Letters to the Editor

McMobil height meant to set precedent

To the Editor:

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

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

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

This same brochure touts:

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

For which the university gets TIF funds.

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

Paul Pomerleau

McMobil plan needed for Hyde Park’s growth

To the Editor:

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

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

Tim Friese

Put parking under Nichols Park

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

McMobil will be good for Hyde Park.

Samuel Clark

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

To the Editor:

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

Louise Kaegi

McMobil project height will start trend

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Kaufman

McMobil will increase street life on 53rd

Dear Alderman Burns:

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

Thank you for your dedication to the Hyde Park community.

Timika Hoffman-Zoller

Some suggested ways to keep Canter

Editor’s note: The following is an open letter addressed to Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Dear Ms. Byrd-Bennett:

I have some ideas that might be useful to you regarding the proposed school closings. It is my opinion that not all 50-something schools need to be closed; a precious few, such as Canter Middle School, that have achieved at least level 2 placement as deemed by your institution should remain open.

Without knowing all the particulars about each school slated to be closed such as enrollment, attainment level, location, building condition and related necessary facts, I’m simply going to provide some suggestions as we as a city go through this negotiating process.

As an individual who attended Bret Harte K through 8 (class of 1969) with the distinction of having scored No. 1 in both reading and math and having been a member of the Kenwood Academy class of 1972, which held early involvement classes at what is now Canter, I believe I am uniquely qualified to make these suggestions.

Clearly, you have all of the information available at your fingertips as to the capability of every school, including those expected to be closed. Using Canter as my example, I suggest you send students from schools that are to be closed in the communities surrounding Hyde Park and Kenwood to our schools, including Canter, with Canter students having automatic acceptance into Kenwood Academy. You could do the same thing for schools throughout the city that are similar to Canter in terms of educational performance.

As a result, you will achieve enrollment totals similar to what they were during the baby boom generation. It is also important to continue to operate some of the schools slated for closure because we could have, at any time, another upswing in the overall birth rate – which may occur soon if the economy improves and remains supercharged.

If you close too many schools today, a time may come when the remaining schools are overloaded (as they were in my day) and then what are you going to do? Build more schools?

In the first half of my early involvement year, we were taught in a “Willis Wagon” [ed. note: trailers to ease overcrowding nicknamed by Chicagoans for school superintendent Benjamin Willis] — a bad enough experience that I still remember it. Sure, you should consolidate — but not too much. Later on, you may regret it.

Perhaps you do not want to invest the money at the current Canter site that you would need to ensure everybody’s safety and well-being. I suggest that you negotiate with the Nichols Park Advisory Council, the University of Chicago and local elected officials to build a new Canter on the north end of Nichols Park, next to Murray Language Academy.

The vacant lot across the street where there was once a McDonalds could be used for teacher parking, which would solve another neighborhood problem — the proposed 13-story behemoth for that lot and the neighboring Mobil Gas station. There will be plenty of Nichols Park remaining south of 54th Street — and we should retain the wildflower meadow that is to the north of 54th Street.

The students could be transferred to the new Canter by CTA drivers dedicated to particular groups of students from closed schools. They could pick up and drop off “their” classes based on their school schedule. Parents can pick up their children really close to home and have some peace of mind for that whole day — and every school day. Lateness would have to be severely dealt with by principals and teachers.

Parents may object to sending their children to Hyde Park. We would have to persuade them of the benefit of being in a neighborhood reflecting (as my church, St. Thomas the Apostle says in its motto) “God’s people in extraordinary variety.”

Canter serves as a very useful existing concept of segregating seventh and eighth graders both from the younger ones and young adults. This is a model that works just fine in Hyde Park. It is a model that I believe should be encouraged and replicated throughout the CPS empire.

Ms. Byrd-Bennett, will you now take all this given to you in good faith and trust and kindly prepare some reconsiderations?

Gregory Simonic Peter Papesh

McMobil project will help the neighborhood

To the Editor:

I am writing to support the proposed development on 53rd Street at the Mobil gas station site. My family resides in Hyde Park, my children attend school in the neighborhood and we all participate in numerous cultural and community activities in the area. In short, Hyde Park is our home and we appreciate its rich history and its uniquely diverse culture. However, I strongly believe our area could be further enhanced with the presence of new and additional retail venues — My family spends far too much time driving outside of Hyde Park in order to take care of the needs of our family. Additional retail would be a helpful solution that would add to the character of the neighborhood and provide solutions to residents. In addition, I also think our community would benefit from modern residential housing options. It has been more than 40 years since new apartments were built in Hyde Park which has pushed many potential residents to other neighborhoods such as the South Loop in search of modern amenities. A modern residential and retail development of the current Mobil station site would be consistent with other environmentally and community friendly projects in the neighborhood (University of Chicago, Harper Court). If we could keep these families in Hyde Park we would have a much more dynamic community that would help all residents.

Thanks Ald. Will Burns (4th) for supporting this project.

James Smith

Add me to the “pro- McMobil” roster

To the Editor:

I am writing to add my name to the many neighbors and businesses that support the proposed “McMobil” site project put forward by Mesa Development. It is wonderful to have a developer with such a strong commitment to quality of community life interested in working in our community on this project and hopefully on more ideas for the future. Having attended many visioning meetings about what we as a community wished for 53rd Street, I know that the Mesa Development team also attended. I am pleased to see that their proposal shows that they listened to the concerns and hopes of the community. They heard the strong concern for more affordable housing and have committed to 15 percent on this project. They heard the concern about traffic congestion and have reduced the number of curb cuts out to the street from the current three to just one, will have all truck deliveries to the building done within the building with entry from the alley and not 53rd Street, and will have dedicated car sharing spaces and bicycle parking in their garage. They heard the fear about a tall building overshadowing the street to the north (note to Herald editorial writer — this building will not cast a shadow on the park!), and adjusted their design to pull the eastern part of the building forward, leaving a large portion of the parcel open, in order to minimize the impact on residents. They heard the wishes for a nice pedestrian experience on 53rd Street and designed an interesting, modulated sidewalk level and put active spaces at the front of the building on the parking levels so we would not have to look at a blank, parking garage wall. They heard how important the park is to residents and will now be putting many more watchful eyes in a position to have great views of the park and keep authorities informed of any unwanted activities. They heard local merchants explaining how the only way to support the kinds of businesses we all want to be in our neighborhood is to increase the population density. Thank you to Ald. Will Burns (4th) for supporting this project. I hope that our community can participate in this process in a constructive way, making reasonable suggestions for ways to tweak or improve the design, but appreciating the attention Mesa has already given to very diverse priorities already expressed by the community.

Marcy D. Schlessinger

Ald. Burns, why won’t you fight for Canter?

Dear Ald. Will Burns (4th):

I have so many questions concerning school closings and your part in it.

I want to ask you why you fought so hard to keep all of the schools in your ward open but Canter. Was Canter the sacrificial lamb?

Why are you negotiating plans with CPS before you seek input from the affected communities? Do you really think you know what’s best for us without talking to us?

Why have you determined that Shoesmith should be a K-8 grade school without asking those who work to support it?

Why are you not fighting for your neighbors—isn’t that your job?

Why aren’t you taking a stand? You know that the mayor’s and CPS’s goal is not “utilization” (if it was, then how were you able to help save Reavis and Robinson, which are arguably underutilized?); it’s not “the budget” (If you look at all the money CPS is spending on this process, some are projecting that the savings will be less than 1 percent).

You must know the goal is to close our public schools and open charter schools. Why are you continuing to support the neglect of the South Side?

Victoria Long

I Googled the McMobil project, and I like it

To the Editor:

I recently got curious about what the proposed Mesa development on 53rd Street actually looks like, so I did a little Google search and ended up with forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=6062439.

It’s an interesting website that shows several renderings of the building, as well as photos of the hotel going up at 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue with a shot of the Hyde Park Bank building in the background in one of the photos. Frankly, the Mesa building is the most visually exciting of the lot.

I also Googled the Hyde Park Bank building a while back, found a photo and counted the floors. It seemed to be around 13 stories, give or take one or two. Yet I don’t hear anyone lobbying to raze the bank building, which has stood like a rather lonely Ichabod Crane at the end of the street for lo these many years.

The addition of the hotel and the Mesa building will actually give the street some kind of visual “balance,” which it currently lacks.

But beyond aesthetics, what I care about is safety. I want more people on the street, walking and shopping. I want more people in the park, which I occasionally walk through, never stopping to sit and rest on the benches.

I also want our local businesses to have more customers. Face it, nobody comes from the North Side (or any other side) to shop in Hyde Park. We are a town of around 37,000 people, according to the 2010 census, and the only people who are going make our merchants prosper are us.

How will the building affect me? Well, I will be sorry to lose my mechanics at the Mobil station. Their present location is ideal for me and they have served me well. But I have to keep in mind that whatever inconvenience the loss of the Mobil station will cause me is outweighed by the positives that can come from this building. The greater good, and all that.

One final point: I thought Jason Duba’s letter of April 3 was thoughtful, respectful and nuanced in its suggestions. The fact that he disagrees with some of the opinions expressed on these pages and the fact that he is employed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning does not make him a plant of the Evil Empire, as another correspondent seemed to imply. A little moderation, please.

Carolyn Ulrich

Lots of reasons to keep Canter open

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to a number of Chicago Public Schools officials and local politicians.

As a follow-up to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference’s general resolution to keep all the Chicago Public Schools open, we write to support keeping, in particular, Canter Middle School, as an ongoing school.

We write with the backing and firm determination of parents, students, teachers and residents in the Hyde Park neighborhood as witnessed at the CPS community hearing of April 8, 2013, at Kenwood Academy. The testimony of all those people was profoundly moving and convinced the HP-K CC to speak out.

We argue in favor of keeping the Canter Middle School open for the following reasons:

  1. Canter Middle School has been successful at providing students with a solid curriculum organized departmentally that prepares students for high school.
  2. The school is not under-performing: The faculty is first-class and highly prized by its students.
  3. Middle school students need this kind of transitional preparatory experience and the community fought very hard to secure a middle school in the area.
  4. Capital contributions were made to the school via TIF funds.
  5. A number of families are moving into Hyde Park expecting to send their children there, and a number of families outside the neighborhood count on Canter to provide a safe environment for their children.
  6. The school, said to be “underutilized” by CPS, could be expanded by adding a sixth grade, thus making it conform to standard middle schools throughout the country. For example, Shoesmith School, which goes to the 6th grade and feeds into Canter School, is overcrowded, having two trailers used as classrooms.
  7. The students at Canter, their teachers and their administrators, have formed a community and a bond that has transformed the lives of many students as they move through their school years.
  8. The children going into the fall 2013 7th grade receiving schools may not have the structural and curricular support that is as strong as that now provided by Canter. Students from outside the area may have to attend schools that have no additional supports. For example, it isn’t enough providing algebra without the preparation leading up to it, and success in algebra is critical to success in high school and eventually college. Specialized teachers in math are essential to this success, not teachers specialized in another area but doubling as math teachers (and say, language arts).
  9. To designate the space vacated by Canter to a parent university, while that may be a good thing to have, is a poor substitute for using the building as a school.
  10. The University of Chicago has a strong presence in the Canter School program. This presence should continue as it may not work as well in an elementary environment.
  11. The students who now attend 7th grade who might have gone to Kenwood Academy may well decide to leave Hyde Park or its schools, thus weakening the student body at Kenwood Academy.
  12. There may be other adverse effects in the larger community or certainly a sense of loss in a community that is trying to move ahead.

Please keep Canter open.

Anita R. Hollins
President, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

Making the case for Canter Middle School

To the Editor:

Chicago Public Schools needs to reconsider the pending decision to close Canter Middle School. As a CPS teacher and the wife of a Canter teacher, as well as a parent of future Ray Elementary students, I am appalled that Canter is on the closing list. It does not make educational sense to close this school. The arguments so far, as I have taken away from the press conferences, letters and media accounts, are that the tough decision to close schools is necessary to benefit all students, to improve all school and to help those that are “trapped” in failing schools. This is certainly not the case at Canter. This was proven by the testimonies given at the first community meeting on Monday, April 8. Those students who self-proclaimed that they were “lost souls” and found a family of support at Canter are not trapped.

Canter offers a middle school approach in a neighborhood that has three other public schools that are K (or pre-K) to 6th grade. This specialty focus is best for adolescents and how they learn, since teenagers develop so uniquely. A middle school creates the best transition for high school, as the staff is able to use their professional development and training days to further their expertise on the adolescent mind and to honor a common mission. A middle school offers “practice” for the freedoms and social expectations that students are abruptly confronted with in high school. This often gets overlooked or rejected in the elementary school setting.

Taking away the only middle school in the area, instead of investing in it and making it stronger, will be detrimental to the adolescents that Canter and the other neighborhood schools serve. It will do direct harm to Canter students, as well as negatively affecting the surrounding schools. CPS should be working to make Canter more viable for the future middle school students by adding a 6th grade portion to let the local schools be true elementary schools.

Research shows that middle schools help students more effectively transition to the high school setting. I teach 7th and 8th grade in a K through 8, and our upper grade team is constantly wishing for a setting that is more middle-school focused. eighth graders need to practice having the controlled freedom in the halls like high schools offer, learning about the responsibilities that come with freedom, not waiting in line to use the bathroom as an entire class.

As many parents and teachers can attest to, adolescents are unique, diverse creatures who have extremely different psychological, emotional and social needs than elementary students. They can best be educated in a middle school setting, not a K through 8 setting. CPS requires all teachers who teach 6th to 8th grades to acquire a specialty “middle school endorsement” to educate them on how middle schoolers learn and develop. Any teachers who do not take these classes lose their position in the middle grades.

I strongly urge CPS to reconsider the position to close Canter Middle School. If this decision stays, then CPS is not living up to the argument (and their responsibility!) that these decisions are best for the students. We do not want charter schools in Hyde Park. We want our current neighborhood schools that work to stay open and to be supported. I don’t think that is asking too much from those who are in charge of our schools.

Kristy Ulrich Papczun

McMobil plan will benefit Hyde Park and Kenwood

To the Editor:

I’d like to express my agreement with the Coalition for Equitable Community Development’s letter in the March 27 Herald. Their letter states some of the benefits that the proposed “McMobil site” project will have for Hyde Park-Kenwood. The letter underscores the economic realities that the project’s opponents have ignored or overlooked. Further, the project has not requested public (taxpayer) investment; this is refreshing in Chicago.

Opposition to the project has largely focused on unfounded predictions of traffic gridlock and impossible parking. Sure, any development is likely to produce some increase in traffic levels and parking demand. But if that’s a reason to squelch a project, nothing would ever get built. The project’s mandatory zoning change requires a Planned Development, which takes into consideration impacts on transportation, parking and access.

Instead of being the source of a traffic nightmare, the project is pedestrian friendly and reflects the concept of Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The TOD concept encourages an unobstructed pedestrian pathway to transit, such as 53rd Street, enhanced by retail development along the way. With CTA and Metra transit one-fourth to three-eighths mile away, the new building is well within easy walking distance from buses and trains. Both shopkeepers and residents will benefit from this. That’s good TOD.

The project, led by Mesa Development, will have a physical scale compatible with the Hyde Park Bank and Harper Court, and it will nicely anchor the west end of the 53rd Street commercial area. The development will achieve LEED Silver certification, provide high-quality residences including affordable housing, and will employ and contract with minorities and women. It promises to enhance Hyde Park-Kenwood’s residential and commercial life. I encourage Alderman Burns to give it his support.

Richard R. Gill

McMobil project good for the whole neighborhood

To the Editor:

The development on 53rd Street will encourage new businesses to open in Hyde Park and create the benefits that come with a more vibrant business district. A vibrant business district provides convenient access to much-needed retailers and entertainment. It provides employment opportunities. It provides support and volunteers for local community events. A vibrant business district also provides leaders who volunteer to share their expertise by serving on local community organizations.

Bridging the gap between the Kimbark Shopping Center on the west and the 53rd Street business district on the east provides the opportunity for a continuous, pedestrian-friendly business district that will improve our community.

Michael McGarry