FunFest FlimFlam

FunFest was a wild success for children but a total bust as a business booster for Devon businesses. It showcases once again the absence of leadership in the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce as well as its desperation. It plans events like this in an effort to make itself a presence in the community while failing completely in its mission of business development. The Chamber’s inability to secure participation from any storekeepers on Devon turned the heavily-publicized event into a children’s party.

FunFest organizers publicized the event as having “two miles of sidewalk sales” plus free children’s activities and live music for adults. The press release further invited fest-goers to visit our “300 restaurants and 25 bakeries” as an added inducement. How pathetic: we lack middle-class shopping so we invite folks to visit our bakeries. Remember—this is the Chamber of Commerce speaking.  Such wildly preposterous claims are just part of the Chamber’s plague of image and effectiveness problems. [Familiar with the Chamber’s exaggerations, I checked its figures, which, predictably, were three times higher than the actual numbers.] 

The fest was attended by a couple hundred children, who had a great time with games, face painting, and other activities. The music was way too loud, as usual, and played at a level guaranteed to damage the hearing of kids who stayed too long or got too close. But the fest was held in the poor part of the ward, and the Chamber–to the extent it considered the effect of the decibel level on children at all, which is doubtful–knows that poor people, in this case almost all immigrants from countries with worse educational systems than our own, don’t know about these things. Then, too, the elevated speakers were directed at housing, not at participants, and nobody’s thinking about the kids’ hearing at this kind of event.  What’s a little hearing loss if it means a new account for the bank? Priorities, please.

As far as boosting business, the Chamber failed utterly. No stores participated in the sidewalk sales event. Not one. I traveled both sides of Devon for over an hour and found empty sidewalks. This was to be expected, since the Chamber’s repeated attempts to get merchants to participate in the Devon Community Market also went nowhere. Merchants tell me that there’s nothing the Chamber can do for them. They’re right. It’s completely irrelevant, its activities, such as they are, nothing more than blundering attempts to get noticed. The Chamber supposedly exists as business development experts, not as party planners. You’d never know it.

Successful chambers of commerce, such as those in neighboring wards, work with development-minded aldermen to support the community through business recruitment and development. By encouraging economic progress that creates jobs for residents and strengthens residents’ ties to local commerce, chambers of commerce help build the loyalty that turns neighbors into repeat customers who keep businesses profitable. So there’s already one problem: our alderman has zero interest in business development, thus our rudderless Chamber lacks vision or direction. Strike one.

Call the Chamber and ask how many businesses there are in the ward. I’ll save you the trouble: They don’t know. Oh, they can tell you how many business licenses there are—that’s an easy look-up–but that’s not the same thing.  Ask them what kinds of businesses have set up shop here. They don’t know that, either. How many of a given type of store are here? Duh.  Is there a West Ridge business directory? Yes—but only of the approximately 200 businesses that belong to the Chamber. Two hundred—in a ward with over 1,500 businesses.  Does the Chamber have an active business recruitment program?  How does the Chamber sell the neighborhood to prospective businesses? What is the Chamber doing to alleviate the parking problem?  Would the Chamber’s time be better directed to attracting and retaining commerce than hiring face-painters? Strike two.

As regular readers know, the parking lot at Republic Bank lacks both PPA and PVA licenses. Both live and canned music were blasted at yesterday’s event in violation of City law. I asked Barbara Singal, the Chamber’s Executive Director, if she had a permit for the music She showed me two sheets of paper, one clearly labeled “Application for Permit” and the other purportedly a letter from the alderman in support of the event. Singal claimed “the commissioner” had signed the permit. When I attempted t get out my glasses to read the documents myself, she took them out of my hands and replaced them in her tote bag. I suspect they’re bogus but asked her to email the documents to me; we’ll see if she does.

In the meantime, tell me how you’d feel if this were blasted in your direction for several hours on an otherwise lovely late summer afternoon.

Where Singal and Robert Taylor, the bank’s manager and this year’s Chamber president, live, this kind of children’s event is held in the local park so it won’t disturb residents enjoying their yards on one of the last summer Sundays. Aren’t my neighbors and I entitled to the same consideration? Do you think Silverstein would write a letter in support of such an event where she lives? When children behave this way, we call it bullying and tell them why it’s wrong. When aldermen and those who derive their power from aldermen do it, it’s still bullying and it’s still wrong. They must be held accountable for it. Strike three.

Silverstein is a city official sworn to uphold the law. If a permit was obtained, strings were pulled to get it. It’s also possible that Singal and Taylor were bluffing; this may be why the papers were snatched away before I could read them. The blasting yesterday—the 27th musical performance in the lot—is just the latest in a pattern of abusive behavior for which the bank, the Chamber, Singal, Taylor, and the alderman must be held accountable.

It appears that it will take legal action to get the parties involved to behave lawfully. Abuse should never be tolerated, especially when it comes from people with access to political power that they think confers immunity from responsibility for their actions

Fore more information on loud music and hearing damage in children, click here.

 

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FunFest in Need of Volunteers

I hear that FunFest, sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, the Silversteins, SSA #43, and a few businesses and community organizations, needs volunteers who can help support the event, scheduled for the Republic Bank parking lot on August 28.

This is the same crowd that made such a mess of the Devon Community Market. They never learn from their mistakes. The neighborhood has never shown any support for non-events like this, so organizers have combined it with a sidewalk sale. If you need suitcases, phone cards, hookahs, cheap trinkets, or fruits and vegetables, this sale’s for you. If you’re looking for the “international shopping” the promoters are claiming, go somewhere else. Buying cucumbers and lottery tickets from vendors from different cultures does not quality as international shopping, but getting the powers-that-be to understand this is impossible.

There’s no better example of the poor thinking and lack of imagination of this event’s organizers than in the decision to once again use the Republic Bank parking lot as an illegal entertainment venue. Let’s set aside for a moment the blatant disregard for nearby residents or the arrogance on display in ignoring both the law and common decency. After all, the Silversteins’ co-sponsorship makes the law what they say it is; the fact that they and their neighbors wouldn’t tolerate this disrespect for a second just adds insult to injury.

Instead, let’s look at this from a practical standpoint: using this lot for entertainment prevents it from being used for parking. This is so typical of the way this group thinks–plan an event to attract hundreds of shoppers, then close the second-largest parking facility in the area so it can be used for face-painting. The sheer stupidity of it is mind-boggling.

If you’d like to volunteer, please contact the Chamber. It needs all the help it can get.

 

 

 

NIMBY – And I Don’t Care WHO Says It’s OK

Yesterday the Republic Bank on Devon held its first recycling event. Bank Manager Robert Taylor described it as “something nice for the neighborhood,” but that depends on where you live and how you spend your Sunday mornings. In my opinion, waking up to recycling trucks is not the best way to start the day, especially when the trucks are located directly alongside residential housing. It’s yet another example of the Bank’s utter disregard for its closest neighbors. The fact that Taylor is this year’s president of the Chamber of Commerce only makes it worse.

Devon Bank holds these recycling events several times a year in its parking lot on Western. It, too, has residential housing directly across the alley, but Devon Bank’s executives take care to locate the noisy trucks closer to Western than to housing, leaving plenty of room for vehicles to move in and out. Devon Bank’s courtesy toward its neighbors is not shared by Republic Bank.

When I asked Taylor why the trucks were located at the north end of the Republic lot—closest to housing—he replied, “I didn’t think it would be a problem.”  Really??When I asked if he’d stand for having these trucks alongside his home, he raised his arm and pointed to his watch. “It’s 9 ‘clock,” he said, and then added “Is there anything we can do to please you?” This was a reference to my past complaints about the number of noisy events held in what neighbors were assured was “just a parking lot” when it was built in 2012.

The Bank miscalculated when it built the lot, tearing down that part of its building that housed rent-paying tenants, like medical, accounting, and real estate offices while hoping to cash in on the street scape. Grateful shoppers show their resentment at paying for parking by cheating the Bank in every possible way, including breaking the gates so they don’t have to pay. Transforming the space into an unlicensed play lot won’t save it.

It’s been home to the Devon Community Market, with its live and canned music blasting from huge speakers, and several live concerts sponsored by the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA).  There is only one properly-licensed venue on Devon for this kind of event, but the Chamber and the other groups won’t use it. Instead, all of these events have been staged without proper permits or licensing directly across the alley from residences.

I realize that the Bank would like to increase its presence in the community as a way to increase its business. Nothing wrong with that, but using its parking lot as an entertainment center while ignoring the laws that govern such things is simply wrong. It could choose to perform other services for the community, like sponsoring kid’s sports teams. It’s not going to increase business by annoying people.

The parking lot is not zoned for performances of any kind. This presupposes, of course, that one of the alderman’s patented stealth zoning changes has not already occurred. I am still searching the City’s zoning records to be certain, and so far have not found any changes. I can say with certainty that no warning of an impending zoning change has ever been issued to nearby residents, but this reflects only the standard lack of transparency about these things in this Ward and does not relate to whether any such changes are planned or pending.

Most of my neighbors have given up trying to be heard in the councils of power that decide how we all live with this lot. Others have made accommodations—they put up with the noise without complaint in exchange for some benefit that only the powers-that-be can grant. Some even believe that it’s better not to complain to avoid the retribution that so often accompanies standing up for one’s rights. Unfortunately, when enough people choose silence in the face of abuse by the powerful, the abuse gets worse.

No person or group that sponsored any musical or “special” event in the Republic Bank parking lot in the past three years has applied for the City’s Special Events Permit. That’s because City law requires sponsoring groups to submit a written plan in advance advising the City on the sponsor’s plans for bus reroutes, garbage disposal, general clean-up, street closures, food service, and other aspects of the event. Other applications and licenses may also be needed, depending on the event’s specific activities. These groups simply act as if they have all the authority they need. Many assert that the alderman is fully aware of their event and approves of it.

Why would anybody think the alderman can approve breaking the law? Or that her knowledge of an illegal event implies consent?

I attended a January workshop held by the City’s Licensing Department to learn what licensing is required to sponsor a public entertainment event. I learned that, BEFORE applying for the DCASE application, one must first ensure that the chosen venue is appropriately licensed by the City. Furthermore, aldermen may not interfere with the licensing process, in other words, they may not intervene in favor of an applicant nor waive the licensing requirements.

This is the biggest hurdle for sponsors and organizers: musical events can be staged only at venues that hold a Public Place of Amusement (PPA) license. The Bank parking lot doesn’t have one and cannot get one because such a venue requires a distance of at least 125 feet from residential housing. The only place on Devon with a PPA license is Bombay Hall, below street level at the site of the old Hillman’s. Not surprisingly, organizers want their events at street level, in hopes of attracting crowds. If this means trampling on residents’ rights, they don’t care.

These events tend to be staged at night and on weekends, when City offices regulating noise control and licensing are closed. Complainers are referred to the alderman, who isn’t available nights or weekends, although you can leave a message and she’ll get back to you when the event is over. This presents a problem for law enforcement, which cannot shut down these illegal events because (a) complainants are accused of racism; and (b) the event organizers claim they have the alderman’s permission. Any cop who even tried to stop one of these illegal events would no doubt find himself walking a beat in Englewood within the hour.

I talked with one man supervising the concert who told me that they didn’t have to apply for any permits because “…the City takes care of everything.” Howdoes it do that when it’s not aware the event is scheduled? Well, Washtenaw Avenue was suddenly closed in mid-afternoon, after the concert started, when drivers learned that the parking lot was closed to traffic. They were permitted to enter Washtenaw at Arthur, but did not learn they couldn’t exit until informed by  a sign hastily posted at the east-west alley,  Event organizers didn’t care.

These concerts, by the way, are set up beginning at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Huge tractor-trailers block our alley while barrels of supplies roll down metal ramps, men shout instructions at one another, tents are erected, the stage constructed, food tables and audience chairs are set up, speakers tested—all of this occurring ten feet from sleeping residents. Most of my neighbors are not about to tangle with a couple dozen arrogant, physically-powerful men hauling barrels and heavy equipment around a parking lot at that hour of the morning. Isn’t physical intimidation a form of bullying?

Neither this year’s Indian Independence Day concert nor the extensively-publicized FunFest sponsored by the alderman and West Ridge Chamber of Commerce—both scheduled over the next three weeks—have applied for any special use permits from the City. Neither has met the statutory requirement of notifying nearby neighbors 30 days before the event that it has been scheduled. Using FOIA, I asked the City’s Department of Special Events and Cultural Affairs (DCASE) for copies of any and all applications for special use permits for events to be held in the Republic Bank Parking Lot. As of August 5, none have been located.

FunFest is an especially interesting case study of what’s wrong with the Chamber of Commerce and its approach to economic development. And it’s yet another event that lacks the proper permits yet enjoys the alderman’s sponsorship.

It all begins with a little-known taxing district that is the subject of tomorrow’s post.

 

Business & Community Fair in West Ridge

The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Republic Bank to sponsor an event built around the theme “Protecting Your Financial and Personal Health,” set to take place on Wednesday, April 6, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Republic Bank (2720 West Devon).

Vendors include the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the Devon Avenue SSA (Special Services Area) #43, the Small Business Majority, an advocacy group with ties to the Democratic Party, and vendors championing immigrant rights: The Indo-American Center (various services); Apna Ghar (Our Home, fighting gender-based violence in immigrant communities); the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI), as well as the Pak-American Medical Center (free health services).

The selection of vendors does not necessarily suggest that business owners and entrepreneurs as well as residents from other communities within West Ridge would be unwelcome. The event’s flyer notes that information will be provided about “…many services that are offered free to the public,”  and we all have an interest in utilizing the services provided by our tax dollars.

The SSA, for example, covers both sides of Devon from Damen on the east to Kedzie on the west as well as Western Avenue from Arthur to Granville. Quietly renewed (meaning no public notice to residents)  in 2014, the SSA impacts property taxes for residents as well as business owners, and overlaps with the current Devon-Western TIF district.

Perhaps the next fair could broaden its offerings, thus attracting business owners and residents from various other ethnic groups.  We can’t celebrate the diversity we talk about if we exclude 80% of the neighborhood.

Building community is everybody’s business.

 

 

So Much for Snow Shoveling

The City absolutely, positively requires that business and residential property owners remove snow from their sidewalks. You’d think such a courtesy would be a matter of common sense for business owners. You’d be wrong.

Yesterday I watched a senior citizen in a wheelchair get stuck in the icy slush build-up at an intersection on Devon. None of the businesses had shoveled their walks, the CTA had not shoveled its bus stop, and the alderman’s snow corps had not shoveled anywhere, at least not east of California. Luckily, another senior was able to dig him out and help him into the street, where he at least had some chance of getting to his destination. He was furious, and demanded to know why businesses no longer seem to have any sense of responsibility.

It’s a good question. There was a time when businesses put out a little extra effort to turn passers-by into customers. Not anymore.

In my area, only a few businesses and landlords bother to shovel sidewalks, let alone intersections. Take my favorite screw-the-community business, Republic Bank.

Every year the snowplows remove every speck of snow from the bank’s huge parking lot and its ATM. Every year the snowplows park the snow on the 6400 blocks of both Washtenaw and Fairfield, always in parking spaces. Neighbors lost four parking spaces when the lot and ATM were constructed, but the bank needs more. And takes it. This year it took over one space on Washtenaw, even though there’s plenty of room in its lot to put the snow. The snowplow driver created a wall of snow behind one car on Fairfield, and this action has created an inaccessible end-of-street parking space.

Did I mention the plow did its work after 10:00 p.m.? And that the truck came back at midnight to plow yet another parking area behind the bank, and dumped this snow in the alley, creating a barrier that other drivers had to remove so they could get home/get to work? Or that as usual the bank neglected to shovel snow from one part of the sidewalk at its ATM, the part that’s even harder to maneuver since the ATM snow gets dumped there, too? Or that the bank couldn’t rouse itself to shovel out the intersections at the corners of its property on Devon and the E-W alley so pedestrians can get by?

There’s enough room on this huge property for the bank to put this snow. You’d think making crossing the street easier for pedestrians and not inconveniencing the neighbors would be a no-brainer.

You’d be wrong.

 

India Day Organizers Stick It to Residents Again

This morning shortly after 6 a.m. the noisy set-up for the India Day celebration began in the Republic Bank parking lot. Once again, there will be an over-amplified hours-long concert. Once again, political muscle–and money–have triumphed over common decency. Once again, the event’s organizers have openly expressed their contempt for nearby residents. This being Saturday, neither the DCASE offices nor the alderman’s office can be reached, and since both signed off on this disrespectful production it’s doubtful either would stop it.

Part of the DCASE application asks about noise and its control: “Will electronic sound amplification equipment or a public address system be used at the event? If yes, Indicate, on the Site Plan, the location of the stages and sound systems, the location and direction of all speakers, and the proximity to residential addresses.” The application also asks for the hours during which the amplified noise will occur, and what plans the organizers have for controlling the noise. I don’t know what the organizers told DCASE, but they set up their soundstage directly across the alley from residential housing. Were the organizers, DCASE staff, and the alderman indifferent to the placement of the soundstage?  Yep. It’s not outside their homes.

Completed audience and soundstage set-up for 2015 India Day celebration in Republic Bank parking lot. Note that soundstage is directly in front of residential housing, separated only by an alley.

Final set-up for audience and soundstage for 2015 India Day celebration in Republic Bank parking lot. Note that soundstage is directly in front of residential housing, separated only by an alley.

Audience seats set up facing residential housing on Washtenaw. Sound stage and amplifiers are in far northeast corner of the parking lot.

Audience seats set up facing residential housing on Washtenaw. Sound stage and amplifiers are in far northeast corner of the parking lot.

Soundstage being erected in far northeast corner of parking lot.

Soundstage being erected in far northeast corner of parking lot.

Can you imagine an audience area and sound stage being set up outside the alderman’s home? Or anywhere in her end of the neighborhood? Do you think the organizers of this event would tolerate this outside their homes? Of course not. It’s something the powerful and politically-connected impose on others but wouldn’t tolerate themselves.

Last year’s celebration was handled in the same way. This year, too, there was no advance notice to the residents. No publicity of any kind. Oh, wait. There were posters in some storefronts along Devon that advertised the parade and stated that the Mela (party) would take place in Warren Park beginning at 2:30 p.m. Warren Park?

Look closely at the poster. Just left of center it clearly states that the mela will be held in Warren Park. Did the residents of that pricey area complain? Would the noise be too much for the golfers? Or was it a feint, with the fest planned for the parking lot all along? A required part of the application is a letter from the alderman stating her awareness of plans for the event; the application has to be submitted 45 days prior to the event. That makes it clear that this event was never intended for Warren Park, nor did its organizers have any intention of notifying nearby residents that it would occur in the parking lot again this year. After all, it’s not like the residents on Washtenaw and Fairfield and surrounding areas north and south of Devon have anything to say about being blasted out of their homes for an entire day. Residents don’t matter.

Republic Bank has repeatedly broken its promise to the residents of Fairfield and Washtenaw that its parking lot would be just that–a parking lot, not a concert venue. A couple of years ago, when I complained directly to the alderman about the use of the parking lot for musical events, she looked me right in the eye and said she’d tolerate the noise if it were for the good of the community. I suggested we hold the next concert outside her home. Here’s the current scorecard:

Musical events held outside Silverstein home, past four years:  0
Musical events held outside my home, past four years: 23

The organizers of this event would not accept such disrespect from the eighty percent of West Ridge that is not Indian. Indeed, any and all criticism is immediately denounced as racist and intolerant. But for the India Day organizers to disrespect the non-Indian community? That’s a different story.

The big India Day celebrations and parades this year will take place in the suburbs, in Schaumburg and Naperville, with events also scheduled in Lisle and Hoffman Estates. It may well be that we’ll be seeing an end to the disruption demanded by events like this held on Devon and residential side streets–the bus reroutes, the sidewalk closings, the street shut down for hours for a fast blast of tacky floats, some of which aren’t even identified. As the neighborhood evolves, it may outgrow the notion that we need events like this to draw tourists to businesses that don’t want neighborhood residents as customers. We are currently witnessing the slow death of exclusionary retailing on Devon, and this annual event may also be in its death throes.

To willfully disregard the impact of an event like this on residents is wrong. The Silverstein are counting political contributions, not defending the right of residents to be undisturbed in their own homes. The alderman should serve as a buffer between event organizers and residents who will be directly affected by noise, traffic, and garbage problems. If any such event were scheduled for the area north of Pratt, there would be a community meeting with the event organizers to discuss protecting the rights and property of the residents. Those of us who live closest to Devon don’t get such service. For two years in a row, information about this event has deliberately been kept from that part of the neighborhood most affected by it.

The Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of Chicago should be ashamed of itself for treating members of the West Ridge community with such arrogance and disrespect. So should the alderman, and the management of Republic Bank of Chicago.

For a look at last year’s event, click here for pictures and here for story.

It’s Just a Parking Lot. Part III.

Setting up for first Devon Community Market.

Setting up for first Devon Community Market.

Soundstage, first community market.

Soundstage, first community market. Neither Annie Zander nor Debra Silverstein cared that locating this in the corner on Washtenaw and Devon would aim the music directly at the residential housing. Every time this lot is used for anything other than parking, the residents find out when the set-up starts. Neither the alderman nor the Chamber of Commerce nor the Bank ever bother to communicate with the residents most affected by their plans.

Soundstage speakers and amplifiers.

Soundstage speakers and amplifiers. These were strategically placed to draw maximum attention to the market’s presence. Look at the soundstage page and you can imagine how intrusive this was for the neighbors.

Mattresses dumped outside first community market.

Mattresses dumped outside first community market. You’d think someone from the city or the alderman’s office would have had this trucked away before the market opened. Unfortunately, the E-W alley north of Devon has become a dumping ground.

Community Market garbage.

Community Market garbage.

More garbage from the Community Market.

More garbage from the Community Market.

More garbage from the Community Market.

More garbage from the Community Market. I did speak to Mary Arendts about this and she tried to prevent and eliminate future dumps like this. She was partially successful but you can see the kind of mess the immediate neighbors have to contend with, and it does attract rats.

August 2014 Community Market, 5:15 p.m.

August 2014 Community Market, 5:15 p. Most days there were more people than this, but the 4,000 figure given by Silverstein is simply inaccurate.

It’s Just a Parking Lot. Part II. India Day Celebration

Main seating area.

Main seating area. A couple hundred people ate here and sat here and left the place filthy. The organizers didn’t bother to clean up. The alderman’s office and the sponsoring organization for this event both failed to tell the residents that such an event had been booked right outside our homes.

 

Main seating area after party.

Main seating area after party. It’s hard to believe that anyone would leave such a mess. On the other hand, most of the party-goers don’t live here, so what do they care?

A feast for rats.

A feast for rats. Bad enough that the party’s organizers didn’t clean up, but neither did Republic Bank. This mess was untouched from Saturday afternoon until early Tuesday afternoon, when the parking lot was cleaned for the next day’s community market.

More food garbage for rats.

More food garbage for rats. Again, how could event organizers leave this behind? And why didn’t the Bank clean it up?

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence.

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence. The organizers didn’t see this, either.

Performing area trash left behind.

Performing area trash left behind. Even the performers disrespected the residents.

Empty boxes dumped inside lot along Devon Avenue.

Empty boxes dumped inside lot along Devon Avenue. There were more boxes like this on the alley side. They weren’t needed anymore, so why bother with them?

Celebrants left this garbage in front of my home.

Celebrants left this garbage in front of my home. This mess came from a family of three. The lady of the house dropped the soda can out the van window while I stood asking her husband if he really intended to throw two water bottles on my parkway. He did.

Cake tossed on the ground.

Cake tossed on the ground. Cake packs like this were everywhere and left exactly where they’d fallen or been tossed.

A lot of this trash blew straight down Devon and down Washtenaw as well as into the alley.

A lot of this trash blew straight down Devon and down Washtenaw as well as into the alley.

It’s Just a Parking Lot. Part I.

Earth movers at work, seven-thirty a.m.

Earth movers at work, 7:30 a.m. Demolition and reconstruction work often started before 6:30 a.m. City law prohibits construction noise before 8 a.m. but the Bank and its contractors didn’t care.

Dumpster blocking alley.

Dumpster blocking alley. Trucks and dumpsters often blocked alleys during the hours when residents were trying to get to and from work.

Truck parked on Fairfield during parking lot construction.

Truck parked on Fairfield during parking lot construction. This truck not only damaged trees, but the driver ignored the “No Parking” sign which was there so the street could be cleaned. This stretch of it wasn’t.

Tree damage from truck.

Tree damage from truck. A few branches were knocked off. This was typical of the respect shown to neighbors by the construction foremen.

Laborers working construction site at 7 a.m.

Laborers working construction site at 7 a.m. Workers were often there as early as 6 a.m. to prepare the site for the day’s work. This meant dragging and throwing bricks, wood, metal rods, etc. and moving equipment, all well before the City’s mandated start time of 8 a.m.

ATM Landscaping.

ATM Landscaping. The Bank’s blueprints apparently specified that curbs be constructed to protect customers’ cars from mud, but no such courtesy was extended to nearby residents. Every time it rains we get mud and floods.

ATM site during the day.

ATM site during the day. Every day I ask myself if Silverstein would have permitted this alongside her home.

ATM by night.

ATM by night. Notice that it’s so bright that the alley light fixture isn’t needed–or working. We’ve been without a streetlight on Devon & Fairfield since the construction started in 2012. We might get one after the streetscape is finished.

Community Market Garbage

Resdoemts have no protection from the parking lot. Here's the first community market, and the Devon traffic.

Public Event in Parking Lot. This gives you some idea of how close these noisy events are to residential housing. Residents can shut all the doors and windows when the loudspeakers and amplifiers go on, but there’s nothing we can do about set-up and take-down noise or ear-splitting music in our back yards. This view is from my back porch.

 

Rating the Alderman: Communicating with Residents. Part II.

Part I described Silverstein’s first “redevelopment” project in the ward, the demolition of most of Republic Bank’s building on Devon Avenue, its replacement with a parking lot, and the construction of an ATM on a residential side street. Let’s review how well Debra communicated with residents afterwards.

Property owners and residents living directly behind the new Republic Bank parking lot at Washtenaw and Devon were opposed to its construction but our concerns were met with repeated claims by the Bank that “it’s just a parking lot.” This proved to be a lie. There were plans for that lot even before construction began, but, once again, nearby residents were not told of those plans and quality-of-life issues for residents were ignored when those plans were made.

The Bank celebrated the lot’s opening with an hours-long, noisy event that included an over-amplified band. The alderman was present. The noise was necessary to attract shoppers along Devon to the lot. This public event required that an exception be made to the city’s noise ordinance, and it appears the alderman granted it. It was a foretaste of the way  the Bank and the alderman would treat nearby residents in the planning and execution of every subsequent public event held in what is “just a parking lot.”

In July of 2013 the first Devon Community Market was held in the lot, complete with soundstage. Jointly sponsored by the alderman and the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, this public event also required the same noise ordinance exemption.  The market requires at least two hours of set-up, so trucks, vans, and work crews filled the alley outside our homes beginning around 7:30 a.m., with the crews shouting at one another as heavy poles to support tents, tables and chairs, and the soundstage itself were dragged or tossed into the parking lot. Assembly of tents, soundstage, and other areas, complete with hammering, took more than an hour.

The soundstage was set up at the Washtenaw-Devon corner of the parking lot, again to provide maximum exposure and draw shoppers on Devon to the lot. That it was also aimed directly at the residential housing on both Washtenaw and Fairfield was not a concern. Four hours of ear-splitting live musical performances of varying quality occurred on each of the four Sundays the market was open, once each month from July through September.

That first market I went to the lot to talk to whoever was in charge and complain about the loudness of the music. I spoke to both Amie Zander, then-Executive Director of the Chamber, and the alderman. Both told me—and let me quote Zander—“there will be music.” When I asked the alderman if she would want this kind of noise outside her home, she replied that she wouldn’t mind if it was for the good of the community. I suggested she hold the next market where she lives and see if she still felt the same way.

Big mistake. Nobody interferes with this alderman. She may not care if her actions rob you of your sleep, or the peaceful enjoyment of your home, but she cares a lot if you object to her doing so.

The July market was followed by the August India Day celebration. The reviewing stand was moved to Washtenaw and Devon, across the street from the new parking lot, and the musical entertainment—blasted so loudly from tinny speakers that it was past the point of being heard as music—began shortly after 9 a.m. and continued until after the parade in early afternoon. The reviewing stand construction began in early morning, and the concert-size speakers were connected and blasting immediately after. There was no communication with residents about this, either.

After September the lot was quiet. In 2014 the community market was moved to afternoon and set-up did not start until 2 p.m. The soundstage disappeared in favor of low-key musical entertainment.

Then came the 2014 India Day celebration. The alderman who pledged as a candidate that there would be open communication with residents didn’t tell anybody what she and the Chamber had planned for August 17, 2014.

At 6:20 a.m. trailer trucks appeared in the alley alongside residents’ homes. Barrels were rolled down ramps and into the parking lot. Tables and chairs were unloaded, tents were constructed, an entertainment area set up. I spoke to the man in charge, who snapped at me that if I had any complaints I should talk to the alderman—“she gave us permission.” For the next 9 hours, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon that usually saw residents enjoying yards and porches, we were subjected to blasting music, including 7 hours of live musical entertainment complete with concert-size speakers set up across the alley from our homes. Residents from blocks away said they could hear the music plainly.

While the party crew was setting up, the reviewing stand was being assembled across the street. Shortly before 9 a.m., they, too, began blasting. Hundreds of people came to the parking lot to eat and sit under tents while being entertained. They ate, and threw food garbage everywhere. The party’s organizer’s left the garbage where it fell. Why should they care if it feeds rats? They don’t live here. It’s the residents who were left once again to bear the costs of the business community’s indifference to our quality of life and their belief that they and the alderman owe us nothing, not even simple good manners.

The food garbage remained in the parking lot from late Saturday afternoon until the following Tuesday afternoon, when it was cleaned for the next day’s community market.

But Silverstein doesn’t see the garbage, doesn’t see the rats, doesn’t hear the noise, and doesn’t care how residents are affected by any of these things. Why should she?

It’s just a parking lot.

Coming: Silverstein’s Lack of Communication in General