Is This Community Input?

This morning the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) approved a $1.25M lease of public land to Target for a Target Express on Sheridan near Devon, contingent on “community input.” Baloney.

This is a done deal and the way it’s been handled is particularly instructive for West Ridge residents because of the proposed new library-senior housing complex to be built at Western & Pratt. Nobody–not the aldermen, the developers, the CHA, the hidden interests that stand to benefit–has been straight with the residents of either ward. Worse, the game of “community input” obscures the fact that powerful people are running roughshod over the powerless. There’s no real input, and the game is over for the community before it even begins.

The Target development is in the 49th Ward. Public land is being taken from a senior housing building, The Caroline Hedger Apartments, In order to build the Target; above it, the CHA will build 111 multigenerational apartments (60% of them subsidized or affordable, the others market rate; the developer suggesting $2,000 for a two-bedroom unit). The property, to be called “The Concord at Sheridan” [beware of buildings with pretentious names], will include underground parking and commercial space. The land to be taken from the Hedger seniors is used for their garden and community room; the garden will be replaced by a rooftop of potted plants to be shared with the new building’s tenants, and a new community room will be built for them in the new building; it will be accessible by elevator; the existing room is at ground level.

Ald. Joe Moore held a community meeting on January 30 at which all interests (CHA, Target,  and Three Corners Development) except those of the Hedger residents were presented to the public. Community opposition was strong. More than 150 Hedger residents have signed a petition opposing the loss of their garden and community room; Moore later claimed in a written statement to the community that  “only about 20 residents” oppose his plans. The lease is for 99 years.

Residents pointed to the numerous vacant storefronts throughout Rogers Park as evidence that additional commercial space is not needed, and many worried about the Target’s effect on the neighborhood’s small businesses.  Neighbors noted that the extremely high rents being charged in existing buildings have led to high vacancy rates in the area surrounding the proposed development. The statement that a two-bedroom unit in the new building would cost $2,000 per month was met with derision. A building less than a block away, The Morgan [what did I just say about pretentious names?}, is said to be one-third empty because of its cost.

The comments on commercial space were especially interesting because the 49th Ward is getting yet another new apartment building at Morse & Wayne. The developer for that building refused to add commercial space on the ground that the existing market did not support the idea, and Moore agreed. When he announced that he approved the developer’s decision, Moore cited all the vacant storefronts in the various commercial areas in Rogers Park, and said that no new storefronts were needed. Since that announcement, Three Corners has built a residential-commercial building a block from Hedger on Devon; its storefronts are vacant, as are most of the apartments.

[Last week it was announced that the two-story Woodruff Arcade Building on the southeast corner of Devon and Sheridan would be razed; it will be replaced by a six-story building which may be a mixed-use development with additional apartments.]

[Moore has been alderman of the 49th Ward for 24 years, and  is chairman of the City Council’s real estate committee. Three Corners Development has contributed to Moore’s political fund.]

CHA today required additional community input on the new building; decided it would not approve the project until it sees the building’s final design; and also insisted that the community have input into that design. But Moore was clear at the January 30 meeting that aldermen have the final say on development in their wards. In other words, when an alderman decides what the community wants, that’s what it gets. “Community” in Chicago sometimes means a community of one.

What does all this have to do with the 50th Ward library-senior housing building?

Well, for one thing, nobody pushing for a new library expected it to be coupled with senior housing. This was one of the Mayor’s bright ideas, and the alderman appeared to be as surprised as the community to learn about it. There’s almost no CHA or affordable housing in West Ridge, and very little support for getting any. There’s also the matter of which seniors would move into the building–seniors on the CHA waiting list or neighborhood residents? What are the politics involved in that decision?

[A proposed 100-unit building in Jefferson Park (45th Ward) recently met with fierce opposition by homeowners; the idea of CHA housing was so contentious before the meeting that it was restricted to people whose IDs proved they lived in the neighborhood. Even statements by Ald. Arena that the apartments would go to people already living in the neighborhood, primarily veterans, didn’t help. This building’s concept changed between its announcement and the community meeting, a worrisome sign.]

The LEARN Coalition, which created the petition for the new library and was solely responsible for obtaining more than 2,000 signatures from West Ridge residents in support of a new library, was left out of the process. Even though it has repeatedly told the alderman that it stands ready to work with her and the community on this library-senior housing project, she has not been forthcoming.  Indeed, the alderman has yet to publicly thank the group by name for its work on the issue.

Then there’s the “no information” community meeting held last November, at which we were repeatedly told that “everything’s on the table” and “nothing has been decided.” The drawings and pictures provided to the community at that meeting were only “renderings” of what the building, the apartments, and the library “might” look like. The design competition that was to end December 23 was extended, then three unnamed firms were selected to design the proposed building.  A community meeting in January was abruptly cancelled due to a “scheduling conflict” (Moore’s meeting was held the night before). It has not been rescheduled.

The alderman has consistently failed to update the community on the progress of the proposal via her weekly newsletter. In other words, the community will know nothing until presented with the final choices selected by the alderman and CHA. How can the community offer input if the design is already in place, the uses determined, and space for various activities already allocated?

Given the way the powers that be run things in the 50th Ward, the community had better start calling and writing Ald. Silverstein and telling her this way of doing the people’s business isn’t acceptable.  The building belongs to the community of West Ridge, and residents want to know what’s going on at every stage.

We have a right to be kept informed. She has a duty to see that we are.

 

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2 thoughts on “Is This Community Input?

  1. Good advice, Follies:

    >>>Given the way the powers that be run things in the 50th Ward, the community had better start calling and writing Ald. Silverstein and telling her this way of doing the people’s business isn’t acceptable. The building belongs to the community of West Ridge, and residents want to know what’s going on at every stage. We have a right to be kept informed. She has a duty to see that we are.<<<

    How to contact our alderman:

    Ald. Debra Silverstein
    2949 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659

    Hours: Open Monday through Friday· 9AM–4:30PM

    Phone: (773) 262-1050

    Like

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