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