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