Friday, February 10, 2006

A Spruce Goose for Sheridan Road?

It’s been several days since the Abel/Split/Banks presentation for the 7015 Sheridan site, and my eyebrows remain in their upright and locked position, as I white-knuckle it out, waiting for this plane to land…

Now, understand, I live a block from this site, and I have been whining ever since I got to RP about the lack of a decent array of walkable shops and services – preferably locally owned. I’d love another restaurant and more retail close by – and I’d love it if people from other neighborhoods came and spent their time and their cash here simply because it’s a beautiful and fun place. And I know lots of others feel the same way - but please bear with me here.

For this project, we are being asked to allow Ms. Abel’s team and the Alderman to interpret an ordinance that is near and dear to many in the lakefront wards, the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. Ostensibly part of the reason we are being asked to do this is to help make the dream of better retail and services come true. Of course, invocation of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance instantly caused the ears of battle-scarred old-timers to prick up, but it may have less resonance among those of us who, like myself, are newer to this neighborhood.
If you would care to read the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, you can find it at (scroll down to chapter 16-4). It isn’t long, about 9 pages. In my read through, the most relevant section for this context appeared to be 16-4-030 (194B-3) Purposes, item j. which essentially says that the Chicago Zoning Ordinances will govern, as long as they aren’t in substantial (my emphasis) conflict with the 14 basic policies of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance.

The key basic policies here seemed to me to be number 10 “ensure a harmonious relationship between the lakeshore parks and the community edge, but in no instances will further private development be permitted East of Lakeshore Drive" (which I read as East side of Sheridan road) and number 14 “coordinate all public and private development within the water, park and community zones”. Language like "ensure a harmonious relationship", "coordinate" and "substantial conflict" leaves this ordinance wide open to all kinds of interpretations, but these ambiguities in how the ordinance is crafted were glossed by Ms. Abel's team. Following the logic of their presentation, their stance seems to be that this ordinance only requires a review of the physical impact of the building itself e.g. height, cast shadows, materials. Their argument that there is no "substantial conflict" with the policies of the ordinance was implicit, I guess, because they never mentioned the policies at all. There was some squirming in seats during the meeting over this interpretation of the ordinance, but that was their story, and the presence of Mr. Banks on the team seems to indicate that they intend to stick to it. And therein lies the problem I am having with this whole project as it has been presented so far.
Is the program for the building as presented actually feasible? Does it add economic value to the larger community? Does that value override potential negative impacts? If they believe these things to be so, where is the analysis to support those claims?
Now, I understand that according to their interpretation of the requirements of the Lakeshore Protection Ordinance, perhaps they don’t have to give us any of those answers. And I understand that these plans were presented to us as concepts, and that the plan is in process, etc. On the other hand, the program, which is architect-speak for what they actually intend to use the building for, seemed pretty set - or is it?

If past history is any indication, this would be the one and only time that we would get a chance to provide the “community input” that, according to the Alderman, informs whether the project is recommended for variance. So I have to ask myself:
Wouldn’t it have been better to present some real detail on the projected positive socio-economic impact of their program? They are asking for something from this community – shouldn’t we be provided with some realistic notion of what we might be getting in return?
In their proposal, the restaurant was one of two major reasons given for the height of the building (the other was the parking). The view from the glass rooftop penthouses was presented as the key concept that would drive the success of the restaurant. My admittedly cursory study of the plan suggested that there was no logical place to put a full restaurant kitchen that would also allow for the much-vaunted views. There were also no projections of the purported views from the restaurant even without a kitchen – it would have been nice to see some mock-ups of them, to give us a better understanding of their value. Upon questioning from the audience, Ms. Abel also said that she had no idea how many heads the restaurant would hold. I believe the city ordinances are pretty clear on this point and you would think that the maximum number of heads would have some impact on the rent she could charge her restaurant tenant, and thus be important to her financial plan...but I digress. There was also no discussion of what was planned for the street level space (Retail? Offices? Storage space? Owner occupied? Tenant occupied?) At this point in the presentation, I was starting to sense a tailwind of frustration blowing through the room. And then it struck me. Either they don’t have a real business plan (which seemed unlikely, given all the talent on display), or they are not telling us the (politically unpopular) real and/or fallback plan. All scenarios that seem pretty unacceptable to me.

As for the much heralded parking…well, suffice to say, the parking seemed to be the most headache free moneymaker for Ms. Abel – but in as much as it was framed as a giveback to the community, I didn’t hear her offering any long-term leases on those spots…I know, she doesn’t have to, but forgive my lack of suspension of disbelief…

Which leads me back to “is what’s in it for us enough to justify the precedent it will set with regard to the Lakefront Protection Ordinance?” I have to say that nothing that was presented answers those questions much. And personally I think that this is the kind of information that we neighbors should get to review before tampering with the LPO.

I will also venture that policy 14 of the Lakeshore Protection Ordinance “coordinate all public and private development within the water, park and community zones” could be interpreted to mean that information on the impact of the actual program of the building
is just as important as the impact of the physical structure itself. The potential uses under the proposed zoning are far too broad to give us any real idea what we are getting ourselves into. So, the proposed program (or failure to implement the proposed program) might represent the “substantial conflict” that would trump the primacy of the zoning ordinance.

Perhaps the operating prejudice is just that we neighbors can’t be trusted to make appropriate interpretations of this kind of information - in the absence of a more comprehensive economic development plan to provide needed context, perhaps that prejudice, irrational though it may be, has some persuasive power. But I think we are being asked to take too a great leap of faith for this project, and there are no parachutes for anyone in sight…

-- Rebecca Rouilly

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A minor symptom...

Harold D. Rider & Associates
Harold D. Rider, President & CEO
Two First National Plaza
20 S. Clark Street, Suite 2050
Chicago, IL 60603
Tel: (312) 853-3580
Fax: (312) 853-3583

Re: 1342 W Morse, Chicago 60626

Dear Mr. Rider,

I am a resident of Rogers Park. I am writing today to alert you to a problem that the residents of this neighborhood are experiencing due to the above referenced building. We understand that Realty & Mortgage Co. is involved in the management of this building; therefore I am appealing to you directly to help correct a problem that is causing the residents of this community distress. If we are mistaken about the relationship between Realty & Mortgage Co. and 1342 W Morse, please accept my apologies and disregard this letter.

A resident at 1342 W. Morse is displaying a poster sized erotic photograph of a naked woman posing with a gun in her hand. This image is posted in the window of one of the apartments facing outward toward Morse Avenue. As you may know, this building is adjacent to the Morse El. There are two public schools close by, an elementary school and a high school both at Morse and Clark – many children and their parents pass this building each day on their way to and from school. In addition to the schools, at least 3 churches are also close by.

I am sure that the leases you offer tenants in this building must contain rules and regulations designed to prevent these kinds of problems from occurring. And I am equally sure that you can appreciate that this kind of “quality of life” problem is an additional source of stress to residents who are already stressed by the more serious problems that continue to plague Morse Avenue

I would be very grateful if you would personally see to it that this offensive material is removed immediately from view in the public way. I plan to share this letter with my neighbors via electronic media, and I would also be delighted to share your response assuring me that this problem is being dealt with. Thank you in advance for this gesture of goodwill towards the residents of Rogers Park.

Respectfully yours,

Rebecca Rouilly

The Rogers Park Review

A Little About Us

The Rogers Park Review believes we all can benefit from an open forum where together we can discuss the complex and sometimes overwhelming issues facing our neighborhood. We will attempt to provide that space. We will encourage healthy debate and dialogue on current topics that, we believe, will become important issues in this election year. We have lots to talk about and we also encourage your suggestions for relevant topics, so we have set up this e-mail for that purpose:

We will do our best to accommodate your requests.

The Rogers Park Review has contacted some people we think would be interested in contributing guest commentary on this blog. We believe Rogers Park needs fresh voices and some new ideas. We have many new neighbors who have recently moved here from other parts of the city and we think they, as well as all of us, could benefit from an understanding of where we are, where we're going and where we've been as a community.

So consider this an invitation for new or long time neighbors to add your voice to these discussions. If you have a point a view, we would all like to hear it.

The Rogers Park Review thinks that community input and participation is vital to develop an understanding of what we all want and would wish to see happen in Rogers Park. We think a comprehensive plan for our neighborhood is required in order to accommodate those concerns, and to this end your thoughts and opinions are important.

We encourage differing points of view and respectful debate. We are committed to an open comments policy but will have a low tolerance for rumours and potty mouth.

Cyberspace Town Hall Meeting

As an experiment, we will from time to time invite guest contributors to participate in an open forum, interactive, real time dialogue with you as a sort of cyberspace town hall meeting.

We will eventually expand this concept to include the aldermanic candidates in our upcoming election. All persons who have officially declared their candidacy for Alderman of the 49th ward by Friday, February 17 will simultaneously be invited via e-mail, to participate in this forum. The language of the invitations will be identical to all candidates.

The candidate question and answer forums will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis as they post their acceptance on line in the comments section of the invitation. Candidates who declare after the 2/17 deadline will be invited after we receive response to the first round of invitations.

Your Suggestions We ask you to begin suggesting topics and or questions for discussion during these candidate meetings in the comments section of this post, so that there will be a public archive of them. Rebecca and Gary will review the questions and topics proposed and organize these submissions to facilitate a manageable, focused discussion. We will post the agenda of questions and topics a week in advance of each meeting according to the popularity of your questions. The candidates will simultaneously recieve an identical e-mail notification of the questions and topics for discussion.

As we noted above, the actual candidate response to questions, and your follow up comments to those responses, will take place in real time during the town meeting . We will post the dates for these meetings in advance.

As moderators, Rebecca and Gary will not participate in these discussions. Our participation will be limited to that of meeting coordinators and hosts. The archived comments from the town meetings will be used as a resource, to try and understand what your concerns are for Rogers Park, as we work towards a structured framework for an overall, comprehensive plan for our neighborhood.

Tell Your Neighbors Your opinions, ideas and concerns are important and we ask that you tell your neighbors to participate in this new medium. The Rogers Park Review looks forward to learning more about what you want so that we all might have a more proactive voice in the future of Rogers Park.

Rebecca Rouilly and Gary Fuschi

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A little about this space...

For awhile now, Gary and I have been talking about putting together this space. I think blogs in general offer a unique opportunity to build community that other ways of meeting don't - their accessibility doesn't depend on being at any particular place at any particular time, or knowing any particular group. Conversations can continue around a post for as long as anyone has an interest, can usefully digress and can be easily revisited long after the original moment has passed. Some of the social dynamics that tend to squash participation during live meetings are also somewhat lessened here - without a face to go with the voice, and with all the voices in writing, the tendency to pidgeon hole and stereotype is somewhat lessened and hierarchies of opinion can be more easily challenged. I think this encourages those who might not ordinarily participate in public discourse to begin to do so - at least, I know this was true in my case.
Here is some of what we have in mind
for this site:

  • A place to share information leading to better informed opinion about immediate issues in the ward;
  • A place where neighbors can share their vision to help shape the longer - term policies that will impact this ward and neighboring wards in the future;
  • A place where we hope that personality, personal history, and ideology will take a back seat to pragmatic discussion that takes all stakeholders into account;
  • A place where we can learn from local, national and international thought leaders with expertise in areas relevant to our major concerns;
  • A place where we can have access to and open exchange with those who aspire to leadership positions in the ward; and
  • A place where we can celebrate people and places that make this ward great, to provide perspective, awareness and encouragement.
We think everyone potentially has something valuable to bring to the table, regardless of how long you've been here, where you came from or why you are here.

We want to know what you want to know more about - we'll do our best to facilitate.

We welcome you to join us.

-- Rebecca Rouilly

Monday, February 06, 2006

O.K. Let's Get Serious.

Some Questions For You

Wouldn't you like to see a fully developed set of architectural plans for once?Wouldn't you like to have a copy of the drawings that offer the architect's comprehensive and detailed vision for a project, instead of the highly conceptualized, bold yet incomplete plan that was presented by Connie Abels for the 7015 Sheridan Road proposal? Wouldn't you like to be able to make a rational decision based on real information before hand, rather than react to a plan at a one hour meeting to an incomplete concept, that as presented, in it's developmental stage, raises more questons than it answers?

Because, as much as I liked the direction the architect was headed and it seemed others did too, much work remains to be done before an important decision such as this can be made. The proposal that was presented for the 7015 Sheridan Road project is incomplete. It needs to be fully developed as a business plan. There needs to be an impact projection the plan would have on the local economy and immediate vicinity. We need detailed renderings that would allow us to see whether this design concept works architecturally with the existing buildings it will sit between.

We need this information so that we can make a comprehensive, rational decision on whether the zoning variance should be granted, that seems to be in conflict with the Lakefront Protection Ordinance.

So, would you like to see the original drawings for the Gateway Mall project so you could go to the Pivot Point meeting tonight with some hard data and reasonable questions? Question such as WHY the building was not torn down as the original planned proposed? WHY is the completed mall aesthetic and overall environment so sterile compared to the original plan? WHY didn't the money that was saved by not demolishing the building, be applied towards creating a more succesful completed project? WHY wasn't the Passage family offered an alternative space somewhere in the neighborhood, to relocate their succesful business?

The Original Gateway Mall Drawings

Paradise would like to see those plans. In her recent, excellent comment, she asked some very relevant questions that need answers. All of us need answers to our questions and we all have many. All of our questions and opinions are relevant and they would be incredibly helpful before the fact and during the planning process.

In my humble opinion, we are at a developmental planning stage right now with the Pivot Point Building. We also seem to be at a crossroads with regards to future development in Rogers Park.

We are meeting tonight to discuss the Pivot Point Building and its' apparent re revised incarnation. We will be able to ask rational and reasonable questions tonight based on real, developed plans and be able to put this new Pivot Point proposal into a larger context. And that context is the comprehensive, fully developed original Gateway Mall plan as the architects originally envisioned it.. How can we do that you ask?

Because I Am Looking At The Plans Right Now

So Paradise will get her wish and so will the rest of you, who answered yes to some of the questions I posed. I will bring color copies to hand out, of the 4 drawings that were the original, fully developed plans for the Gateway Mall. I will also go to Kinkos and have the drawings enlarged so we can look at them before our meeting. I encourage anyone who is reading this to come to the meeting tonight and call a neighbor and bring them too.Take a look at what could have been in relation to what we have now and from these plans , ask some of your own questions tonight.

This is not a whine about how things could have been, although I, and a lot of you seem to be unhappy about the way this whole project has evolved. This is more about where we are, where we are going and how we should get there.

A Flawed Process

Because now, we might have a bit of a problem. Directly across the street from the Pivot Point Building, a new, 17 story rental apartment building is being constructed with a 245 car parking garage. The north east corner property is for sale and the current zoning will allow an 8 story building to be built there. And in todays' economic reality, a reasonable assumption could be made that it will probably be built that big. So now, with the Pivot Point Building still standing, we will have a canyon of large buildings right at that important and difficult intersection and as the "gateway" to Howard Street and the NOH neighborhood.

Obviously, this is not the concept that was originaly envisioned.

When you see the plans you will understand what the architects had in mind. I will not divulge the details and let everyone instead, have their own reactions. I will only say that the architects made their case and they proved to me that the Pivot Point building should have been taken down for the sake of the bigger picture. I love that building, as you know but given the real facts, as I am looking at them now, I would have agreed with the architects plan. The original plan was not a suburban sprawl theory concept, but an urban solution for an urban neighborhood. What Gateway is now is quite different.

How many more mistakes can we afford to absorb?

My previous posts were written for several reasons and I will write about the chronology of all these posts, this blog space and what we, yes we, hope to accomplish with this forum because I'm working with a partner at the Rogers Park Review. I only ask that you understand that I just consider myself a regular person like you with a couple of cats and a dog and a regular life. The thoughts and opinions written here are not more important than yours simply because I happen to write on a blog.

Your comprehension, suggestions and opinions are relevant and important and I believe that we all can, given hard data and developed concepts, arrive at constructive suggestions and relevant opinions that can help shape our neighborhood by changing the current process by which those decisions are made.

We Need A Comprehensive Development Plan For Rogers Park. We Need A Framework That Will Allow Our Concerns To Be An Integral Part Of The Development Process During The Planning And Not After The Fact.

The Rogers Park Review is Working on the Development of Such a Plan Based on Succesful Models Elsewhere.

We Need Your Support, Your Suggestions and Your Dialogue.

See you tonight.

Gary Fuschi

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Concrete Canyon Gateway to Wicker Park on the Lake ?

New 17 Story Rental Apartment Building
at 413-421 North Howard

North of Howard will welcome at least 221 new neighbors soon, whose 500 to 1200 square foot rental apartments apparently all have unobstructed views of the lake. I think Mr. Patrun, of Bristol Chicago Development LLC, is expecting more than the minimum of 1 person per unit as the buildings' 4 lower floors will be a garage to 245 cars.

"Our market will be single professionals, empty nesters and 'double income, no kids' couples" said Mr. Patrun.

The building will offer apartments ranging from a 500 square foot studio to 1200 square foot 2, bedroom units. Mr. Patrun expects to rent a typical 1 bedroom, 800 square foot apartment for $1450.00 per month. It is unclear whether the rent includes parking for the SUV.

The intersection of Howard, Clark and Chicago will be a traffic nightmare for the foreseeable future as the completion and hookup of the water supply to the building makes the turn north from Chicago Ave. Can't wait.

The "Eternal Light" property on the corner is also for sale and between them sits an auto mechanic shop in a neat, little red brick building.

Gary Fuschi