Editorial: zoning matters on 53rd St.

The debate over the planned high-rise development across from Nichols Park, called Vue53 by the developers and McMobil by everyone in the neighborhood, is shaking out to a few key points. We are enjoying watching that process unfold in the pages of our paper. As arguments are made both for and against the project, we believe there is one salient point that rises above the rest in terms of its significance to the neighborhood’s future: The zoning changes required to achieve its 13-story height.

We are told that, in order to rezone the site from its current designation in order to accommodate the new building, the zoning will have to be changed twice, once to a category that allows for an intermediate height and then again to allow for its 13 stories. This is not a mere procedural matter. It tells us that, even in Chicago, a leap from three and four story buildings to 13 stories is unusual.

This is not the sort of distinction our neighborhood should be eager to achieve.
The fundamental problem with this project’s density is that, once it is approved, there will be no rational reason to deny the next high-rise proposal on the street of similar size — or even higher. That makes every three- and four-story building on 53rd Street a ticking time bomb for developers. After all, there is lots of money to be made tearing down three story buildings and replacing them with high-rises.

Ald. Will Burns (4th), this decision is yours to make. The zoning changes needed will have to cross your desk for approval. You seem to have your mind made up, but we will remind you that former Ald. and now Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who is no enemy to developers — rejected a high-rise proposal at this very site after vociferous opposition from the neighborhood. She, among the most savvy politicians to have emerged from Hyde Park in recent years, made a different decision.

You may be convinced you are making the right call based on how things stand now, but how will you explain your position — for or against —when the next high-rise on 53rd Street is presented? If your vision for the street is a corridor of extreme density, that’s news to us —and to all those folks who voted for you. If you reject the next one as one too many, though, it will be hard to believe these are rational decisions — and you will antagonize the development community more than you would by scaling down this project.

What we need on 53rd Street is a rational system of development based on a consensus. What this development — and your unwavering support of it — has achieved is division and rancor. The most likely outcome of this course of action is hodgepodge development based on clout and strongarm tactics.

Is this the legacy we want to bequeath to future generations of Hyde Parkers?