A New Low, Even for Devon

Two bags of garbage hanging from a tree, a new low for Devon.

More photos from a recent walk on Devon on a beautiful Sunday morning can be found on the page “Pigs in the Hood.”


Why Aren’t Parking Laws Enforced on Devon?

Ald. Brendan Reilly wants to increase fines for downtown double-parking to $300 per offense. We should do the same thing for such illegal parking on Devon.

Traffic is routinely blocked up and down Devon as drivers park or wait at bus stops and ntersections. Even worse, many drivers think it’s acceptable to  stop and load groceries in the middle of the street. This is particularly true between Talman and Rockwell, a block with two of the major grocery stores and a corner sweet shop.

This practice is dangerous for bus passengers, who typically have to board and exit the bus in the middle of the street. Passengers using walkers, canes, or wheelchairs are the most inconvenienced . I was on a bus  whose driver had to ask the driver of an illegally parked vehicle–busy reading his newspaper–to move so a passenger in a wheelchair could board. It’s also dangerous to be trapped on the street between traffic and parked or standing vehicles, especially if you use a walker, cane, or wheelchair.

And what about pedestrians, who typically have to dodge cars zooming out from behind the offending vehicles? Drivers often turn down the side streets and blast through residential alleys to try to make up the time they’ve lost in these unnecessary roadblocks.

There’s no reason for supply trucks to be making deliveries through a store’s front door. All the stores have loading docks accessible from the alley. A new grocery opened just east of Washtenaw a few months ago. It’s located just east of the bus stop, and it’s become routine for 18-wheelers to park in the bus lane while delivering products to the store. The loading dock in the back has never been used.

Where are the police? And where is the alderman?

The failure to ensure that parking laws are observed on Devon should be an issue in the aldermanic campaign.


Devon’s “Branding Campaign”

The alderman’s newsletter today asks for comments from the community on a branding campaign that it’s hoped will bring business to Devon Avenue. A project of the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), the Rogers Park Business Alliance, which administers the SSA, and the alderman, you can go to a meeting or take the online survey to give your opinion. I used the online survey. I don’t know that the community’s opinions will matter much, if at all.

It’s clear that lots of time, money, and effort have gone into the branding concept and its expression. But I believe a branding campaign is the wrong approach at this point. Shabby stores, so-so merchandise, vacancies and boarded-up buildings, too many grocery stores and cell phone stores, the absence of true diversity and real choices–these need to be remedied before we start promoting Devon as an international marketplace. The relentless campaigns of the past few years branding Devon as Little India have deprived the merchants east of Western and west of California of recognition and thus real opportunities to build their businesses; they have no representation on the SSA, and the proposed branding campaign doesn’t recognize them either.

I think the first priority is building a business district worth a marketing campaign.

This will be a problem given the alderman’s lack of interest in economic development and the fact that the SSA is run by and for the benefit of Indian business owners. I’ve been tracking the businesses on Devon since 2014, and in that time have found that buildings and storefronts remain vacant for months–even years–before yet another sari shop, cell phone store, or grocery opens. When I check the building ownership for these properties, I find that they are Indian-owned. It’s no accident that only Indian businesses are permitted to rent storefronts on that stretch of Devon.

Devon used to be known all over the City and suburbs for its magnificent retailing. The neighborhood had everything–dress shops, toy shops, restaurants, men’s clothing stores, shoe stores, kids clothing shops, a hobby shop, linen, barber, and beauty shops, Crawford’s Department Store, a stock brokerage, bakeries and cigar stores, among other retailing offerings. In 1974, when Patel Bros. opened its first grocery store on Devon, it was welcomed to the mix. But as Indo-Americans bought the properties along Devon, , only Indian businesses were permitted to rent the storefronts. Do the Indian owners discriminate against non-Indian tenants? Yes, they do. It’s clear, and it’s illegal. I’ve tracked it for too long to believe otherwise. And I’ve talked with at least one non-Indian prospective business owner who wasn’t able to rent.

Maybe the RPBA, the SSA, and the alderman can work on that.

Here’s another hint:

An international marketplace sells quality goods from around the world. Diversity is in the merchandise, not in the merchants.

Devon includes store owners from around the world, but their businesses–which could thrive and become successful–are doomed to failure because they do not get the support and assistance they need. Many  are woefully under-capitalized and need access to funding as well as basic marketing, merchandise display, advertising, and retailing skills.  Devon is not a road in some dusty village where a single store sells everything from milk to suitcases. It’s a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago, and middle class people do not patronize stores with dusty bags of rice in the windows, or sun-faded boxes. If the alderman, the RPBA, or the SSA really want to build a business district rather than promote Little India, they would contact the SBA, the City’s business development office, and the State of Illinois for assistance in creating such training and making such resources available to merchants in the entire SSA area  (Leavitt to Kedzie on Devon, Arthur to Granville on Western).

Creating a “branding campaign” for the current dreary array of vacancies and shabby little shops selling so-so merchandise is a mistake. Mislead people once and you won’t get a second chance.

Build a business district that’s truly remarkable and it will sell itself.

West Ridge #3 in Rat Complaints in Chicago

According to today’s DNA Info, West Ridge ranks third in rat complaints in the City of Chicago. Of the 46,879 resident complaints about rats in 2016, 1,529 came from West Ridge. The 2017 City total is already 1,500 complaints higher than 2016.

The article notes that the areas with the greatest number of complaints also have the highest-density population, the greatest number of restaurants, and the largest amount of trash. Construction also plays a role. To be fair, West Ridge includes parts of the 40th and 48th Wards as well as the 50th.

But doesn’t Devon Avenue immediately come to mind?





Does Devon Need a Hindu Temple?

The owner of Shree Ganesh Hindu temple at 2545 Devon Avenue has applied for a special use permit that would officially make the storefront temple a religious institution and allow it to operate on Devon Avenue regardless of its impact on the neighborhood. The temple and the alderman took care not to alert neighboring residents and will present  the community with another done deal after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) rules in the temple’s favor. This is a foregone conclusion–the alderman backs the plan, yet another example of the way democracy works in Chicago, the ZBA, and the 50th Ward.

Building a Hindu Temple on Devon is a very bad idea and should not simply sail through the approval process without community input.

Understand, I am not opposed to the Hindu temple itself. But Devon is the wrong location for it, it will create severe traffic and parking problems, and the hundreds of tourists who are expected to drive here daily for photo ops will worsen the already heavy air and noise pollution that hang over Devon like clouds some days. It will also drive traffic into residential areas already overburdened by drivers who park haphazardly and shoppers who throw garbage everywhere. Why not build it on Western, which has ample vacant lots for a temple and parking? On a lot that would showcase the 40-foot high rooftop addition and make it easier to photograph without halting traffic?

Oh, wait. When plans were first announced for the temple in late 2016, the daughter of the temple’s owner suggested that only about 150 people would be  expected on a daily basis, about 50 of them living within walking distance. However, she did state clearly that the temple is intended to attract hundreds of tourists to Devon’s Indian shopping area, thus making the temple less about religion than about commerce. Although the family claims that a Hindu temple is needed to bring the community together–this was actually said with a straight face by the temple’s lawyer–its purpose is clearly to draw customers to its owner’s four other businesses.

Despite claims by the temple’s owner that Hindis are increasingly moving to West Ridge, in fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, the Chicago Metropolitan area (defined as Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin) claims only 6,000 Hindu adherents out of a total population of more than 9.4 million people. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2008 Religious Landscape Study, only about 1,300 Hindu live in Illinois, or less than 1% of the population. Less than .7% of the U.S. population identifies as Hindu.

What the temple’s owner hears is not a great clamor crying out for community, but merely the ka-ching of his own cash registers.

I might add that the temple used the Republic Bank parking lot, not zoned for religious observances or public performances, to celebrate the end of yet another unannounced (at least to residents) festival held over Labor Day that required setting up four loudspeakers blasting dance music into the homes of residents living just ten feet away.  The affair had the alderman’s full support. The current festival that began on September 21 is scheduled to end on September 30, Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish high holy days. I wonder if Hindu celebrants will set up loudspeakers again to celebrate the triumph of good over evil while others are observing their holy day in quiet prayer and contemplation. Maybe the temple’s business angle gives it immunity from legal obligations and niceties like consideration for others.

You’d think that an additional couple of hundred more cars per day clogging one of the most congested streets in the City would be cause for concern. You’d hope that air quality for residents, including children attending schools located within a block of Devon, would be a priority. You’d assume that ample parking for the vehicles of hundreds of camera-laden tourists would be part of the planning process.  You’d want to know if they’ll be arriving in sedans or RVs. You’d think the impact on nearby residential streets and alleys would be studied. You’d think the community would be invited to consider the problems inherent in placing a temple smack in the middle of a commercial strip surrounded by thousands of dwellings, schools, and senior citizens.

Ha!. This is the 50th Ward.

No traffic, parking, or environmental impact studies are planned. Neither are any community meetings.

You see, Debra Silverstein doesn’t care if the temple has a negative environmental or quality of life impact on the community. She’s never cared much for the southeast end of the ward, and my guess is that it will be ceded to another alderman with the coming ward remap. The formula is simple: election 2019; census 2020; ward redistricting 2021.  She isn’t interested in economic development, either, and the Indian merchants and property owners along Devon run the show, such as it is. Why not build a temple? Let Joe Moore or Harry Osterman or Pat O’Connor deal with the consequences. It won’t be Silverstein’s problem any more.

But the way she went about it should be remembered by every voter in 2019. It’s time for the voters of the 50th Ward to stand up against Silverstein’s secret deals, her unilateral decisions benefiting special interests at the community’s expense, her disregard for residents’ quality of life, her lack of transparency and penchant for secrecy, and her lack of interest in economic development.

Devon Avenue doesn’t need a Hindu temple.

But West Ridge needs an alderman with a vision, a plan, and a talent for leadership.








Dulhan’s Does It Right

Thanks to Dulhan’s for celebrating America’s Independence Day! It was the only store between California and Western that recognized our country’s birthday.

Dulhan’s displays the American flag on Devon.

It bothers me every year that the merchants on Devon do not recognize or celebrate July 4, yet barely six weeks later the street is festooned with Indian and Pakistani flags and posters celebrating each country’s independence day. America has welcomed its immigrant residents and their businesses, yet there’s no reciprocity. Is it really too much to ask merchants doing business on Devon Avenue to show their gratitude for the opportunities America has given them by acknowledging America’s birthday?

Dulhan’s is to be congratulated for the time and thought given to the store’s patriotic display. The area (southwest corner of Devon and Talman) really looked lovely,

and the flag display added to the beauty of the seating area outside the store.

These were the only American flags to be found on Devon.

For those who haven’t tried Indian clothing, I recommend Dulhan’s. A few years ago my husband, who had suffered a stroke that left him blind and confined to a wheelchair, wanted some comfortable cotton clothing for summer. We purchased two outfits at Dulhan’s that were beautifully made, with intricate embroidery on the tunics. We laughed at the huge pants on one set, but their drawstring waist somehow made the pants just right. And the colors didn’t fade. The staff could not have been kinder or more patient with us.

Frankly, I don’t feel welcome in most of the stores east of California (with good reason, as some are now displaying window signs advising that they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, no reason for such refusal specified). One merchant, reacting to my stopping to window-shop, picked up his cell phone, opened his door, and snarled “What do you want?” Such behaviors don’t encourage the wider community to support the merchants.

But I can confidently recommend Dulhan’s, not only for its merchandise and its friendly staff, but also because I like people who are proud to be Americans, no matter what their ethnic background. And I believe in supporting local businesses that recognize and celebrate the birth of our nation.




Hindi Temple on Devon: A Secret Deal, A Bad Location

Local news media reported over the weekend that Ald. Debra Silverstein and “the community” had approved construction of a Hindu temple on Devon Avenue.

It was a lie.

Silverstein has clearly been taking lessons in arrogance from her mentor the Mayor, issuing major announcements as the weekend starts so that whatever she’s up to becomes old news by Monday morning, thus lessening pushback from a ward used to being told what it wants by Silverstein and the special interests she pacifies and controls to keep herself in power.

Displaying the lack of honesty and integrity that are the hallmark of her second term in office, Silverstein hoodwinked the press with yet another of her secret pacts, appearing before the cameras to announce yet another done deal before the community knew anything about it or had the time to clarify and verify the “facts” presented by the alderman and her supporters. The so-called “community meeting” was devoid of community input except from those who would profit from the temple, absent any concern for its impact on nearby residents, and already set for approval by a complacent Zoning Board of Appeals whose members understand that their job is to rubber-stamp whatever the powerful want.

And the players here are powerful.

There’s the alderman, a woman whose sole goal is to keep herself in power. Every action she takes reveals her basic contempt for the democratic process and the constituents she is supposed to represent. As noted last week, she was present at another “community meeting” that no one knew about, and that meeting assessed certain property owners an extra 1.5% in taxes to support the businesses of the same people backing the Hindu temple.  Her energies are devoted to ensuring outcomes that benefit special interests. The deceits employed in support of the temple proposal included inviting to the “community meeting” only people whose support was already guaranteed, and pretending that the dozen alleged community members present at the “community” meeting represent  our neighborhood of 73,000 souls, most of whom had no idea  that such a venture had been proposed. But that’s Silverstein:  The decision’s been made, the ZBA has its marching orders. Too bad for the community.

Then there are the business interests behind this project. The primary reason for building this temple is commercial rather than spiritual. The Ganesh Temple of Chicago, located at 2545 West Devon in the one-story building that used to house the Republic National Bank, is owned by the Shewakramani family, which owns several businesses on Devon, including Regal Jewels and Sari Sapne, as well as several buildings along the street. One Shewakramani family member said of the temple that it was expected to help struggling businesses on Devon by drawing tourists and outsiders who’ll want to see the beautiful building. Exactly. It’s meant to be a tourist attraction.

Other families with multiple businesses on the street also stand to profit from the temple’s presence.

Rushing this project (building is set to start in Spring) without real community input and impact studies is insulting to residents, who have been entirely shut out of the process. Again. What exactly are the alderman and the temple’s proponents afraid of? Is it that impact studies would reveal what a bad idea a temple is in this location? And it is a bad idea: it would increase traffic, fail to provide adequate parking, remove yet another commercial building from the property tax rolls, and impose serious environmental damage on both residential and commercial buildings in the area.  It won’t do much for the quality of life of nearby residents, either. The temple’s owners don’t care about any of that. Neither does Silverstein. There will be no discussion.

There’s also the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), whose current five-member Board is appointed by the Mayor and owes allegiance to political sponsors with a vested interest in keeping the City’s power structure happy and intact. Silverstein is one of Emanuel’s most reliable votes, so the ZBA will approve this temple because she wants it. There will be no impact studies because uncomfortable questions might be raised and it’s not the ZBA’s purpose to consider zoning changes in the context of anything except what Silverstein wants. The ZBA is there to help Debra win the 2019 election, and the temple is but one step in her campaign.

Just for fun, let’s consider the temple’s impact on parking and traffic. It doesn’t make a difference what we think, anyway, since the alderman and the Shewakramani family have already made their deal.

The temple’s proponents claim that only about 150 people per day (1,050 per week) will use the temple, although they did not offer specific on how they know this. They estimate that one-third of worshippers will walk to the temple, while the remaining 100 users will share a dozen parking spaces behind the temple and 30 reserved spaces in the Rockwell Street parking garage. Temple proponents did not say how many of the 12 spaces would be reserved for temple staff. Let’s assume that seven of the spaces behind the building will be for worshippers, plus the 30 spaces at the Rockwell garage. That still leaves 63 vehicles per day (or 441 per week) without parking. Where will they go? Their drivers won’t pay for parking, that’s for sure, so they’ll park on residential streets or in crosswalks or bus stops, as they do now. Silverstein and the temple owners don’t care. And if lots of tourists come? Good for business. Never mind the residents. Imagine another 100 vehicles per day on Devon.

The impact on traffic will also be ignored. The streetscape has so narrowed Devon that traffic jams are worse than ever, sending vehicles into the east-west alleys, especially during rush hours. Because of the indifference Indian shoppers display toward neighborhood residents and bus riders, it is common for traffic to be held up because shoppers are parked in bus stops and bus passengers—including those in wheelchairs and the elderly struggling with canes and walkers– must board and exit buses in the middle of the street. Shoppers also double-park to load their vehicles and don’t care who’s inconvenienced or how long the street is blocked. The last thing residents living close to Devon need is for an additional 100 vehicles to be clogging the streets and alleys looking for free parking.

Unlike the community at large, the attorney for the temple was invited to the announcement and said of West Ridge, “This is one of the great neighborhoods in Chicago in that it is probably one of the most multi-cultural neighborhoods that we have in the city, and we want to make sure everyone in the community is represented.”

You’d think she and her clients would know that the sham of a meeting they held as well as the exclusionary retailing they practice pretty much exclude “everyone.”  Oops! Of course they know. They don’t care any more than the alderman does.

As most residents are aware, but outsiders to the community are not, Devon used to be the main business artery of a thriving, multiethnic community, but the retailing takeover from Western to California by Indian merchants has left 80% of the neighborhood with no reason to shop there. Except for its many small groceries and large supermarkets, Devon offers only Indian goods for Indian customers (and tourists) and has caused the neighborhood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in retail sales annually as residents buy clothing, shoes, toys, household, and other items in other neighborhoods.

The temple is merely the latest in a series of gimmicks designed to bring business to Devon Avenue. As a business draw, it, too, will fail. The business model is not sustainable. There simply aren’t enough Indian customers in the area–Indians are barely 20% of the ward–to support the overabundance of Indian businesses, and tourists have too many other choices –beautiful modern malls and suburban shopping areas—to come to Devon. Years ago, it was the place to shop for everything Indian, but that was before the Internet, before the Indian community began to disperse to the suburbs, and before other Indian shopping areas were developed. Market saturation has killed the available market.

It’s pointless to try to explain to the Indian business owners that what would revitalize Devon is a variety of stores and restaurants reflecting the neighborhood’s many ethnicities, which, taken together, vastly outnumber the Indian population. They don’t want to hear it. They want the eight blocks from Western west to California exclusively for themselves and are prepared to turn the neighborhood into a freak show if it will bring in tourists. Look—a woman in a burka! Over there—an African woman in a turban! That man’s wearing a sarong! There’ s a sign for camel milk –I gotta get a picture!

I saw lots of people take pictures in front of the camel milk sign, but I never saw any one of those people actually shopping. Unless you’re in the market for suitcases, saris, cell phones, or cucumbers, there’s nothing to buy.  Tourists may look at the gold jewelry and high-end bridal finery, but it’s too ethno-specific for the wider market. They may photograph it, but they don’t buy it.

One family member who acted as spokesperson for the temple said that ”… something [is] missing in this community that really needs to bring people together.” Well, yes. People who shop together get to know one another, become friends, and build community. Their money remains in and flows throughout the neighborhood in what’s known as the “multiplier.” What that means is that some of the money spent on goods and services is paid to business employees who spend some of their income on lunches, goods, and services from other neighborhood stores, thus creating profits and jobs in the community. It’s a simple economic truth: the longer a dollar stays in the neighborhood, the more economic good it does.

But the Indian way of doing business drains the community’s wealth. There’s the fact that more than 50% of all businesses on Devon have fewer than 2 employees, and most of those have only one; there’s the fact that many of these family businesses do not put spouses, sons and daughters, or cousins on the payroll when they watch the store for a few hours a few times a week, thus costing the City, State, and Federal governments payroll and income taxes. Some businesses appear to be little more than tax dodges, rarely open for business, apparently meant to offset income from other jobs and investments. Many businesses are unlicensed. Few are profitable, turnover is high, and business failure rampant.

Indian businesses were welcomed as part of the neighborhood when the first Indian store opened more than forty years ago, but Indian business interests did not want merely to be represented in the mix of ethnicities that is West Ridge. They wanted the whole street and drove out all non-Indian businesses from Western to California. Further, Indian business interests now own most of the buildings in that area. I’ve always found it interesting that storefronts and buildings remain vacant for months—even years—until Indian businesses move in. If some other ethnic group owned all the properties in a given area, and no Indian business ever opened, you can bet the issue of ethnic bias or preference or outright discrimination would be raised. Why isn’t that the case here? The situation is ripe for investigation.

There are plenty of reasons not to rush this temple project. Business development cannot proceed in isolation from residential concerns. An alderman sensitive to her constituents would understand this. Not Silverstein. She understands power and how to use it to benefit other powerful people.

At the private announcement, Silverstein boasted about her “pride” in Devon’s “diversity.” That’s the same word employed by the Shewakramani family and its lawyer.

Ah, diversity. That’s why all of Devon—not to mention the entire neighborhood—has come to be known as Little India.

Try this: tell someone you’re from West Ridge. After they ask, “New Jersey?” tell them you mean West Rogers Park. Count how many people ask some variation of “Isn’t that Little India?”

So what does it all mean?

Powerful business interests will be permitted to remove a commercial building from the property tax rolls and replace it with a tourist attraction masquerading as a religious institution. This will force residents to pay more when the next property tax increase rolls around. And it’s coming sooner than many think: Rahm’s been busy on secret projects, too.

No other site will be considered for the temple because its purpose is to attract customers to Devon’s businesses.

The alderman orchestrated a fraudulent “community meeting” to legitimize a deal reached in secrecy with special interests. She’s done this before. She’s good at spin and knows how to get her message to the media before the whole picture emerges and the other side can be heard.

So far, she’s shut the community out of discussions on the new library and held a sham community meeting at which generic “renderings” of possible rooms were presented and every question was answered with “that’s still on the table” or some variant thereof. Despite her promises that the community will have input, the RFP for the new building was released at close of business on December 9. All proposals are due by 11 a.m. December 23. Silverstein hasn’t announced that yet. Don’t wait for her to do so. It’s a secret.

There’s lots of interest in the old library site, but the alderman has nothing to say yet. It’s a City building, and could be used for a long-awaited cultural arts center for West Ridge. You can bet plans are already being formulated by Silverstein and the right power interests. You can expect that those interests will not include input from the community at large.

The bogus park with no playground. The library-senior citizen complex on the fast-track for completion in 18 months, right in time for municipal elections. The gift of a Hindi temple, consequences be damned.

A little something for everybody.

The 2019 aldermanic campaign has begun.

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.


Let’s Sing Together

With apologies to Peter, Paul, and Mary…

Where have all the kiosks gone
Talman to Maplewood,
Where have all the kosks gone
long time, no see,
Why should shoppers park for free
when patrons pay at the library
It’s clout, as everyone knows,
and not construction woes

Where has all the signage gone
at our alleys
Where has all the signage gone
north of Devon,
Cars zoom through the livelong day
the alley is the new freeway
California to Rockwell street
a four-block speedway exists

Why is it so noisy here
noise that never ends
Blasting from some homes and cars
businesses, too,
Why not turn the volume down
you’re not the only one around
Buy headphones and blast yourself nuts
just leave the rest of us out

Where have plain good manners gone
in our neighborhood
Why is garbage on the ground
every place you look,
Dirty people just don’t care
they dump their garbage everywhere
On parkways, sidewalks, and lawns,
they make a mess, and they’re gone