Rating the Alderman: Communicating with Residents. Part II.

Part I described Silverstein’s first “redevelopment” project in the ward, the demolition of most of Republic Bank’s building on Devon Avenue, its replacement with a parking lot, and the construction of an ATM on a residential side street. Let’s review how well Debra communicated with residents afterwards.

Property owners and residents living directly behind the new Republic Bank parking lot at Washtenaw and Devon were opposed to its construction but our concerns were met with repeated claims by the Bank that “it’s just a parking lot.” This proved to be a lie. There were plans for that lot even before construction began, but, once again, nearby residents were not told of those plans and quality-of-life issues for residents were ignored when those plans were made.

The Bank celebrated the lot’s opening with an hours-long, noisy event that included an over-amplified band. The alderman was present. The noise was necessary to attract shoppers along Devon to the lot. This public event required that an exception be made to the city’s noise ordinance, and it appears the alderman granted it. It was a foretaste of the way  the Bank and the alderman would treat nearby residents in the planning and execution of every subsequent public event held in what is “just a parking lot.”

In July of 2013 the first Devon Community Market was held in the lot, complete with soundstage. Jointly sponsored by the alderman and the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, this public event also required the same noise ordinance exemption.  The market requires at least two hours of set-up, so trucks, vans, and work crews filled the alley outside our homes beginning around 7:30 a.m., with the crews shouting at one another as heavy poles to support tents, tables and chairs, and the soundstage itself were dragged or tossed into the parking lot. Assembly of tents, soundstage, and other areas, complete with hammering, took more than an hour.

The soundstage was set up at the Washtenaw-Devon corner of the parking lot, again to provide maximum exposure and draw shoppers on Devon to the lot. That it was also aimed directly at the residential housing on both Washtenaw and Fairfield was not a concern. Four hours of ear-splitting live musical performances of varying quality occurred on each of the four Sundays the market was open, once each month from July through September.

That first market I went to the lot to talk to whoever was in charge and complain about the loudness of the music. I spoke to both Amie Zander, then-Executive Director of the Chamber, and the alderman. Both told me—and let me quote Zander—“there will be music.” When I asked the alderman if she would want this kind of noise outside her home, she replied that she wouldn’t mind if it was for the good of the community. I suggested she hold the next market where she lives and see if she still felt the same way.

Big mistake. Nobody interferes with this alderman. She may not care if her actions rob you of your sleep, or the peaceful enjoyment of your home, but she cares a lot if you object to her doing so.

The July market was followed by the August India Day celebration. The reviewing stand was moved to Washtenaw and Devon, across the street from the new parking lot, and the musical entertainment—blasted so loudly from tinny speakers that it was past the point of being heard as music—began shortly after 9 a.m. and continued until after the parade in early afternoon. The reviewing stand construction began in early morning, and the concert-size speakers were connected and blasting immediately after. There was no communication with residents about this, either.

After September the lot was quiet. In 2014 the community market was moved to afternoon and set-up did not start until 2 p.m. The soundstage disappeared in favor of low-key musical entertainment.

Then came the 2014 India Day celebration. The alderman who pledged as a candidate that there would be open communication with residents didn’t tell anybody what she and the Chamber had planned for August 17, 2014.

At 6:20 a.m. trailer trucks appeared in the alley alongside residents’ homes. Barrels were rolled down ramps and into the parking lot. Tables and chairs were unloaded, tents were constructed, an entertainment area set up. I spoke to the man in charge, who snapped at me that if I had any complaints I should talk to the alderman—“she gave us permission.” For the next 9 hours, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon that usually saw residents enjoying yards and porches, we were subjected to blasting music, including 7 hours of live musical entertainment complete with concert-size speakers set up across the alley from our homes. Residents from blocks away said they could hear the music plainly.

While the party crew was setting up, the reviewing stand was being assembled across the street. Shortly before 9 a.m., they, too, began blasting. Hundreds of people came to the parking lot to eat and sit under tents while being entertained. They ate, and threw food garbage everywhere. The party’s organizer’s left the garbage where it fell. Why should they care if it feeds rats? They don’t live here. It’s the residents who were left once again to bear the costs of the business community’s indifference to our quality of life and their belief that they and the alderman owe us nothing, not even simple good manners.

The food garbage remained in the parking lot from late Saturday afternoon until the following Tuesday afternoon, when it was cleaned for the next day’s community market.

But Silverstein doesn’t see the garbage, doesn’t see the rats, doesn’t hear the noise, and doesn’t care how residents are affected by any of these things. Why should she?

It’s just a parking lot.

Coming: Silverstein’s Lack of Communication in General

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