Will Silverstein Support Downtown MMDs?

Next month the City Council will vote on a proposal to change zoning so that medical marijuana dispensaries could operate in Chicago’s Loop. Right now, all proposed sites are too near day care centers or schools so the zoning change is required. The proposal is backed by Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Ed Burke.

Silverstein blocked the zoning change required for the proposed dispensary in the 50th Ward, claiming that rules applying to the proximity of dispensaries and schools should also apply to dispensaries and parks. Officially she was neutral, which is the kiss of death for anything she opposes.

It will be interesting to see how Silverstein votes.  A “no” vote is likely because a “yes” vote would mean she’s a hypocrite.  Besides, voting against would carry no political consequences since there’s reportedly enough support to pass the ordinance without her involvement.  It’s just like her vote against the Mayor’s budget.

The Loop will get the benefit of jobs and taxes from such sites, and the 50th Ward will continue to observe rather than participate in opportunities for economic improvement.


Does This Resolution Make Sense?

Last December Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied the appeal of its decision not to permit Green Gate Compassion Center to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the 50th Ward. The alderman did not want the MMD although she was officially neutral.

In a comedy of doublespeak, the ZBA explains in its denial of the appeal that it was all Green Gate’s fault for presenting its information to the ZBA when the Board had only four members instead of five. One position was vacant for several months.

Read the ZBA decision here.

Then laugh or cry as you see fit. It’s your government at work.

2827-39 West Touhy Properties

Did I say this site remained unchanged? Oops! The stores from 2827-2835 are still vacant, but they’re not exactly storefronts any more.

2827-35 West Touhy, April 21, 2016

2827-35 West Touhy, April 21, 2016

The properties are now fronted by a rented fence. The window glass and glass doors have disappeared. Signs have been posted forbidding hunting, fishing, and trespass. (Insert your own punchline here.)

No demolition permits are posted, nor are any remodeling permits.

2837-39 West Touhy

2837-39 West Touhy


The storefronts at 2837-39 are as deplorable as ever—and still vacant—but apparently not eyesores any more.

I also noticed that three storefronts between 2803 and 2825 West Touhy appear to be used as churches, according to their signage. It’s hard to tell exactly, since Touhy, like the rest of the ward, is rife with signs for businesses that have long since disappeared.

The decline of Touhy Avenue is painful to see. It’s hard to attract businesses to an area that has been allowed to deteriorate so badly.

But the alderman should at least try..

Building Housing McKellin’s Tavern For Sale

Yesterday I saw “For Sale” signs being posted on the building that houses McKellin’s tavern at Touhy and California (2800 W. Touhy).

2800 West Touhy Building

2800 West Touhy Building

McKellin’s has been in business for nearly 20 years.

Let’s hope the business stays.

Lawsuits, Vacancies, and Back Taxes

Two property owners taken to court by the City at the alderman’s request were recently in the news for failure to pay property taxes.

Last June the City sued Khalid J. Siddiqui, owner of the property at 2904-10 West Devon, for alleged building code violations. Mr. Siddiqui and his co-defendants were not served nor were appearances filed until late 2015 and early 2016. A court hearing is scheduled for May 18 (see Events Calendar on this blog).

It now appears that Mr. Siddiqui may lose his property because of unpaid property taxes  from 2014. The taxes are scheduled to be sold at Cook County’s annual tax sale beginning Friday, June 3, 2016. They remain unpaid at this writing.

Then there’s the long story of the property at 2827-39 West Touhy Avenue, taken to court at the alderman’s request in May 2014, also for building code violations. The alderman invited the community to attend a court hearing in August of 2014, and claimed she was trying to get the property fixed up and rented or sold. The owner, Virginia Koldon, disputed the alderman’s statements, saying that the buildings had been fixed, that she was in the process of selling them, and that the vacancies resulted from (a) an inhospitable economic climate, and (b) a community that did not support them.

Mrs. Koldon also told DNA Info that the situation was “…all political” (Silverstein was up for re-election at the time). In denying Mrs. Koldon’s claims, Silverstein said that the Koldon storefronts were near a “block long of continuous vacant stores” and said she wanted economic development.

The owner of record is now Ephraim Tatelbaum, according to the Cook County Treasurer’s office. The 2014 property taxes were paid after the properties were listed for tax auction (see the 2014 Annual Tax Sale Schedule in the News-Star edition of April 6-12, 2016).

The Touhy properties and the “block long of continuous vacant stores” have not changed since the lawsuit against Mrs. Koldon was dismissed in September 2014. The Siddiqui property also remains vacant.

Under Silverstein’s leadership, economic development in the 50th Ward has continued its decline, and currently lags behind that of every other North Side ward.

Maybe the alderman should try something new. Instead of harassing store owners over vacancies, she might try working with property owners and residents to create the “spirited” economic development plan she promised over five years ago, in 2011, when she challenged Bernie Stone.

The neighborhood has waited for it long enough.






Rohingya Culture Center Opens

There’s nothing like spending a few hours immersed in another culture to remind one of jus how fortunate we Americans are. Other residents of this planet pay dearly—sometimes with their lives—just for daring to imagine living with some of the many blessings Americans take for granted.

I thought about this as The Rohingya Culture Center opened with a grand celebration of an ancient culture rooted in faith, family, and community.

The standing-room-only crowd listened attentively as guest speakers discussed both the plight of the Rohingya and their amazing resilience. Rohingya survivors of government-sanctioned torture and slave labor related their stories of suffering, providing eyewitness testimony to the pain of a community facing extermination for the crime of being Muslim in a Buddhist country. Speakers shared the harrowing details of their escapes from imprisonment and near-starvation, and their long and difficult journey to freedom in America.

The speakers' platform includedOfficials from American Muslim organizations welcomed the Rohingya, praising their spirit and determination to build new lives in America. As I’ve come to know Muslims as neighbors and friends, I’ve seen the high value that Muslims place on education and community service. These values were supported again at the opening ceremonies as leaders urged the community to focus on education so they could become contributing members of society as well as American citizens, able to participate in the privilege of voting.

The Center’s guiding light, Nassir bin Zakaria, who worked so tirelessly to make the community’s dream a reality, received a standing ovation from the crowd. He has served as point man for the Rohingya throughout the process of opening the Culture Center.

The Rohingya extended the most gracious hospitality to their guests, and the banquet after the ceremonies was lavish and delicious, all of it prepared by Rohingya women. I had researched Rohingya food online so I would have some idea of what the food offerings might be. The online info was far off the mark! The food served was truly a treat for an American palate, an unusual pairing of spicy entrees with naturally sweet fruit side dishes and luscious desserts.

I’ve never seen more stunning Muslim dress. Robes and headscarves were colorful, embroidered and appliquéd, some with pearls and jewels stitched the length of the arm and across the shoulders. Some of the headscarves were elaborately beaded, others held in place with artfully placed jewelry. The two-tiered headscarves with lace and other trimmings were simply breathtaking.

A Web site for the Culture Center is under construction, and the first exhibits and cultural offerings are being planned.

I believe the Rohingya people and their Culture Center are great additions to our neighborhood. The next time you’re in the area, please stop in and introduce yourself.




Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Statewide Listening Tour

The Illinois State Board of Education and the Regional Offices of Education are hosting a series of informational sessions around the state so that parents and community members can provide their input on how ESSA is implemented in Illinois.

The new law, which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, is scheduled to take full effect in 2017-18. These sessions are the first of several opportunities that the public will have to discuss the law with Illinois education officials.

The session for North Cook County will be held on Tuesday, April 26 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at The Fairview South  School District Auditorium, 7040 North Laramie, Skokie, IL  60077.  The contact person is Dr. Cindy Whittaker (cwhittaker@Fairview.k12.il.us).

The complete schedule can be found here.





ICPR Forum on the Illinois Budget Impasse

On Monday I attended  “Illinois Budget; Defining and Funding the Essential Priorities,” a forum co-sponsored by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) and Truth in Accounting, advocates for clear reporting of governmental financial information.

The panel of six Illinois State Representatives (3 Democrats, 3 Republicans) and two Illinois State Senators (one from each party) discussed the budget battle and various approaches that might prove useful in getting both sides to the table. State Senator Matt Murphy, Minority Spokesman for the Appropriations Committee, urged citizens to contact their local representatives and senators, saying the best strategy for citizens is to pressure their reps to get their leaders to start talking to one another.

The forum can be viewed here.

Fire Guts Devon Wellness Center

The building housing the Santigram Wellness Center and an apartment residence  caught fire about 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 12. Both the business and the apartment above it appeared heavily damaged. Residents of the apartment escaped the fire, although one young man suffered a minor burn to his left arm. The family cat also escaped.  The building is located at 2745 West Devon.

In addition to Chicago police and fire personnel, the American Red Cross sent a disaster relief team to aid the building’s residents. Ray Carter and Jordan Siwelski were on the scene shortly after the fire was reported, and accompanied the apartment’s residents back into the building to help salvage what they could of their belongings.

The building’s owner is reportedly out of town, but a friend is handling the board-up process.

The IQRA’ Bookstore immediately to the west of the burned building was undamaged.

Rohingya Story on WBEZ Tomorrow

Two members of the West Ridge Rohingya community will tell their stories on WBEZ’s Worldview program on Thursday, April 7, at Noon. The Ronhingya are refugees from Burma (Myanmar).

The Rohingya Cultural Center will officially open on Saturday, April 9. The community is hosting an open house from 1-4 p.m. on that day. All are invited.

The Rohingya Cultural Center is located at 2740 West Devon Avenue, just west of Fairfield Avenue.