November 1, 2011

Hairston digs in against U of C projects

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has announced that she will not support any amendment to an expansive zoning agreement that governs how the University uses much of its land, effectively stalling several U of C projects in Hyde Park until the University addresses certain community concerns.

In an October 23 press release, Hairston described the University’s plans to amend the document, Institutional Planned Development 43 (PD43), as an issue of “historic character.” The proposed amendment would expand PD43 to include several properties, including four buildings on Woodlawn Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets, to make way for the William Eckhardt Research Center and a new child care center, among other projects.

Explaining her objections, Hairston claimed that the University has failed to reveal the full scope of its planned developments to the community and is not addressing parking and transportation concerns.

The University has delayed submitting an amendment, which would start the approval process, to the City of Chicago Plan Commission (CCPC) since September 1.

If the University fails to gain Hairston’s support, it may be difficult to pass the PD43 amendment through the CCPC and the city council, which historically have not approved substantial zoning changes without the backing of the local alderman.

“It’s really several issues rolled into one,” Hairston said in her press release. “There’s a lot of confusion and misperception, mixed in with actual negative experiences. There are diverse interests sometimes working at cross purposes.”

Hairston will hold a meeting to address community concerns November 9 at 6 p.m. in Room 126 of Judd Hall. The University has still not announced when they plan to fulfill a promise Director of Civic Engagement Ellen Sahli made to reconvene one final time before the University submits its proposal.

“For the last several months, the University has been in conversation with alderman Hairston about the proposed amendment to the Planned Development document, in an effort to address any questions or concerns that she or her constituents have,” University spokesman Steven Kloehn said, citing two public meetings the University has held with community members.

Hairston’s concerns echo those of many community members who live in the area covered by PD43.

“Hairston listened to us and kind of put a temporary hold on the planned development process from going forward until there is a substantive meeting where these kinds of issues actually get addressed,” said Linda Thisted, a homeowner on the 5700 block of Woodlawn Avenue.

Members of the Woodlawn Avenue community have organized as the Woodlawn Homeowners Association and hired a lawyer to draft language the community feels would make the PD amendment sensitive to their concerns.

Other community members have advocated for more decisive measures. Thisted and community activist Jack Spicer, who has advocated for the designation of the affected stretch of Woodlawn Avenue as a historic district, will meet with the executive director of the Newberger Hillel Center off 57th Street this Friday to gauge the institution’s support and position on PD43.