barack Obama to tell us that it is not the issue of our day, either.

Jay Mulberry

Vue53 is what Hyde Park wants

To the Editor:

In recent weeks, members of the Hyde Park community have shared their opinions about Mesa Development’s proposed project for 1330 E. 53rd St. in various ways — including in letters to this newspaper. In my role as the University of Chicago’s vice president for civic engagement, I have heard directly from individuals who like the proposal and those who don’t. The majority have expressed enthusiasm for all that the project would bring to Hyde Park.

This community feedback underscores the importance of the project and how Mesa’s current proposal came to be. The University of Chicago is committed to partnering with our neighbors to enhance quality of life and economic development on the South Side. For several years, in partnership with the Fourth Ward office and the City of Chicago, the university has been leading efforts to boost economic activity in the 53rd Street corridor and bring new amenities to the area. From the university’s perspective, a vibrant retail corridor enlivens the whole neighborhood while also helping to attract top faculty, students and staff. So, community input has been integral to these efforts from the beginning.

Since 2007, four visioning workshops and dozens of meetings with community members have helped form Mesa’s approach to this development.

Community members said they wanted affordable housing. Mesa’s proposal would add affordable housing units, on-site and off-site, equal to 20 percent of the units at Vue53.

The community asked for new retail options. Vue53 would house up to six new retailers.

Residents said local jobs had to be a priority. Vue53 would create 300 construction jobs, with a focus on hiring from mid-South Side neighborhoods and engaging minority and women contractors. It would create dozens of permanent jobs in retail and building management.

Community members wanted dedicated parking and environmentally sustainable features. Vue53 would include 230 parking spaces and target LEED Silver certification.

Importantly, taxpayers said they did not want to subsidize the project. Vue53 would use no public tax dollars to build and, in fact, would contribute an estimated $7.7 million back to the community through additional revenues for the 53rd Street TIF district.

Members of the community spoke, and Mesa listened — outlining its latest plans at the May 6th TIF Advisory Council meeting. The resulting project is one that many people I’ve heard from think will support the long-term success and vitality of Hyde Park. As an anchor institution in the neighborhood, the University of Chicago shares this view.

Derek Douglas
Vice President for Civic Engagement

Opposed to the McMobil development

To the Editor:

I oppose the current plan for the development at the McMobil lot on 53rd Street. I am in favor of development at that site in scale with that end of 53rd Street, an area of Hyde Park in which many of us have chosen to live in because we value the scale of the surrounding neighborhood. It seems that our alderman and the university make plans for our community taking input only from those in the community who agree with them, rather than engaging in an authentic, inclusive process. For example, the SECC (a group funded by the University of Chicago) is given an inordinate amount of say and in fact is used by the university, the developer and the alderman, to oversee biased surveys, studies and visioning workshops. Any development of this site will involve trade-offs. The community should be given an honest chance to discuss the trade-offs, decide which they are willing to make, and require that the university and the developer also absorb some of the costs.

Joy Clendenning

McMobil project represents progress

To the Editor:

As a resident, property owner and business owner in Hyde Park for more than 15 years, I support the proposed 14-story development (i.e., mixed-used development) on the Mobil gas station site. Clearly, I understand the trade-offs associated with aesthetic appeal and return on investment. However, economic development in Hyde Park is far too slow and protracted.

Progress is not always optimal and in most instances, a bad decision is better than a prolonged period of stagnation (i.e., no decision at all) … which is what has occurred over the past 10 years on the proposed site (i.e., Mobil gas station). In short, human nature is to make the best of any given situation. Hyde Park residents will evolve with the new development. Let’s move forward and end the stagnation.

R. Lee

McMobil building is a bad idea

To the Editor:

I have been a resident of Hyde Park/Kenwood for 50 years, and I have seen many changes both good and bad. The proposal for the McMobil development is one of the worst. The developers say that by not providing enough parking they will encourage residents of the apartment building to “walk or take public transportation.” That’s ridiculous. It will encourage residents to park on the street, and make parking impossible for everyone else who lives in the area.

In addition to the parking, the height of the building is a serious problem. It is simply out of proportion to the rest of the area. We certainly need more foot traffic on 53rd street, and that space needs to be developed. But we don’t need a 14-story monstrosity.

I supported Ald. Will Burns (4th) in the last election, but he has let all of us down. Without waiting to learn what the views of his constituents were, he has jumped on the bandwagon of development at all costs. I hope he will come to his senses and reverse his position.

Tom Heagy

Theories on McMobil project are all wrong

To the Editor:

It has been interesting, and somewhat disheartening, to read and hear the resistance to the proposed redevelopment on the McMobil site. To be clear, I am in full support of what has been proposed. I thank and applaud Ald. Will Burns for giving his support for this transformative project, especially in the face of unreasonable opposition that is based on uneducated opinions, misinformation and a series of uninformed “theories” from a vocal few that are being passed of as facts.

The first is what I call the “Shadow Theory,” which was addressed in the “Shadow Across 53rd street” editorial on February 20 where it stated that a “long shadow cast across 53rd Street covering Nichols Park’s northern end in darkness.” The proposed building will not cast ANY shadow on the park. Chicago is in the Northern Hemisphere where all buildings casts their shadows to the north, east, and west … not south. One only needs to go to the long, twin residential buildings at 55th Street & Blackstone to see the “shadow” impact it has on its neighbors to the south, which is none.

The editor’s assessment would indeed be true, if we lived south of the equator. I challenge the developers and their architect to develop a series of shadow studies and present them at the next public meeting. It will be the only way to do away with the “Shadow Theory.”

Second, is the “Big Box Retail Theory.” According to the International Council of Shopping Center, an organization that sets the standard of retail size, “big box retail” is defined as a single tenant of 150,000 to 350,000 square feet or more. Think Target, Best Buy or most of the “big box” stores you would see on Roosevelt Road or on North Avenue. The proposed 30,000 square feet of retail occupied by several tenants hardly qualifies as “big-box,” as some opponents have strongly claimed. It is clear that the scale of the retail will be neighborhood serving retail, not regional, “big-box” retail that is auto oriented, which causes potential traffic issues. Although the program has yet to be defined, based on the developer’s track record I am optimistic that they will deliver.

This leads us to the third theory, the “Traffic Congestion Theory.” I am not a traffic engineer, but can safely assume that the number of cars that go to and from the current Mobil Station will be equal or more than the number of trips that the new residents (coupled with future shoppers) take. The proposed development, I argue, may actually REDUCE the amount of traffic, not increase it. Besides, which of the two has less of an impact from an environmental standpoint? Which would you rather have as your neighbor, or a neighbor to Nichols Park? I ask that the developer, if they have not already done so, hire a traffic/parking consultant to conduct a traffic study and present their findings to the community.

Regarding the proposed parking, typical residential rental buildings are parked at 50 percent or a half a parking space per unit. The current proposal is parked at 40 percent, well below the average.

Given the net population loss that Hyde Park has been experiencing over the last 13 years (a net loss of 5,000 since 2000); this neighborhood needs density, especially if we want to attract and retain the local amenities that make our community unique and special.

The developer and their architect have done a good job of eroding the size of the building by essentially splitting it in half and stepping it back off of 53rd Street. It is a clever design trick. I could go on about the architecture, which is clearly going in the right direction, but at this point I am more concerned how public opinion is being shaped against this development. And it is being shaped by misinformation and outright lies. As a proud resident of Hyde Park, I find this recent trend disturbing and extremely disappointing. To borrow from a title from a recent community flier against the proposed building, “We Can Do Better” as Hyde Park residents. Opposition to this development should be based on facts, not uninformed untruths that distort what is actually being proposed.

Andre Brumfield

McMobil foes are not persuasive

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

Loren Santow

For the record, Canter is not an underperforming school

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

Jill Petty and Audrey Petty
Louis Wirth (now Canter)

Smaller building possible at McMobil

To the Editor:

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

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

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

Marc Lipinski

McMobil height meant to set precedent

To the Editor:

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

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

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

This same brochure touts:

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

For which the university gets TIF funds.

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

Paul Pomerleau

Is the McMobil plan needed in Hyde Park?

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Des Jardins