Park 526

Last night’s meeting at the alderman’s office about our newest park, Park 526, was very informative. As you can see from the rendering available at the meeting, the former “eyesore” at Devon and McCormick will become a beautiful park open to the public around this time next year. Park 526 Rendering

Current plans do not include a playground. Instead, the park is envisioned as a quiet space at the western gateway to West Ridge. It continues the existing bike path along the waterway, and includes a walking trail with three benches for rest stops. There will be a small hill and a water fountain, with open space for picnics on the grass. The open space is not meant for organized league sports, although programming for the park has yet to be determined. It’s possible that some families will choose to use the space for soccer, for example.

Native trees will grace the north entrance, and a decorative four-foot fence will enclose the space, with entry and exit portals on the north and sound ends of the park. t’s believed that urrent lighting should prove sufficient for the space. There will be some exercise stations, similar to what currently exists at Warren Park, but no furniture other than the benches due to concerns about vandalism and theft. Because the park will not have any staff, there will be no toilet facilities.

At some point a pedestrian-biker bridge will be built across Devon so walkers and riders will not have to cross the busy highway. There are currently ten parking spaces across Devon near the canoe launch; it is expected that no more than a couple of spaces will be added. It’s expected that shoppers at Home Depot and Lincoln Village who decide to stop at the park will be able to remain in the shopping center parking lots.

The next steps include hiring engineering services, obtaining permits, and obtaining work bids over the Fall and Winter of 2016-2017, with work set to begin in Spring. The alderman was able to make $600,000 in TIF funds available for the park, and Banner Storage, which will turn the theater into a storage facility on the park’s south border, promised to contribute $10,000 for playground equipment. However, it was stated several times that Park 526 is envisioned as a “passive park,” so the question of attractions for children is unsettled.

The car wash has been demolished and Banner is still in the process of obtaining permits for its building. The Chicago Park District has a 66-year, perpetually-renewable lease on the new park.

It will, of course, at some point need a name other than “Park 526.” Perhaps neighborhood school children could be involved in choosing a name. I think it would be nice if the park were named for Bernie Stone, our longest-serving alderman, or Rabbi Wolf, who made the park possible.

It will be a nice addition to the neighborhood.

Alderman Not Attending PB Meetings

I just learned from Ald. Silverstein’s office that she has scheduling conflicts that will prevent her from attending both of this week’s PB meetings.

There was no indication of opposition to the project, nor was there any indication of support for it, like sending a member of her staff or a statement to be read in her absence. This is unfortunate but not unexpected; the petition process will continue to move forward.

Petitions can be signed beginning tomorrow evening. I hope to see you then.

 

Alderman Invited to PB Meetings

Ald. Silverstein has been invited to attend one or both of this week’s PB meetings. The Steering Committee for the 50th Ward PB Project hopes the alderman will play a leading role in bringing PB to the Ward, sharing her expertise and experience in budgeting matters as this project moves forward.

We will be discussing procedures to implement PB should our referendum reflect strong support among 50th Ward voters. In addition,  petitions will be available for signature, and circulators will be able to pick up petitions and poll sheets to gather signatures in their precincts

The meetings are Tuesday, June 28, and Thursday, June 30, from 6 to 7:30 at the Northtown Library.

Devon & Leavitt Development

I learned after my last post that the alderman’s office confirmed yesterday that the building to be constructed on the old Sheldon Cord site will be mixed use – retail plus apartments. The office had no information on whether the apartments will be affordable or market-rate, and no ideas about what businesses might move in.

Perhaps the developer will involve the community in some of the planning decisions. It might be a good idea for those in the immediate vicinity to ask the alderman to facilitate such a meeting.

This area is the eastern tip of our Ward and leads directly to the thriving residential and commercial areas of the 48th and 49th Wards known as RogersEdge; the aldermen and their partner, Loyola University, are revitalizing the area.

It would be a real boost for the 50th if some of that drive and vitality made its way west and helped reinvigorate the Devon-Leavitt area.

Development Opportunity – Devon & Leavitt

The old Sheldon Cord furniture store at Devon and Leavitt has been demolished, and the neighborhood now has another opportunity to bring solid economic development and affordable housing to West Ridge.

The site is zoned C-2, which means that a mixed-use development–rental units above a ground floor stores and shops, for example–is not just possible and acceptable but also highly desirable. A developer who wanted to make a case to the neighborhood for such a development would no doubt find a receptive audience.

I think it’s a good idea for neighbors to form a coalition to talk with the alderman, get her input, ask for her support, and then begin searching for a developer who shares the community’s vision for improved housing and economic opportunities in West Ridge.

 

 

 

BGA Speaker Presents at WRPCO Meeting; New Officers Elected

Last night the West Rogers Park Community Organization (WRPCO) held its annual meeting. After the election of new officers, Judy Stevens of the Better Government Association spoke about the state of the City, its current relationship with the State, the budget morass in Springfield, and the ways that local communities can positively impact government.

Judy Stevens assessing the state of the city at WRPCO Annual Meeting 2016.

Judy Stevens assessing the state of the city at WRPCO Annual Meeting 2016.

Ms. Stevens noted that the “uncertainty” produced by the inability of state lawmakers to work together to create a compromise budget is causing “tangible harm” to state residents in the form of higher costs and funding losses.

Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will be ready with any plans for new revenue sources or pension deals before the November elections. She reviewed the history of budget bills under Gov. Rauner, noting that both the Governor and Speaker Madigan have each introduced two budget bills, each time with a larger deficit.

Ms. Stevens added that Chicago’s City Council recently passed a bill that would provide more transparency in financial matters like the toxic debt swaps used by the Daley Administration that have cost taxpayers more than $500M. This blog reported on that ordinance in May.  It’s a direct result of the 2015 privatization ordinance, passed with BGA help, that will prevent future debacles like the parking meter deal that has cost the City so dearly. As Ms. Stevens noted, Daley could have received $1B more for the City had anybody bothered to read the fine print in the contract.

How do citizens begin to impact public policy? Ms. Stevens suggests working on local issues by joining and supporting groups and organizations working for neighborhood improvement is a good way to start.

Check out BGA’s Web site here.

WRPCO’s new officers include John Kane – Chair, Andrew Rovlas – Vice Chair, Pamela Stauffer – Secretary, and Irv Loundy – Treasurer. Board members include Daniel Azulay, Jose Abonce, Jane Sullivan, Ahmed Khan, and Hameedulah Khan.

WRPCO’s Facebook page is here.

WRPCO Annual Meeting

The 2016 Annual Meeting of the West Rogers Park Community Organization will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, at Devon Bank, 6445 North Western Avenue. The Guest Speaker is Judy Stevens, Senior Policy Coordinator for the Better Government Association.

Among the topics Ms. Stevens will address are the current state of the relationship between City and State government (read Rahm and Rauner); how the City has fared under Rahm’s leadership, and, most importantly, how citizens can impact government in the digital age–what should we do to get the kind of government we want and need?

Ms. Stevens’ background is quite impressive. She’s worked in Chicago government and in Washington for a major labor union, and she’s written extensively on public policy. In 2014 she testified before the Chicago City Council in support of an ordinance permitting the Office of the Inspector General to monitor the activities of the Public Building Commission, which until then had hired its own inspector general to track millions of dollars in public construction spending. The ordinance passed.

You don’t have to be a WRPCO member to attend, but it’s an organization worth supporting, and new members are always welcome.

 

PB Campaign Off to a Good Start

A lot was accomplished at Tuesday’s first meeting of the campaign to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward.

Tom Desmond’s presentation outlined the 49th Ward’s experience with participatory budgeting. He began with a brief history–its origins in Brazil, and Joe Moore’s bringing it to the 49th Ward, the first ward in the City of Chicago to share menu money decision-making with residents.

A Steering Committee has formed. The alderman is being invited to the next meeting. Contacts are being called.  Other groups are being invited to participate. The petitions and signature goals for each precinct are ready for volunteer circulators. Updated poll sheets are on the way.

Watch this space for news about the next meeting.

And if you’d like to join us in this exciting project, please either come to the next meeting or contact us via this Web site.

Participatory Budgeting Meeting Tomorrow

The first meeting of the campaign to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, June 7, from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. at the Northtown Library (6435 North California). The basics of participatory budgeting will be explained by Tom Desmond, a member of the Leadership Team of PB49 in the 49th Ward.

Meeting participants will also have the opportunity to sign the petition requesting that an advisory referendum be added to the 50th Ward ballot in November.  The vote on that referendum will reflect the sentiments of the community. An overwhelming vote in favor of participatory budgeting will be the first step toward more transparency in ward decision-making.

[Note: Although only registered voters can sign the petition, participatory budgeting voting is open to all Ward residents, business owners, and parents of children attending local schools.]

A successful petition requires the support of 8% of registered voters in the Ward, based on the umber of votes cast in each precinct in the 2014 election for Illinois governor. That means at least twice that number must sign the petition to offset any challenges from opponents.  Approximately 1,600 valid signatures are all that’s necessary, but that total must represent 8% of registered voters in each precinct.

Political reform ain’t easy.

The signed and notarized petitions must be presented to the Chicago Board of Elections for signature verification. Opponents will then have an opportunity to challenge individual signatures, supporters will have a chance to prove the signatures valid, and then CBOE will decide if there are enough valid signatures to put the issue on November’s ballot.

All of this must be accomplished by August 15. It’s do-able.

If you’d like to volunteer to circulate a petition in your precinct, please contact peopleofwestridge@gmx.com or leave a comment on this blog.

If you plan to attend the Beat 2413 CAPS meeting, please go. There are important issues to discuss about recent violence in our neighborhood. Other PB meetings will be scheduled in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks – hope to see you tomorrow.

 

West Ridge “Shootings”

A young man was murdered in the 3000 block of Devon Avenue this past Wednesday night, June 1. The day before, another young man was murdered in the 6400 block of Rockwell Avenue.

The alderman responded to these murders by reassuring readers of her newsletter that our safety is her primary concern. Referring to them as “…some isolated shootings…,” she didn’t even acknowledge the true nature of the crimes.

To make matters worse, these two murders were not the top story in her newsletter. No, first she had to tout “…my annual City Sticker day…” and then advised her constituents to keep their lawns mowed and try composting. Then she got around to the unfortunate “shootings.”

One poster to EveryblockChicago noted that the worsening economic conditions in the 50th Ward and the alderman’s lack of involvement contribute to the recent increase in crime.

I think she’s right.