Silverstein’s Blunder to Benefit Rogers Park

It appears that another ward will profit from the alderman’s wrongheaded refusal to permit a medical marijuana dispensary (MMD) to open in West Ridge, thus depriving the 50th ward of much-needed jobs and sales tax revenues, not to mention a lovely landscaped business gracing Western Avenue.

Remember the Greengate Compassion Center? The MMD had applied last year to build its facility at 6501 North Western Avenue in West Ridge. The alderman immediately announced her opposition, then clarified it twice before finally blocking it in the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). In fact, so sure was she that the MMD would not be approved that she proposed a zoning change ordinance for the site two months before the ZBA’s final decision was announced.

To preserve the illusion of a disinterested ZBA making an independent decision, that ordinance was tabled for a couple of months before the change from commercial to residential became law.

But all is not lost for Greengate. The more progressive 49th Ward may become the MMD’s new site. Ald. Joe Moore  is holding a community meeting on Sept. 28 so residents can hear from Bob Kingsley, the owner, about his proposal to locate the MMD at 1930 West Chase (a Rogers).  The site is different from what was proposed for Western, but every bit as attractive:

To quote from Ald. Moore’s announcement,

“Earlier this year, Mr. Kingsley identified a potential site at 1930 W. Chase, located at the northeast corner of Chase and Rogers. For many years, the site was home to Rogers Pantry, a convenience store that primarily sold packaged liquor. Rogers Pantry went out of business several years ago and the building has been standing empty ever since (see photo below).

Until recently, three licenses to operate home day care centers existed within 1,000 feet of the property. For various reasons, none of the license holders actually operated day care centers out of their homes, but because the licenses were on the State’s registry, Mr. Kingsley could not receive a license to operate a dispensary at the Rogers Pantry location until the licenses expired or were withdrawn.” That has now happened.

The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 28, at the Pottawattomie Park Field House, 7340 North Rogers.

 

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Proposed Dispensary Site to Become Private Housing

As regular readers know, the alderman was adamantly opposed to the opening of a medical marijuana dispensary at 6501 North Western Avenue. Unable to give a reason, she fumbled around for several weeks before finally claiming that her opposition was based solely on her belief that such dispensaries should not be located near parks “…where children play.”

The real reason appears to be quite different. It seems that the alderman already had other plans for the site.

Tomorrow, Feb. 9, at 10 a.m., the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards will meet to approve a zoning change requested by the alderman for the site where the dispensary might have stood. Zoning will change from C2-2 Motor Vehicle Commercial District to RS2 Residential Single Unit (Detached House).

The zoning request was referred to the Zoning Committee on October 14, 2015. The dispensary’s application was still on appeal at that point, and the final decision not to hear the appeal was not made until December 18, 2015.

A medical marijuana dispensary that would have employed neighborhood residents, primarily veterans of the U.S. Armed Services and the disabled, was blocked by the alderman in favor of building one or more private houses that will no doubt be beyond the financial reach of most neighborhood residents.

Current ownership of the lot could not be verified because the Assessor’s Web site could not be accessed. It will be interesting to see who buys the property (now officially “Off Market,” per Loop Net), who develops it, and who buys the house(s).  Lot size is reportedly 10,000 sq. ft. so it’s possible that more than one house will be built.

Whether or how the existence of private housing immediately next to Warren Park will affect future events in the park is unknown.

You can bet there’ll be donations to the right political coffers. In a ward whose alderman operates with such a complete lack of transparency, and whose behind-the-scenes maneuverings are so well-known, it’s always best to follow the money.

This farce is another example of the alderman’s version of economic development:  If it works for the few and the moneyed, it’s a good thing.

Chicago Municipal Code zoning regulations can be found here.

 

2015 Year in Review – Part II

This is the second part of the month-by-month listing of events omitted from the alderman’s 2015 year-end mailer and newsletters. Events from January through June were published on January 13.

July
2906-10 West Devon Lawsuit

  • Ccourt hearing cancelled
  • Defendant-Owner not yet served
  • Two more defendants added to suit (KJS Properties LLC and Centrue Bank)

Devon Community Market

  • Off to strong start, with superb performances from the dancers of Performing Arts Limited and Music House Academy of Music and Dance
  • Good selection of vendors

Town Hall Meeting

  • Alderman hosts annual meeting with constituents
  • Speakers from City government and local CAPS office address residents’ concerns about rats, flooding, crime, and other problems
  • Alderman introduces speakers. but contributes little to discussion
  • Some of ward’s most affluent residents express dismay over presence of homeless people walking on streets and blocking access to parking garage driveways as well as having cell phones (i.e., folks living under a bridge in Lincolnwood not quite poor enough); police action requested
    • Stunning lack of compassion for fellow human beings leads to involvement of social workers, who relocate homeless people to shelters, out of sight of offended well-to-do residents

August
2906-10 West Devon

  • Court hearing cancelled
  • Defendant-Owner served August 27, after hearing date

Devon Community Market

  • Annual slide into irrelevance begins as customers and vendors fail to show up

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • Alderman hosts community meeting with Bob Kingsley, owner of Green Gate Compassion Center, who outlines plans for MMD and engages residents in discussion
  • Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) votes 2-1 to grant tentative approval to Green Gate Compassion Center
  • Board member Sheila O’Grady, former chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley, absent; will vote later

India Day

  • Organizers set up performance area six feet from residential housing; hours of loud, screeching entertainment force nearby residents from homes
  • Organizers once again fail to meet City requirements for public performance events
    • fail to notify nearby residents in advance of proposed concert
      • residents denied opportunity to object to rock concert-level loudness of musical performances
    • fail to notify residents of street closures
      • street signs not installed until late afternoon
      • street signs not properly placed, permitting traffic to enter Washtenaw at Arthur but not to exit except through east-west alleys
    • fail to obtain permit to exceed City’s noise regulations

 LEARN Coalition

  • Coalition launched to begin process of fundraising and site selection for new Northtown library
    • Founding groups include West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, North Boundary Home Owners League, Rogers Park Business Alliance, West Rogers Park Community Organization, and Jewish Community Council
    • Official name is Library Enhancement and Renovation of Northtown (LEARN)

September
Friends of the Northtown Library

  • Group organized by Pete Sifnotis to raise funds to support library programs
  • First meeting plans two-day book sale to benefit library

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • ZBA Board member Sheila O’Grady votes against MMD; zoning change denied
  • ZBA not at full strength; one position unfilled; 2-2 tie vote appealed by Green Gate lawyer
  • Pot bust in Warren Park at 4 p.m., when and where children play; three adults, two teenagers, several pipes, and bag of drugs taken into police custody
    • Police at park because of report of man with handgun

Economic Development News

  • Building leveled at Pratt & Western
  • Alderman announces she knows nothing about site plans

October
2906-10 West Devon

  • Various affidavits and summonses issued
  • Case returned to management call

Devon Community Market

  • Market Manager holds community meeting to discuss reorganization
  • Six residents attend

 Devon Streetscape

  • Phase 3 of streetscape (Western to Rockwell) completed without fanfare
    • No ribbon-cutting, cameras, or aldermanic presence marks occasion
    • Alderman schedules no appearance by or pictures with Mayor enmeshed in Laquan McDonald scandal

Devon Arts Festival

  • Collaborative Palette Project organized by Richard Trumbo, owner of Music House, as part of Chicago Artists Month
  • Residents enjoy collaborative art projects and musical entertainment
  • Arts celebration expected to become annual community event

November
In Re Estate of McDonald

  • Alderman announces she “watched in disbelief the video of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald….”
  • Now believes “…there needs to be a more detailed investigation…”
  • Now agrees “…that the U.S. Justice Department [should] intervene”
  • Does not refer to nor explain her April vote to pay McDonald family hush money to make matter go away

Devon Community Market

  • Market Manager tells me market must remain on Devon (within SSA district), retain current name, and remain in current parking lot location
    • Who made boneheaded decision not stated

2906-10 West Devon

  • All parties finally served
  • Lawyer for defendants files appearances
  • Court hearings to be determined

Friends of the Northtown Library

  • Friends group hosts successful two-day book sale
  • Raises more than $1,000 to support library programming

 Ward Committeeman Election

  • Important unpaid position responsible for overseeing integrity of elections
  • George Milkowski is Green Party candidate for committeeman
  • Pete Sifnotis is Republican candidate for committeeman
  • Alderman’s husband to run as Democratic candidate again; re-election guaranteed; family’s hold on power to continue
    • After February election, Silverstein family pettiness ensured precinct assistants disappear from some precincts that did not support alderman
    • Election judges in those precincts denied traditional largesse of morning coffee, lunch, and end-of-day candy as thank-you gift for long day
    • Bernie Stone’s example of grace in power lost on raptor-like Silversteins

December
Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • Final rejection of 50th Ward MMD when newest commissioner, Jenner & Block attorney and Preckwinkle ally Blake Sercye, votes against economic development opportunity for 50th Ward
    • Alderman’s behind-the-scenes role unclear

Ward Committeeman Election

  • Silverstein in-law challenges Sifnotis nominating petitions
  • Sifnotis knocked off ballot

Economic Development News

  • Another dreary holiday season on Devon marked by absence of holiday decorations and seasonal joy
    • Sparse strings of lights wound around bare light poles from Maplewood to Rockwell and Mozart to Sacramento provide clue that holidays occurring
    • Lack of interest in acknowledging other people’s holidays continues to negatively affect sales performance of former premiere shopping district
    • Residents leave ward for holiday shopping and nonresidents shop elsewhere
  • Streetscape fails to attract shoppers

Goodbye to all that.

 

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Another Rejection for West Ridge MMD

The Green Gate Compassion Center, a licensed medical marijuana dispensary that would have been located on Western Avenue next to Warren Park, has been denied  reconsideration of its application by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

According to DNA Info, this time the vote was 5-0 against, instead of the 2-2 tie that blocked its original application. The online newspaper also reports that Alderman Silverstein opposed reconsideration.

The fifth vote against Green Gate was cast by the newest member of the Board, Blake Sercye, an attorney with Jenner & Block. He ran for Cook County Board Commissioner in 2014 and lost, although he had the backing of both the Mayor and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Widespread community support, jobs for residents, nearly $500,000 to be invested in property improvements, and relief of pain and suffering for patients authorized to receive medical marijuana were all meaningless to the ZBA, swept aside by the alderman’s insistence on misapplying the law and the well-rehearsed testimony of a child.

The denial of the request for reconsideration is yet another example of the alderman’s indifference to building economic opportunity in the 50th Ward as well as her practice of overruling community input and doing what she wants regardless of the community’s wishes.

Read the full article here.

MMD Denied for 50th Ward

The Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday denied a permit to the Green Gate Compassion Center to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the 50th Ward.  Because of an existing vacancy on the five-member board, the vote deadlocked at 2-2, with Shelia O’Grady casting the second vote against.  O’Grady was appointed to the Board in 2013, and formerly served as Chief of Staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Members of the Board are appointed by the Mayor. It’s not clear how business can be conducted without a full Board. The term of the fifth member of the ZBA, Catherine Budzinski, an architect, expired in May 2015. The Mayor has not yet named a replacement.

This is a stunningly stupid decision. Although the alderman did not declare herself against the clinic at the ZBA hearing, she had voiced her opposition to it for several months. She and her supporters carried the day, despite the fact that hundreds of residents who supported the clinic signed a petition and appeared at the hearing.

It should be clear now that economic development in the 50th Ward will not occur under this alderman. A business that would have invested nearly half a million dollars in property improvements and hired residents could not open because of the alderman’s opposition.

It’s an indefensible shame.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Tentatively Approved

Friday’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing was an interesting lesson in Chicago politics. Despite a well-reasoned, thoughtful, thorough presentation by Bob Kingsley and his attorney, Thomas Moore, the Zoning Board of Appeals gave only tentative approval for the opening of the Green Gate Compassion Center at 6501 North Western Avenue, next door to Warren Park. For awhile, it appeared that the Board would defer to Ald. Silverstein and a well-rehearsed if bewildered supporting cast of wide-eyed children and deny Mr. Kingsley’s application.

If supporters do not continue to press for approval, that is exactly what will happen. The vote is currently 2 in favor, 1 (plus the alderman) opposed. Only one other member of the ZBA is scheduled to review the transcript and exhibits. If that person votes against, the score will be 2-2. Does that mean another hearing packed with kids?

There were three applications for medical marijuana dispensaries before the Board, the 50th Ward’s being last on the agenda. What happened with the first two was a clear indication of how things are done in this City. It’s well-known that aldermen control zoning in their wards, and that it’s next to impossible to obtain a zoning change if the alderman is opposed. Just ask Zehra Quadri.

First-term Alderman Napolitano of the 41st Ward, to the surprise of the attorney representing the MMD applicant for his ward, Union Group of Illinois, asked for and was granted a continuance because the alderman felt he hadn’t yet gauged the sense of the community on the issue, despite a continuance on this matter from May and an entire summer in which he could have done so. Is public support running against the alderman? He didn’t say. Although the attorney protested that Union Group had been given no notice that the alderman would be seeking a continuance, and had flown in witnesses to testify before the ZBA, and was fully ready to present its case, the Board ruled for the alderman.

Next up was Harborside Illinois Grown Medicine, which sought approval to operate in the 8th Ward. The City Council chamber was packed with over 100 residents from the 8th Ward, the majority carrying commercially-produced signs in opposition. A hand-count by the ZBA toted up 35 residents in support, and 65-70 opposed. Despite a forceful statement by an 8th Ward resident and attorney in support of the proposal, the case was continued until November 20. One of the concerns raised by opponents was the alleged criminal background of the applicant. Another was the fact that the community felt the dispensary applicant had not appeared at community meetings to discuss the proposed business.  The Board’s chairman, Jonathan Swain, speaking to the attorney, noted that, “at the May hearing, you didn’t have any opposition. Now you do.” The alderman for that ward said she’d listen to the community. Case continued.

The 50th Ward was next. All objectors were asked to move to the right side of the room to prepare for testimony; the five adults and 7-8 children did so.

The kids had moved to seats behind me while we waited for the session to start. Only the oldest boy—about 10—could read well enough to find the 50th Ward hearing on the agenda. I turned around asked the kids why they were there. They said their uncle brought them. I asked if they opposed or supported the dispensary. They were firmly opposed, but didn’t know why. The oldest boy offered that “they want to put a drug store in my park.” The kids then went for their uncle. He had been at the May meeting, was warmly greeted at that time by the alderman, but would not speak with me. This time, he told me that he fears for his children if the dispensary is permitted.

He had no qualms, however, about using his children as stage props, rehearsing and coaching them to speak on adult matters they couldn’t possibly understand. Indeed, except for the oldest boy, they were there simply to represent the loss of innocence that their families are sure will occur should medical marijuana be sold in a safe and secure building alongside the park. The families did not express any fears or knowledge of the illicit drugs presently available in that same park or, indeed, throughout the 50th Ward.

Swain began by noting that the City’s Department of Planning had recommended approval of Mr. Kingsley’s application. The alderman was invited to speak her piece, and she said that the application was “somewhat controversial,” that calls and emails to her office indicated that residents were “equally divided” pro and con, with very strong opinions on both sides. Then it was Mr. Kingsley’s turn to present his case for approval.

He and Mr. Moore presented their plans for the site via slide show, with two of the three ZBA members asking questions at every step. Mr. Kingsley and his attorney were well-prepared with answers, stressing the usual points:

Nothing would indicate that the building is a medical marijuana dispensary. No signage would say anything other than the dispensary name, Green Gate Compassion Center.

  • Vehicle entry is through a boom arm, exactly the same as what’s used at parking facilities and banks around the country.
  • Admission to the building itself will be controlled by an armed security guard, who will permit only patients and a parent or parents (in the case of a pediatric patient) into the facility. Admission is by fingerprint ID only. Patients must also have the State-issued MMD card and a valid prescription written by an Illinois doctor.
  • The MMJ is in locked cases, and stored in a vault at night.
  • Trucks delivering MMJ would do so via a locked and fully-secured sally port required by the City.
  • Staff will be searched by guards when leaving for the day to ensure that no inventory leaves with them.
  • Thillens has agreed to handle the dispensary’s cash. It will be recorded in such a way that it becomes Thillens’ property on intake.
  • Kingsley is currently in discussions with Millenium Bank in Palatine and First National Bank in Springfield to handle noncash transactions. Currently, Federal banks will not accept deposits from MMDs.
  • Kingsley is working on setting up a debit card arrangementt for his patients.

Both the head of security and the designer of the dispensary’s security systems spoke about the extensive attention paid to safeguard patients and inventory, which will be counted every day and secured in a vault every night.

The opponents were next. The first three spoke in Spanish, with translation provided by the Board.

Two of the speakers were related to the children now sitting behind them. They insisted that the MMD would imperil their children, that just walking past it on their way to the park would endanger the kids. They kept repeating that kids are curious, that they would want to know what the building is and what the people going inside were doing there. They are convinced that patients will go directly into the park and smoke marijuana, and would toss the roach butts on the ground for the curious children to pick up. One speaker said she supports medical marijuana but doesn’t want the dispensary near the park. The children’s uncle wanted to know if anybody would want an MMD next to their home. He claimed that the MMD should not be a business decision but a decision about children and their future.

The oldest boy, later in the hearing, after visibly being coached by his family, broke into the pro-dispensary testimony to beg the Board not to approve the MMD, claiming that he is “scared of strangers and scared to say no” if patients try to force him to take marijuana. He backed up his uncle’s claim that he would be afraid to walk to the park past the MMD in case patients tried to force their marijuana on him. Not surprisingly, the alderman chimed in to say that it occurred to her that many parents would stop bringing their children to the park if the dispensary were approved.  Both claims are preposterous.

Annie Sindlear, a resident whose children accompanied her to the hearing, pointed out that all the security at Green Gate couldn’t help but make the park safer, and that she had no fears for her children.

Another issue raised by opponents and the alderman is that there are three playgrounds in the park that might be harmed by the presence of the dispensary. Supporters noted that two of the three playgrounds are on the north end of the park, at Pratt, and the third is far enough north of the dispensary and east of Western that no possible harm could be inflicted by the presence of the MMD. [The MMD would be closer to Arthur & Western, with the Pratt playgrounds more than two blocks north.] Indeed, opponents were unable to demonstrate any way in which the dispensary could harm children or adults.

Another speaker expressed concern for seniors, saying that increased traffic brought to the park by the dispensary would endanger seniors crossing the street. Speaking as a senior myself, I must say that we have a lifetime of experience crossing the street, are usually more careful than younger people who tend to dart into traffic, and are quite apable of managing to cross busy streets.

One neighborhood resident claimed that the MMD would be in an “isolated” area with lots of trees and bushes where unsuspecting patients would be ambushed by thugs for their cash on the way into the dispensary, and their medical marijuana on the way out. She claimed that there is little pedestrian traffic around the proposed site of the MMD. This claim makes no sense whatever. Opponents can’t have it both ways. If there’s no foot traffic, how are people, including children, getting into the park? Does everybody enter at Pratt? If so, then what’s the problem? They won’t be passing the dispensary building anyway.

The truth is that anyone can buy pot in Warren Park right now, along with a wide variety of other drugs.  I’ve noticed that the police have recently made arrests involving heroin, and that’s of far more concern than the sale of marijuana for medical purposes. Maybe the alderman’s next multijurisdictional task force can target the park and get rid of the illicit drugs sold where children play.

Speaking in support, Peter Sifnotis, Executive Director of POWR (People of West Ridge), made a case for the economic development the MMD would bring, stressing Mr. Kingsley’s commitment to hiring veterans and the disabled from the two wards in his licensed district (the 49th and 50th). He briefly reviewed the reasons for the legalization of medical marijuana in Illinois, and noted its success in treating a wide variety of diseases. Sifnotis also presented the Board with a petition signed by more than 155 neighborhood residents in support of the MMD.

The Epilepsy Foundation of Chicago submitted a letter in support of the dispensary, and its representative briefly spoke of its benefits for patients.

As one neighborhood resident, Paul, said to me after the meeting, “It’s not always all about the children. Some things are for adults.”

It’s unclear why the alderman is so determined to block this initiative. She claims to support the use of medical marijuana, yet manufactured a concern about children playing in the park in an effort to prevent the dispensary from opening. She has enlisted he support of well-meaning but clearly uninformed families to lead the charge. Opponents are emotionally invested in looking after other people: It’s about protecting the children. It’s about protecting seniors. It’s about protecting the patients.

In reality, it’s about protecting themselves from a changing world they don’t quite accept or understand. One speaker claimed that he feared medical marijuana would lead to heron use. It’s the old if-then theory dressed in protective clothing: If this is permitted, then people will want that, and we’re not going down that road.

Except that we are. Pot will be legalized—and taxed–in the near future. Once that happens, the federal banks will get on board because the money will be too much to resist. Once the banks start to accept checks for pot, there’ll be a momentary cosmic shiver, and then the world will settle down again. As with tobacco, legalization will provide research subjects, and people will be able to make informed choices.

And the children will still play in parks, oblivious to it all.