May 7, 2013

Proposed high-rise will require zoning changes

Community members came together to address concerns regarding the proposed 13-story high-rise on East 53rd Street between South Kimbark Avenue and South Dorchester Avenue at the United Church of Hyde Park last night. Hosted by the Hyde Park–Kenwood Community Conference, the forum principally addressed zoning changes that would be required for the construction of the high-rise.

Tim Barton, a Hyde Park resident and former employee of the Chicago Zoning department, elucidated much of the zoning designations on the street between South Lake Park Avenue and South Woodlawn Avenue. The area was designated a “pedestrian street” in 2004 in order to preserve and enhance pedestrian-oriented shopping areas and prohibit buildings within five feet of the sidewalk.

Adam Kingsley, an attorney specializing in land use, zoning, and historic preservation, noted the possible changes that would need to be made in the area in order for a high-rise to be built.

The first of two necessary zoning changes would entail the allowance of taller buildings to be built along the entire street. The second change would rezone the area as a planned development, which allows for taller buildings to be built with less restrictions.

Rezoning the area as a planned development requires approval by the Department of Housing and Economic Development, the Zoning Administrator, and the City Council Committee on Zoning, but Chicago aldermen can usually make zoning changes at their own discretion. This privilege, known as aldermanic prerogative, makes Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns’ opinion essential in the development of the high-rise on East 53rd Street, according to Kingsley. Burns did not attend the meeting.

Kingsley explained that there are ways to fight City Hall’s zoning decision in court, but lawsuits like this typically require a considerable amount of money and expert witnesses who often contradict each other.