Alderman, SSA, Chamber Do Wrong by Residents

I am thrilled that Mayor Lightfoot has begun curbing the excesses of aldermanic privilege. Unfortunately, word that aldermen are no longer absolute bosses in their wards has not yet reached the 50th Ward. Once again Silverstein, her handpicked SSA, the Chamber of Commerce, Republic Bank of Chicago, and the Rogers Park Business Alliance (RPBA) have arranged two more noisy events in the Bank’s failed parking lot.

The events are a two-day live-music fest and a movie night. Neither event has involved resident input. Indeed, residents have been deliberately kept out of the planning process. The alderman and SSA brook no interference with their plans, including legal restrictions. The alderman and her minions are determined to make the failed parking lot into a public place of amusement, even though it lacks both zoning and licensing for such activities. I am tired of fighting about this, have consulted a lawyer, and will be filing a lawsuit. There is no other way to put an end to this.

I have in the past used FOIA to try to obtain information on the permits for these events from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. My requests always generate the same response: there are no records. In other words, Silverstein, the SSA, and the Chamber plan and execute these events while bypassing City law. No approval is needed except Silverstein’s. This has always been wrong, and everybody involved knew  it, but they went on with their activities knowing they could not be held accountable. Now, with the Lightfoot administration, they can. And I intend to see to it that they are. Festivals like this can be a good thing for the community, but not when they are planned in secrecy and held in venues not designed to accommodate them. Both events belong in a park, not a parking lot.

Republic Bank’s parking lot was built in 2012 and failed immediately because the shoppers for whom it was designed refused to pay for parking and engaged in behaviors ranging from outright vandalism (removing gates) to stealing parking services, evading payment by moving gate sensors and manipulating gate positions. The parking lot has never made a profit.

The lot is directly across the alley from multifamily housing–just ten feet–and is zoned B-1-2. The Bank lacks a PPA license and cannot get one because the distance from housing falls far short of the 125 feet required by ordinance. Such legal niceties don’t prevent the SSA from using aldermanic privilege to stage various entertainment programs and religious observances in the parking lot, all of which involve live or recorded music played at concert level (120 decibels and above). The police are unable to stop such activities because the alderman has approved them. Legal restrictions on the uses of this parking lot have been swept aside by aldermanic clout.

I find this especially egregious because Silverstein:

  •  was and remains a member of the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs & Special Events, which writes the rules for events of this type–rules that do not apply to events staged with her approval in this parking lot
  • called for extra police to control her drunken neighbors during Purim but sees no problem with inviting several hundred strangers to a beer-fueled music fest ten feet from my home
  • lacks any sense of decency and consideration when it comes to residents around the parking lot, treating us shabbily, something she would not do to residents in single-family housing or the pricey condos where she lives.

Among the public events Silverstein and her handpicked SSA found suitable for this parking lot are:

  • a failed community market (2013-15) that was the lowest-ranked market in the City in terms of attendance and revenue; many vendors refused to participate more than once, and some left before the day ended because of the dearth of customers; live musical performances were part of every weekly event (read my blog post here)
  • musical concerts celebrating India Day, which served food and left a mess, thus attracting rats; stages were placed at the far north end of the lot, closest to housing (read blog post here)
  • Hindu religious observances featuring loudspeakers and heavy incense
  • a failed movie night last October that attracted only two dozen people, mostly children, who were provided popcorn but no water and no access to bathroom facilities (see blog post here).

Hindu religious observance including music and dance, Fall 2018. Note the number, size, and placement of loudspeakers. Music could be heard for blocks.

Imagine such activities suddenly materializing outside your home. I spoke to the alderman during the first community market in 2013, when my TV was drowned out by the live “music.” Hostile to any criticism, she said she would tolerate such noise “for the good off the neighborhood” and I should do the same. When I suggested moving the market outside her home, she walked away.

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence after India Day concert.

The India Day concerts include free food and water. Organizers left messes like this (see left) after every concert. Water bottles were tossed all over the alley, and empty boxes were left inside and outside the parking lot. Live music from tinny loudspeakers was blasted for several hours. It was impossible for nearby residents to shut out the noise.

Audience at Devon Movie Night, Republic Bank Parking Lot, October 2018.

Last Fall’s movie night attracted fewer than two dozen viewers. Moviegoers sat on the parking lot’s asphalt; one woman brought her own chair. This isn’t the case when movies are shown in the north end of the ward, where the alderman lives. Those movies are shown in Chippewa Park, a comfortable distance from housing and viewers sit on soft grass. Why aren’t residents from the south end of the ward granted such amenities?

Note how close the movie screen is to homes–just an alley’s width away. The movie has to be loud to be heard over the din of traffic on Devon Avenue. Do you believe the alderman would permit this outside her home?

Look where the screen was placed! What kind of people think this is the proper way to treat residents? RPBA  is paid nearly a quarter of the SSA’s budget (roughly $100,000) for planning expertise. Have they never heard of zoning? Licensing? Try imposing noise like this outside the merchants’ stores and see how long it takes before police are called and offenders removed. (See City Ordinance O2018-6909 passed 9/18).

Nearby residents never receive proper notice of these events but learn of them only when the blasting starts. This past weekend, this ad was hung on Republic Bank’s Devon Avenue fence. It is the only notice nearby residents have received about  the next movie night, scheduled for Sunday, June 23.

The SSA and Chamber announced at last week’s WRCO meeting that they are sponsoring a two-day live-music festival in the parking lot over the Labor Day week-end. The organizers are seeking a liquor license for the festival, which will also include “a tent city of shopping” and will close Washtenaw Avenue up to the east-west alley. No word on where the Port-a-Potties will be located.  The SSA has been planning this event for months, but has not yet advised nearby property owners or residents. It was also announced last week that marketing materials have been finalized and are ready for distribution. At no time has the community been invited to be part of the process. (See the SSA’s 2019 Minutes from January, February, March, and April. May’s minutes have not been posted at this writing.) Note that discussions of this event are classified in the Minutes as “Public Input.” This is not to be misconstrued as input from nearby residents, who have been excluded from the process. Note also that “beer sales” have been identified as one of the main funding sources. Gee, who can their target audience be? Is West Ridge ready to welcome hundreds of rowdy drunks cheering their favorite bands? Would any or the organizers do this where they live?

At no time have the residents living directly alongside the parking lot been given the legally-mandated notices of any of these events. These notices require a 30-day period during which residents may object to such activities and also require notice of street closings. All of the events staged in the parking lot are broadcast on loudspeakers at concert levels (120 decibels or higher). City law prohibits such levels in residential areas. In 2018 another law was passed regulating musical concert noise because of noise complaints from condo owners in high rises along Sheridan Road. I believe my neighbors and I are entitled to the same consideration.

Labor Day is the last holiday of summer, a time when families enjoy backyard barbeques and back-to-school parties, all of which will be impacted by the noise, crowds, and parking issues arising from the planned music festival. Festival-goers seeking parking will converge on residential streets, thus depriving residents’ friends and relatives of parking. Who gave the alderman, SSA, and Chamber the right to invite hundreds of people to drink outside our homes? There is an ongoing backlash against this kind of event wherever it is held. Such fests have been moved because of noise complaints (Riot Fest);  and there is a new controversy over the move of the Mamby Music Fest to Montrose Beach because of the impact of the noise on birds in the nearby Montrose Bird Sanctuary. I can assure you that the birds can expect to receive more consideration than the neighbors on Washtenaw and Fairfield Avenues. The alderman, the SSA, the Chamber, and the Bank have always treated us like shit on their shoes.

There are alternative sites for this event, which properly belongs in one of our many neighborhood parks. Why not Warren Park, where fest goers can visit the Pakistani stores east of Western as well as the many restaurants on Western itself? Why not Stone Park, gateway to Devon, where the fest might attract visitors from Skokie and Lincolnwood? Holding the fest in Stone Park would give visitors the opportunity to stroll the length of Devon and see for themselves all the international shopping the alderman claims is here. It might also provide some much-needed business for the few merchants west of California. There are two large adjacent parking lots on Devon & Leavitt, near the home of the Chamber’s president. Why not stage the Fest there? Or will his neighbors object to noise and crowds and drinking and parking issues? As to the movie, why not use the vacant space on the second floor of Republic Bank? That way, the kids would at least have toilet access. Maybe there will be a Porta-a-Potty in the pwrking lot. Classy.

The organizers are not interested in moving either event and are moving ahead with distributing their marketing materials. Once word gets out about the festival, it will be all but impossible to stop, another dirty trick played on unsuspecting residents by the alderman and her pals.

It isn’t surprising that the alderman and officials from the SSA, the Chamber, the Bank, and the merchants they represent feel entitled to treat the lot’s  closest neighbors with such appalling disregard and disrespect. They insist that these events are an attempt to “give back” to the community. It’s a lie. They are trying to improve their businesses while (a) keeping the problems generated by these “give-backs” away from their businesses; and (b) not making any of the retailing changes residents want. Devon is littered with empty storefronts, and business is down across the board. The recent “International Marketplace” promotional campaign failed. Shoppers know that a cucumber is a cucumber, and buying it from a Syrian, Egyptian, or Iraqi merchant doesn’t make the experience international. The new campaign, “On Devon,” promises experiences that do not yet exist. This music fest will not provide them. Neither will another movie night. The merchants represented by a tone-deaf SSA and alderman refuse to interact with or show consideration for neighborhood residents, and such communication is the only way to improve the business climate.

The lack of simple decency toward residents is astounding. The members of the SSA who conceive of these events choose to disregard the rights of those of us who live in the vicinity. The area around Devon is home mainly to an immigrant community, many of whom are in the country illegally (the Census Bureau indicates that 12-15% of the residents of the 50th Ward are undocumented). The alderman and the SSA know that these residents will not complain no matter how badly they are treated.  The few American-born residents, like me, are ignored by the powers that be, who, protected by the alderman, are used to running roughshod over residents. None of the guilty parties–Silverstein, the SSA, the Chamber, the RPBA–would dare to behave this way toward residents in the more affluent end of the ward. Don’t expect to see this behavior west of California, or anywhere on Western. The merchants have become as arrogant and unaccountable as the alderman.

I was recently told by one of the businessmen I respect that there should be harmony between the merchants and the residents. I agree. But after six years of this shit, I just don’t feel the love.

Maybe a judge can help.

 

 

1 thought on “Alderman, SSA, Chamber Do Wrong by Residents

  1. This is a damning indictment of the alderman’s authoritarianism in our ward. I share your sense of outrage, particularly in your account of Silverstein telling you to put up with illegal, obnoxious activity for the good of neighborhood. Her response was outrageous, unfair and pathetic. If you decide to press your complaint through legal means, I suggest you start a fund-raising effort, and you can count on me to contribute. Good luck.

    Like

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